Tuesday, June 1, 2010

Good Fences Make Good Neighbors

So, we thought we were done making fence last year. "How much pasture can two horses mow down?" we thought. Mother Nature, however, laughed at our naivete and sent a wet, rainy fall, followed by a wet, snowy winter, and a wet, rainy spring. "It's okay," we thought, "all that water will just make the grass grow." And, it might have, had the grass not had eight hooves slogging through the mud in which it was attempting to root and grow. Thus, it's high spring, and once again, my horses have eaten their pasture to dirt.

Recently, we've been letting the horses out into the yard to eat when I'm home to supervise. This works well, since they're really not going to go very far away from their barn. All it takes to get them flying back into their pasture is the sound of grain being poured into their feed pans. I just let their lead ropes drag on the ground and let them eat down the yard. It was actually working pretty well to use them as our organic weed eaters for a while -- they were keeping the sides of the driveway and side walks nicely trimmed for us. The only real drawbacks when we started letting them out were the fact that Lucy and Tucker thought that Ginger Chasing might eventually become a Canine Olympic sport and decided to practice running after her every chance they got. I feared that my little horse would be scarred forever and totally afraid of dogs for the rest of her life, until the afternoon when I watched her go up to the deck where Lucy and Tucker were snoozing and whinny at them, then turn around and run off, then come back and try to get their attention again when they ignored her. The second disadvantage was the fact that our swimming pool is perfectly-sized for Angel to use a watering trough. I don't know if there will be long-term effects from the horses drinking chlorinated water, but I'm not too worried -- I'm not always very good at keeping the chlorine levels high, and she's pretty picky about her water being clean; thus, she'd rather drink from the swimming pool than her own watering trough.

Eventually, though, all chicks must leave the nest, and Angel and Ginger decided to get adventurous. After yet another trip down the road to retrieve the girls from Steve and Lin Masterson's back yard, I finally convinced Paul to let me fence off some more of the top pasture for horse use, even though he is highly unwilling to give up the prairie as a wild critter habitat. Honestly, I don't mind having as much of a buffer as possible between our farm and the next place over -- that neighbor likes to dump his deer carcasses on the tree line that separates our properties, and walking the dogs out that way is always an adventure -- I never know what they're going to get in to when they wander. But, the farm girl in me says it's just silly to let land sit fallow when I've got hungry livestock. The conservationist and the farm girl compromised, though, and we sectioned off some more of the upper pasture to fence off and use as a day pasture for the girls. I'm really hoping that if I block their access to their current pasture, and just turn them out in this upper pasture in the mornings and evenings (I'll put them back in their barn pasture during the heat of the day), the lower pasture will grow. Of course, after the threatened return of Noah and the Ark this spring, we've now gone two weeks without any moisture at all. It's been great for working on my tan, but we could definitely use a nice soaker.

We tackled pounding the fence posts on Sunday morning. Paul, bless his heart, was the one who pounded them all in. Thankfully, the ground hasn't baked too hard yet, and it wasn't nearly as tough a job as last summer's fencing turned out to be. It was hot work, but we (okay, he -- I just carried the fence posts and held them while he pounded them in) go it done in just a few hours.

This morning, I finished it off.

Now, for those who haven't "made" fence before, it's quite a process. We use electric tape fencing, which is suitable for horses and is relatively easy compared to stretching wire and making old-fashioned tensioned electric fences. Pounding the posts in the ground is only half the battle. Once that's done, plastic insulator clips have to be put on the posts at the appropriate heights. The first time I made fence (and special thanks go to neighbor Claud, who showed me how to do it), I measured very carefully from the ground to make sure that all of my clips were precisely at 2 feet and 4 feet. I'm so over that now -- today, when I put the clips on, I put one at knee height and one at boob height. That will just have to do. So the clips are meant to just slide on to the "T" post and wrap around the other side. I suppose they do that on nice, shiny, new T-posts. I'm working with rusty old ones from someone's back yard, though (thanks to my dad, who found them for me cheap -- they're not pretty, but they're functional.), and the insulator clips don't just snap on. After I put the clips on, I had to take a flat blade of some sort (I just used the scissors I took with me to cut the electric tape) and grab the plastic wrap-around section, then maneuver it over the third edge of the post. Not exactly a mental challenge, but still a pain in the butt, considering that I put posts every 14 feet, and there are two clips per post (technically, I should have put the posts every 10 feet and put 3 clips per post, but I'm running out of fence posts, and I'm calling this a "temporary" pasture, so I cut a few corners. I'm sure I'll regret that decision when the horses laugh at my attempt to save money and walk through the fence as if it were spider web). After the clips were on the posts, I had to start stringing the tape. For this project, I used 1/2" electric tape, which is actually plastic threads interwoven with fine metal wires that conduct electricity and pop inquisitive horses on the hose with an electric charge if they decide to try to go through the fence. Electric tape is pretty east to work with -- I just had to tie it to the end post in a knot, then feed it through the clips on the fence posts, stopping at every other post to wrap it around the clip. It's important the tape be taught, so wrapping the tape keeps the tension in the tape. Eventually, the plastic stretches and the fence has to be re-tensioned, but this is just a matter of wrapping it around the guides on the clips to take up any slack in the tape. Once I came to the end of the fence, I had to use an insulated gate handle to make a gate. This meant that I took the end of the tape and tied it to a piece of metal with a hook on one side and a rubber grip around it. I made an "eye" on the existing fence to hook my gate in to, and then I went back and did it all again for the second line of the fence.

Not such a bad job -- three hours of fun in the sun (and yes, I used sunscreen, but I'm still pretty rosy). I only had one tick crawling on me when I was finished, which was actually quite a surprise considering how many thousands of the little fiends are in the grass. I did have an -- ahem -- encounter with a legless occupant of the pasture. When we were out pounding posts on Sunday, Paul was fascinated to find a long snake skin in the pasture line. At that time, he remarked, "Ooooh, I wish I could see the guy who left this." Unfortunately, he was at work this morning when I got that very opportunity. Mr. Humongous Black Snake was sunning himself next to the very fence pole to which I needed to attach clips and fence. I know snakes don't hear well, but I thought that surely he would hear me very politely saying, "Go away, Snake." After all, I repeated it several times, and increased my volume with each repetition. Since he refused to give up his tanning bed and I refused to walk any closer to where he was, I thought about just abandoning the fence project until I had my own personal snake mover home from work. That would have been admitting defeat, though, and I reallly wanted to get this project out of the way. So, I called in reinforcements. I went over to the Mastersons (again -- the horses had wandered over there two times already) and collected my ninja warrior snake-scaring Foxtrotters and sent them down the fenceline to show Mr. Humongous Black Snake just who would be claiming this fence row for the next hour or so. He was gone by the time I got back with the girls, so I just made sure I stomped on the ground really hard whenever I walked through that area. The horses, of course, obliged me by running down the fence row and then hightailing back over to the neighbor's. I don't know why the neighbors' lawn is so much more appetizing than mine, but thankfully, the neighbors have gotten a kick out of looking out their kitchen window and seeing two horses grazing in the yard. I imagine this novelty would wear off quickly, though, and so I am very glad that the fence project is done. Starting this evening, my girls will be mowing down yet another pasture.

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