Saturday, August 24, 2013


Our fences are old. Some of them are thirty years old, some only twenty and a few interior fences, dividing one pasture into two, are only ten years old. But our fences are failing.

All but one of our exterior fences are woven wire stock fencing stapled onto wooden fence posts. The woven wire is designed with smaller openings on the bottom (2” high by 6” wide) and larger openings on the top (up to 6” by 6”). This clever design is to keep animals from sticking their heads through the fence and getting stuck and in the process destroying the fence. This clever design works really well for sheep, but not so well for goats. The goats put a lot of pressure on our fences.
We practice rotational grazing which means that the animals are restricted to one small pasture until they have cleaned it up and then are moved to another small pasture, repeating this schedule all summer long. This means that the best tasting grass is always in the next pasture and the goats are smart enough to know that, so they stick their heads through the fences to eat the fresh grass on the other side.

Over the years we’ve repaired a lot of holes in fences.

We also have one strand of barbed wire at the base of each exterior fence and two strands at the top, to keep dogs and coyotes out of our pastures and our animals in. Our interior fences don’t have barbed wire anywhere. They were made by stretching four foot high woven wire stock fencing onto metal fence posts designed for the purpose. Those metal posts worked well for about twenty years and then we began to run into problems.

After awhile, the wire began to sag. The four foot high fence became a three foot high fence in the middle between some posts. The sheep don’t often jump a fence; the goats reliably do. Every time a goat jumped a fence, she dragged a little on the woven wire. The fence got even lower. The sag combined with the patched holes meant that the fence was no longer stretched. It became increasingly easier for goats to force holes in the fence with their heads, then their shoulders and finally their entire bodies. Once the goats had made holes, the lambs followed. A good mother will follow her lamb anywhere, so the ewes followed the lambs.

Some of our fences are completely porous to animals. It’s been a hassle, but not a catastrophe on the interior fences until Bucklet, the cute, tiny ,bottle kid we added to our flock last year, became sexually mature. Yesterday we moved Bucklet and Winthrop the ram to the farthest pasture from the ewes and the goats and the lambs. By the time Dave had walked back across three pastures to the lamb pasture, Bucklet and Winthrop had rejoined him. We collected our fencing supplies and moved the two males back to their pasture. Then we wove wire and stapled until we were sure the hole was closed.

They rejoined us five minutes later. We led them back to their pasture and spent half an hour actually inspecting the fence and checking for all possible holes. The males were back with the lambs by lunch time. We left them there. The lambs are too small to get pregnant yet, and the ewes are still two pastures away in a well fenced pasture and we need a little breathing room to figure out what to do next.

We have walked every foot of our fence line in the last month. It looks thirty years old. We were thirty something when we first learned how to fence. Now at sixty something it seems a much bigger job. Maybe that’s why farmers retire, they can’t bear the thought of refencing.

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