Praise Be Baling Wire and Binder Twine


I know farmers who can fix almost anything except the economy with baling wire and a pair of pliers. The geniuses who came up with wire-tie knotters for hay balers didn’t know that they were saving agriculture because of all the secondary uses for the wire after it is removed from the bales. Baling wire is just the right gauge to bend easily and still strong enough to hold stuff together until you can at least get back to your repair shop. I used a length of the stuff to replace a chain that raised and lowered the tines of my ancient side delivery rake. It lasted five years before it rusted enough to break. I don’t know how many times over the years I’ve used baling wire to keep mufflers from dragging on the ground when their holding straps rusted off.

Just this week, the metal cover over my elderly rotary mower rusted through so badly that I had to do something to keep from getting killed if a rock or something flew up from the blade and hit me on the tractor seat. As usual, I had to figure out something that did not cost much money. A board fitted nicely over the gaping hole, but how could I hold it in place? Aha. Baling wire. I drilled holes at appropriate places in the board and threaded baling wire through them and around the iron braces of the mower cover. I have a notion that repair will last as long as I do.

All 22 of the cattle panel gates into various of my pasture plots are held to the posts with baling wire. I keep saying that I will install hook and chain arrangements to make opening and closing the gates easier, but I never do. A loop of wire from one bale, doubled, does the job well enough even though it has to be replaced every four or five years.

In fact, the major hazard to life on our farm is old, rusting baling wire that somehow wanders off into the pastures to waylay mowers or end up in the rumens of livestock. Actually that latter event has never happened on our farm although I understand that it used to be a rather common occurrence. I like to think that my animals are too choosy to eat baling wire. I can barely get them to eat Canada thistles. But my mower loves the stuff and can find a piece even if there is only one little strand in a ten acre field.

That strange phenomenon underlies the major problem with baling wire. How do you store it so that you always have some within easy reach but making sure it doesn’t crawl out like a pumpkin vine and waylay innocent children passing by. Careless souls tend to pull the two wires off the bale, ball them up carelessly, and throw them in a barrel or worse, in a corner of the hay loft. Then when they need a loop or two, they learn real fast the meaning of the term “haywire.” A pile or barrel full of baling wire has a way of intertwining like plant roots in a flowerpot. Trying to retrieve one loop is like trying to retrieve one earthworm from a bait box.  My cousin, a most particular farmer, folds each loop of wire pulled from the bale into a four-folded little bundle about 8 inches in length. EACH ONE ALONE. That is the essential detail. If you try to fold two bale wires together this way, you once again enter haywire heaven when you try to pull them apart. To store these little bundles of money-saving farm repair, he ranks them up like ricks of wood. I am not making this up. Once I happened to accompany him to his trash pile back in the woods. There I saw, so help me, at least a cord of folded bale wires, ready for instant use just in case. He is one of the most successful farmers in the county so don’t laugh. He knows the value of recycling baling wire even to the point of having enough stored away to hold an old hay barn together if necessary.

What we old timers call binder twine, although it is now also baler twine, is almost as important to the farm economy as the wire variety. The stuff is made of sisal, or more often now, plastic which means it won’t rot. That sounds like an advantage, but actually it just means that the stuff builds up in barns and sheds and out of the way corners like stalactites and stalagmites. It is hard to cut with a pocketknife too. But at least if you use it to fasten gates or hang chicken waterers off the coop floor, it will last a long time. Do not make piles of it anywhere a lawn mower can find it. In a split second, binder twine can choke a lawnmower to death, and it will take you an hour or so to cut the stuff out of blade.

Binder twine, like baling wire, tends to overwhelm the farm where hay is made. This presents a challenge to any self-respecting, waste-not farmer. You can’t just throw something away that has many potential uses. That’s why one used to see lots of doorstep mats woven out of twine. I haven’t seen any made out of the plastic stuff, but I think they would last even longer.

See also Things to do with Bailing String


Once again Gene’s spot-on observations about farm/ranch life (that I often take for granted) had me chuckling. What else would you use to hang and secure homemade gates, fix anything broken and come up with long lived “temporary” solutions? (Yes, I’m old enough to know the “new stuff” as binder twine….) It’s great to quickly secure any animal that isn’t readily inclined to follow and braids beautifully for so many useful purposes. (One could probably make an entire fence of the stuff.)

