Friday, September 23, 2011

Farm Story for September 24, 2011

Deb Potter, Merciful Hearts Farm ,

Fencing is a wonderful thing and we depend on it. But sometimes it is as much a hassle as anything. This has been a week of fence events. Years ago I learned the expression “If a fence won’t hold water, it won’t hold a goat.” I have repeated that to many folks, most often those thinking about getting a few goats one day.

Many of the fence problems we tend to think of have to do with fencing that allows a creative or persistent animal to escape. The broken 2 X 6’s remind me that this time of year the fellows are warming up for breeding season as they practice using their heads to break through fencing that might keep them from the girls. There isn’t much point in repairing those boards until breeding season has passed as the fellows just smash at the new boards in their way. Fortunately the woven wire fencing behind the boards usually slows them down. I did laugh this spring when I was talking with another farmer about lambing season. I mentioned that we had been lambing for several weeks. He had yet to have his first born. I told him that just proved that he had better fencing than I did.

Al had to take the chain saw to a tree that recently dropped across the electric fencing farther down in the woods. He often checks the level of charge on the fence and if it is not very strong he walks the fence line until he finds a spot where either branches have fallen down or weeds have grown up. This time last weekend’s high winds had caused a huge chunk of old tree on the neighbor’s property to drop down and compress the fence. The wires smashed on top of each other get grounded out so that the fence is no longer “hot”. A good fence clearing resolved the problem.

Our much-needed but torrential rain has caused another fence problem. The rain came down so fast that the rushing streams carried leaves, sticks, hay and other debris over the bottom wire of a few fence sections. That must be fixed by walking the fence with a hoe and pulling away the wet muddy mess. We know what spots to check for that so once the rain clears we give it a quick clean out.

Now this week we’ve had a few funny fence problems. I’ve mentioned before about the horned goats who push their heads through a hole in the woven wire fencing and then find they cannot get their horns aimed at the right angle to draw their head back out after they’ve snacked on whatever looked better on the other side of the fence. We have a few perpetual offenders who get stuck. They have learned that once they are stuck it is best to just sit down for a while and wait until they hear the house door open. The moment they realize one of us are coming out they begin to bawl to get our attention. They have so much confidence in us that as soon as they see us coming their way they quiet down and simply wait for help. Well, at least three times this week I’ve had to help a polled (hornless) sheep get her head back out. It seems she can wedge her head slowly through by wiggling all kinds of directions but when she goes to withdraw her head the sticking point is the bony orbits of her eyes. It is one thing to help a goat wiggle its tough horns around but it is just not a good thing to squish and pull on one’s eye sockets. It is a slow process and I usually end up with a slightly-smashed finger or two as I try to protect the eyes while gently pulling the welded wire that makes up the fencing.

On Tuesday the little gal managed to shove her head through a space in the cattle panel that “tightens up” one of the sections of board fencing. I noticed her as I walked out to gather eggs. I patiently attacked the problem while a few of the goats either watched my work or shoved on me for some special attention as I was squatted down trying to gently angle her head so that it would fit back through the hole. I just couldn’t get it. The sheep was not helping. She kept pushing forward as I was trying to gently pull her back through the hole. When I went to the other side of the fence to push her back through the hole she insisted on pushing even farther forward. This is common sheep and goat behavior. In fact, we learned long ago that if we wanted a stubborn goat to go forward we simply had to push on its forehead as if we were forcing it backwards. It would fight us and end up going exactly where we wanted it to go.

Since it was Tuesday and I had a class to teach in the afternoon I gave up on manipulating the sheep’s head back through the stiff wire of the cattle panel. I walked into the stable, lifted the enormous bolt cutters off of their spot on the wall and nipped the wire. The wire is stiff enough that I still had to bend it to get the sheep’s head out but she was finally free, I pushed the wire back to its original place and went on to gather eggs. These are the things that make a simple chore turn into a half hour event.

We’ve also had a problem with one obnoxious goat forcing her way through a bit of loose wire fencing to get into a stall that is now holding bales of hay. She gets in, nibbles for a while but then cannot go out the same hole she came in as the wire that she pushed out of her way to get in is now pointing her direction and threatening to shred her should she push back out. I’ve opened the door and removed her many times over the last week. I did try to repair the bit of fencing but that didn’t seem to work. That very evening Al found her and a few friends all wedged into the hay-filled stall just chomping away. This is the exact hay that they are fed in abundance daily but it seems more appealing when forbidden. So I had resolved to fix the fencing the next day. I went about my daily routine, having forgotten about the hole. At the end of the day I had a kid in the barnyard bawling for its mother. I realized that she may be inside the stable so went to find her. She was in the hay stall. She began bawling at me. I went to open the door next to the hole in the fencing but it would not budge. I had to go around and open another door to let her out. That is when I discovered that she had knocked several bales down. I shifted a few around so that I could let her out. That is when I noticed that one of the bales had tumbled down at an angle that it blocked the hole that she had been using to push into the stall. I left that bale just where it was and, until we feed out all the hay in that stall, will let it be the repair for the gap in the fence.

We work regularly to keep up with our fencing and are never surprised with the funny predicaments we find ourselves and our creatures in. It is just another one of those challenges that are part of the farming life. I guess it keeps us from becoming lazy or complacent. It would just be easier if the biggest fencing problems did not pop up on a nasty rainy day or as the result of trees coming down in one of our famous Carolina ice storms.

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