Last fall I built a home-made tool that some folks on this forum might find useful. This weekend we put it to work and I took some pictures so I thought I’d put up a post.
The project started because I got frustrated trying to protect young fruit trees from deer in a situation where a perimeter fence isn’t viable (e.g. a long row of trees along a driveway). Previously we’d been doing it with individual mini-fences made with wooden stakes and plastic deer netting, but they were slow to build, difficult to open for pruning, thinning, and borer patrols, and not that attractive to look at.
The local Tractor Supply locations sell 4’x16’ cattle panels welded from heavy-gauge galvanized steel wire. They’re just over $20 each, and we’ve found them useful for all kinds of things, including trellising peas and tomatoes, temporary dog pens, etc., so it made sense to try to protect apple trees with them. I found that if I brought the ends together and wired them in place, it would make a decent enclosure for a tree that would stand up by itself without posts or stakes, but the shape was sort of a squashed teardrop, which was too small to provide protection. If I instead lapped the two ends over by ~8" and lashed the lap tightly together with wire, it would make a round enclosure that provided better protection and looked pretty good, but then it was annoying to get at the tree - at first I could just lift it carefully off the tree, but as the tree grew that stopped working.
Ideally I could somehow form each cattle panel into a circle of the right diameter, such that it would form an efficient, stable enclosure, but one that could be opened in a moment and removed from around the tree for maintenance, and replaced just as easily. So, taking inspiration from a standard tool used by sheet metal fabricators, I set out to make a slip roll for cattle panels.
I built it out of scrap wood and three pieces of used steel pipe (2" trade size, schedule 40), with plugs in either end to support an axle. The panel passes over the first roller, under the second, and over the third, and the relative position of the middle roller is adjustable with screws to set the diameter of the finished ring.
Here it is in action, with Holly, my sister, and a friend about to pull/push a panel through the roller:
It can be used by two people, but three makes it pretty easy, and it does the job in a single pass. Here the ring is almost finished:
And here we’ve positioned the ring around a newly-transplanted apple tree - no posts or stakes are required:
Generally the resulting fence is pretty robust. I plowed a couple of ~16" snow storms right next to a row of these fence rings, and they stood up with no trouble - similar treatment has thrashed plastic deer netting for us in the past. If we had had extreme deer pressure, escaped goats in the neighborhood, or moose on the loose I might need something bigger/taller, but as it is they kept several trees safe through the winter. The roller can also be adjusted to make half-circles, third-circles, etc; but that would get kind of expensive to protect a single tree, and if the pen got big enough the deer might start to feel comfortable jumping into the enclosure.
It’s also easier to transport the panels in rolled form; next time I may just take the roller to the store and roll the panels in place so they fit in the back of the truck!
All in all, I’m pretty happy with how it turned out, and the fences it rolls. If anybody else builds one I’d be interested to hear how it works, and if you’re in the neighborhood of Portland and want to roll some panels, I’m happy to lend it to forum members.