Ruffled Feathers and Spilled Milk

Farming with ducks and dairy goats, chickens and children.

Frenemies

Posted on | March 11, 2010 | 2 Comments

I love the fence.

I hate the fence.

The fence allows the goats to wander around, pooping outside of the barn where I don’t have to clean up.  The fence leads the pony and the sheep to the pond to graze so I don’t have to mow the grass on the tractor-tipping slope of the dam.  The fence lets the chickens rush through its squares to safety, leaving violent offenders of the leash law barking and foaming at the mouth on the other side.

But the fence is so needy.

“Um, I hate to bother you, but there’s a fallen branch pulling me down on the south side.”

“Hey, I know you have a busy day planned, but the rain has washed away part of the ditch, leaving a big gap along my bottom.”

“Look!  Look!  Do you see that huge hole?  Right there!”

Basically, the fence has my number and doesn’t hesitate to call.  Anytime.  All the time.  Even just to breathe heavy and hang up for the fun of it.  Fences are like that.

So when I woke to find the sheep on the deck stairs and the goats in the driveway I knew there was a problem.  The fence sagged woefully in the front yard.

“Did you enjoy your rest?  Relax over your coffee?  Because while you were nibbling Krispy Kremes, they walked right over me.  Right over!  Two of my welds snapped off and one staple yanked right out of the tree.  Can you imagine the pain?  The humiliation?  And, by the way, is that really how you look in the morning before you brush your hair?  Perhaps, you’d like a minute to get a hair clip before you grab your tool belt, huh?”

A broken fence is a horrible thing.

All the days activities were canceled.  (I didn’t really want to go to lunch with a college friend anyway.  I mean, does anyone enjoy getting off the farm, going into town, and sitting down to an adult conversation without child or animal interruption?  Bah.  Boring.)  I rooted through the supply closet, also known as The-Corner-Of-The-Downstairs-Bathroom-Where-I-Dump-My-Tools-Instead-Of-Putting-Them-Away-Because-It-Will-Only-Be-2-Days-Before-I-Need-Them-for-Another-Farm-Repair, looking for fencing staples and cage clips.  I explored behind the wood shed among all the remnants of fencing that were, of course, 6 inches short of reaching the next fence post so they had to be cut and discarded in favor of a brand new roll to scan the distance.  I decided I was going to fix the fence problem once and for all and headed off to the local home improvement store.

They know me there.  That’s because I have fixed the problem once and for all a whole lot of times.  Whenever I put my purchase on the checkout counter and say “That’ll fix it once and for all,” they just smile and nod.  They know I’ll be back again in a few days.  If not in just a few hours.  But on that day I purchased a satisfyingly vicious-looking roll of 15.5 gauge high tensile barbed wire.  A shiny, sharp barbed wire that would make the fence proud and the animals think twice about trying to walk through it.  And I knew I wouldn’t be back because the label on the roll even stated “Once properly installed, high tensile fences remain tight for years and require very little maintenance.”  Excellent.  The label also said “Easier to Install” and “Lasts Longer.”  Bonus.

Of course, I should have recognized that “Easier to Install” and “Lasts Longer”  are the hanging chads of the comparison world.   Easier to install than what, you ask?  Well, it was easier to install than wrestling 6 giant porcupines with my bare hands.  Instead it only felt like I was wrestling, oh, maybe, 5.5 giant porcupines with my bare hands.  It’s not that I didn’t start out with the proper safety equipment.  It’s just that I abandoned the heavy duty leather gloves needed to protect my hands and forearms when they became hopelessly tangled in the wire in the first 5 minutes.  I carefully slid out my fingers and contemplated the gloves, swallowed by the flesh-ripping coils of the wire and embedded with barbs.  I checked the label on the barbed wire roll again to see if there was any fine print.

Sure enough, right below the “easier” and “longer” claims was this:

“WARNING!  Safety first–use eye, hand, foot, and skin protection.”

Yes, but what will provide safety for the safety equipment?

Then in smaller font was the alarming:

“WARNING! This product contains chemicals known to California to produce cancer and cause birth defects or other reproductive harm”

What does that mean?  Harmful if touched?  Harmful if eaten?  Harmful if  little pieces of the barbs break off in my skin leaving me with farmer shrapnel?  And why does only California know about this?

And then, just as I suspected, on the very bottom, in print tiny enough for only the Whos in Whoville, it said:

“Abandon hope all ye who enter here.”

Well, if warnings and death threats could stop me then I wouldn’t be a farmer.  I managed 330 feet of a top strand of barbed wire attached to the fence that first day.  I know it was 330 feet because my kids measured the trail of blood drops left in the wake of my progress when they got home from school.  (Some kind of homework assignment for Middle requiring him to measure distances around the house.  Hey, your kid measures the length of the couch and mine measures the flow of my life source left behind in my pursuit of sustainable agriculture.  You say tomato, I say tomahto.)

To keep up my spirits, I chanted “once and for all” to myself while I unrolled the barbed wire, pulled it tight, and stapled it in place.  Mother Nature helped out by providing a glorious spring day filled with chirping birds and delicate spring breezes to cool my bleeding brow.  By the time I stumbled in the house to see if dinner had magically prepared itself while I was working (it didn’t, but no worries because the kids had filled the need by devouring 2 bags of chips and all the M&Ms in the trail mix), I had the flush feeling of having spent a lovely day outdoors and accomplished a little something along the way.  I went to bed happy, which was good.

Because in the morning I woke to find Mother Nature had changed her course.  Storms had passed through during the night, leaving the bolt cutters I left sitting out in need of some WD-40 and the empty wrappers from the fence clips strewn all over the yard and up into the tree branches.  Oh, and a huge dead tree laid over the fence, crushing the strand of barbed wire beneath it.  Apparently barbed wire doesn’t “last longer” than Mother Nature intends for it to last.

I love Mother Nature.

I hate Mother Nature.

© Stevie Taylor 2010. All Rights Reserved.

Comments

2 Responses to “Frenemies”

  1. Tanya Lam
    March 12th, 2010 @ 6:38 am

    Was I the college friend that loves to go to lunch in Chapel Hill with you? Thought so…
    Love,
    T

  2. N8urM0m
    March 14th, 2010 @ 5:10 pm

    I loved this post. Was linked to it from Farm to Table. Made me laugh, but feel for you at the same time. I really want to be a farmer someday and reading stories like yours remind me how much moxie it takes. Thanks!

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