The last ranch property before our current one had so much of the binder twine carelessly scattered about and buried that my young sons and I quickly established a “pit crew service area” for rescuing the mower. I’d drive up on ramps so we could quickly and safely cut the twine out and head back to work. As careful as I was to keep track of wire and twine before, since that experience, I’m near fanatical now.

The wire has its honored place, as well; farm/ranch kids growing up with a parent (or two) to whom “discretionary income” is an oxymoron seem to fare well in any environment where thinking outside the box is a positive trait.

Thank you, Gene, for your generosity sharing your insight and experience over the years. I treasure all of your writing, but my long-time favorite (which is nearly as dog-eared and lined as I) is “All Flesh is Grass”. it’s a classic.

I’m working on trying to knit or crochet with the plastic baling twine, but so far, haven’t been happy with my efforts. I’m not giving up though. I do have one of those dreaded plastic trash cans of balled up wire. If I need it bad enough, I’ll sort it out, don’t you worry.

Here we cut the twine at the knot and hang it over one of the beams inside the barn away from sunlight so it doesn’t deteriorate (I think some of it has been here for centuries). Wire is left in loops and hung on hooks or nails. The problem with this is usually the one in the back never gets used and rusts away.

Great post. I’m waiting for “uses for used motor oil” next. It’s almost as handy as twine.

We make string balls with the twine and use it where we can. If nothing else, it is good to get a fire started. Bailing wire is the vine of the mechanical world. It’s everywhere and it’s all tangled up. And you never notice how much it has rusted until you’re picking up the broken pieces after your critters escaped through that panel you wired up years ago.

I used a bunch of sisal twine over the winter to make hanging hay bags for the horses. Worked well enough during the 2-day ice storm when the horses wouldn’t go outside to eat. I also tie up my tomatoes with it.

I can’t throw anything away. The trick is really in how you store such useful stuff. It truly can’t just be tossed into a jumbled mess.

I call a cattle panel gate hung really well if I have both baling twine and wire holding it up. These are my temporary gates that I mean to replace with real gates when I have some money. Ha ha.

I wind all types of wire to any handy place on anything that moves. Just yesterday I mended my neighbors livestock gate with some bailing wire. My access road goes thru his pasture and the top hinge pin on the gate was unscrewing and letting the gate slip out. A handy length of wire from the front bumper of the truck secured it nicely. I even replaced a broken throttle cable on the very same truck with bailing wire once. Took ten minutes on the roadside and I was on my way again.

Baling “wire?” Haven’t seen that since I was a kid! I mourn the loss when it all went to sisal.

But at least sisal would eventually go away in a compost pile, or even in a field. But try rotovating anywhere they’ve been using that new-fangled plastic crap — I have to stop every fifteen minutes, and cut it off the rotovator!

Plastic is forever — for better, or more likely, for worse. Please, spare us the plastic baling twine and return to materials that will return to the earth when you’ve lost them or — heaven forbid — discarded them.

I guess I’m old-fashioned; I like the wire better. It’s hard to tighten baling twine and keep the knots from slipping, even when I use the old standards like a half-hitch. And I find that twine doesn’t seem to be as readily available — baling wire was always in the truck, the wheelbarrow, the tractor toolbox. Twine seems to collect in the spot where you toss it after you cut the bale open. It does, however, work well for braiding into things like door mats; not so easy to do with wire. And twine doesn’t have sharp ends to catch you or a critter in a tender spot. But I’d still rather have wire…

I salvaged a cattle panel this year and am using it in my garden for my cukes, but for years I have tied together pieces of baling twine, strung them between T posts, and allowed the cucumbers to climb on the twine trellis. One of our downspouts is secured to a porch post with twine until we can get a new support bracket.

Most of our gates around the barn are secured with baling wire. My tomato cages are held together with baling wire…

I’ve been enjoying all the very practical posts lately!! I used to work for my cousin, I did odd jobs and fixed things around the warehouse. I was always finding pieces of green twine lying around. Whenever I needed a short piece of something to tie something to something there was always a piece close by. I started to wonder where the magic string was coming from. It wasn’t until I took a ride with him to pick up hay for the horses that I saw the familiar green twine in its element. How does that machine tie those knots without thumbs?

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