Farm Progress

Joe Morris builds livestock fences horse-high, pig-tight, bull-strong.

April 2, 2018

3 Min Read
HIGH DEMAND: At 77, Joe Morris continues to build fence in northeast Missouri. He has a yearlong waiting list for those wanting his help.Linda Geist

By Linda Geist

Wire fences sag along many rural roadways, heavy with the weight of leaning fence posts. They serve as silent reminders of hard times during the Depression era, when frugal farmers cobbled together fences from whatever they could find on the farm.

“There are a lot of fences that have not been maintained,” says Joe Morris of Emden, Mo. “I don’t care how long I live, I won’t be able to put them all back in.”

At 77, Morris builds fences for northeast Missouri farmers.

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FENCE THEM IN: Well-built fences are an investment, says Joe Morris. They keep livestock in and maintain good relations between neighbors. (Photo courtesy of Joe Morris)

Morris began fencing when he was just a child, helping his father. He learned the craft by asking older farmers. “I’ve always listened to people about fencing,” he says. “I don’t care how old you are. You can always learn more.”

Morris took up full-time fencing in 2009, after working 25 years at a local manufacturer and managing a nearby cattle farm. Over the years, he estimates installing 50 to 60 miles of fence.

There is no shortage of work in the fencing business, as Morris is booked out more than a year. He works alone, but has part-time help from Kenny and Kirby Latimer, Nick Eckman, Chris White, Dennis Tyner, Colby Moutray and John Walkup. His children also helped when they were younger.

Built to last
Farm animals looking for green pastures have met their match in Morris.

Morris prides himself on tight fences. He uses steel braces and credits his bracing system for his fences’ strength, stability and tautness.

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SUPPORT SYSTEM: Joe Morris uses a bracing system that keeps fences taut. (Photo courtesy of Joe Morris)

He places posts 12 feet apart. He uses four-point Red Brand barbed wire to top 47611 woven wire. The numbers tell the buyer about the wire — 47 inches tall, 6-inch staves and 11 wires from top to bottom.

Fences for curious goats require extra attention. Morris likes 48-inch-tall, 4-inch meshed wire.

He also prides himself in buying local. He uses Red Brand wire from MFA in Shelbina, Mo. — no substitutes.

The twisters to wrap wire ends come from Black Creek Welding, a small locally owned business a stone’s throw away from his farm. Robey Building Supply in Monroe City, Mo., delivers sack concrete.

While Morris uses steel posts much of the time, he prefers straight Osage orange hedge posts. Stout as steel, these wooden hedge posts resist decay and can last 100 years.

Properly installed fences will last 50 years, Morris says, making the investment worthwhile. He says customers never complain about his hourly rate or performance — and all of them give him an unsolicited, but appreciated, bonus when work ends.

Good fences make good neighbors, Morris says. They keep animals from getting out and damaging neighbors’ property. Besides physical damage, they prevent hard feelings and insurance claims between adjoining landowners.

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REPPIN’ RED BRAND: In December 2014, a farm magazine ran this ad for Red Brand fence supplies. The photo of Joe Morris was taken when he was 35 — 42 years ago. (Photo courtesy of Joe Morris)

Meaningful work
Morris is a fair-weather fencer. If the weather is good, he will build a mile of fence. He leaves home by 6:30 a.m. and works until 4 or 5 p.m. “I like to put in a good day’s work,” he says. If the weather is bad, he stays home.

He balances work with visits to his children and grandchildren who live out of state, attends high school basketball and football games, and worships at Holy Rosary Church. He also keeps a herd of 20 cows and a bull.

Morris enjoys the physical activity he gets while fencing.

He has no plans to retire. “I found out when I was a kid that I loved doing it. I’m on vacation when I’m fencing,” he says.

Geist writes from her home in Columbia, Mo.

 

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