Electric Fence First On XIT Ranch

Part 5:

10greatestbeefinnovations

My favorite memory of electric fences is the bag that my dad strapped to the four-wheeler that contained the fiberglass fence poles – a golf bag! I thought it was so silly, but it was the perfect size to hold a lot of small poles and easy to carry as you’re putting the fence out (I think my Dad should also be on the 10 Greatest Beef Innovators list!).

One time, I was putting the poles out by myself and found a rattlesnake skin. I sneakily put it in the front pocket of the golf bag and it gave dad a good scare when he opened it!

Electric fence has been used so much on our ranch, and it is one beef innovation we have taken full advantage of. Enjoy this history by J.T. Smith, full story here.

Electric Fence First On XIT Ranch
First claimed to be cheaper, need less posts and serve as a telephone line.
By J.T. Smith

In 1882, Texas was just itching to build its grand state Capitol building in Austin — aiming to make its dome slightly higher than the U.S. Capitol.

A lofty idea — there was no place for small thoughts in Texas, of course. Trouble was, Texas had bold plans but no money.

So the state bartered to build.

By May of that year, Texas had traded 3 million acres of land up on the Plains to Chicago investors in exchange for building the state Capitol. The Chicago group was known as the Capitol Syndicate.

The Capitol Syndicate immediately began fencing its millions of acres. It had to do this rapidly as herd after herd trudged across the High Plains up from South Texas to stock what, at the time, was considered sort of a barren wasteland. The Texans thought they got the best of the trade with the Chicago investors.

The vanguard was bossed by Ab Blocker, who suggested the famed "XIT" brand.

In its heyday, as the world’s largest ranch, the XIT ran 150,000 cattle on its seven divisions. The XIT Ranch was so large it comprised all or parts of 10 counties running down the border with New Mexico. So cowboy lore had it the XIT brand stood for "Ten in Texas." Closer to reality, it may have just been a difficult brand for rustlers to change.

Thousands of miles

With all of its border and interior cross fencing, more than 6,000 miles of wire and fencing materials were required for fencing this titanic Texas ranch. The XIT used so much barbed wire, it bought fence staples by the carload.

This was costing the Chicago investors lots of money and time. So in 1888, an electric fence was used for the first time on the XIT Ranch.

That year, D.H Wilson of the United States Electric Fence Co. contracted to fence one of the XIT pastures and construct a 30-mile telephone line, according to the Texas State Historical Association.

The idea was that electricity from a generator using an overshot wheel would charge the top two wires of a four-wire fence. This electrified fence was supposed to need far fewer fence posts, cause less injury to cattle than traditional barbed wire, and even enable fence riders (cowboys riding the fence) to communicate with the ranch headquarters by telephone!

The nearby LX Ranch of W.H. Bates and David T. Beals north of Amarillo (the brand and part of the land later owned by the Lee Bivins Estate) soon decided it would experiment with the "electric fence." But LX cowboys were skeptical about the innovation, and the electric fence didn’t prove practical there.

Electric revival

Despite its early hurdles to win ranchers, the electric fence would rebound and find a strong place with both ranchers and farmer-stockmen during the 20th century.

The electric fence soon would be used by the military in World War I, and was revived agriculturally in the modern era, with ranches across the nation now using the electric fence extensively.

While the primary purpose of today’s electric fence is keeping cattle or other livestock inside an area, many farmers make use of electric fence to keep critters such as feral hogs on the outside. (It usually takes at least two hot wires to slow down wild hogs, however).

The modern electric fence with just a single wire remains a standard for grazing winter wheat pasture in the Southern Plains, and is growing in popularity nationwide for internal fencing subdivisions and better-managed grazing. Often, the modern electric fence is battery powered and solar charged.

As far as the Texas capitol in Austin, when the lights were turned on April 20, 1888, it was one of the world’s largest buildings at the time, with its height at 308 feet to the top of the dome, a length of 628 feet and a breadth of 290 feet.

Meanwhile, the Capitol Syndicate starting breaking up its land and selling its many ranches in 1901, and by 1912 it had disposed of the last of the XIT cattle.

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