i have this problem: i can’t be lazy. oh, i try. and i’m a world-class procrastinator and amateur layabout, don’t get me wrong. it’s just that when i’m faced with a weekend, two blissful days of not-having-to-be-anywhere-or-do-anything, i can’t do nothing. i talk big on friday afternoon “o HO! i see thou, weekend! i shall squander thee!” and then on saturday morning, i wake up too early and mess up my lazy weekend plans with work. this is doubly unfair of me since i have a fairly high-stress job (at some points during the year) and i think i deserve some lazy.
last saturday, i seriously got up before dawn. dawn! i am not a morning person by any stretch of the imagination. if i had my way, the business day would begin at 11 am and i’d still be groggy and morningpuffyfaced. (in the spirit of amateur layabouts, my ideal business day would also end at 3 pm, so there’s that, too.) i took oakland out for some peeshooting, fed the dogs, got dressed, took the dogs back out, fed the horses and goats, let the chickens out and it still wasn’t proper light by the time i got done with all of that. i went back in the house for the breakfast of champions (day-old doughnut) and then spent the entire day fencing. (that’s shorthand for “building fence”. it doesn’t involve swords. most of the time.)
keeping horses in and keeping them safe from their own fencing is a tricky business. every fencing option has its dangers and drawbacks. plank fencing, for instance, requires maintenance and can splinter when a horse goes barreling into it. my appaloosa gelding, qohqoh, can attest to this. he impaled himself on a fence plank as a two-year-old. the vet stitched him up with a splinter still in there and a nasty abscess bloomed. when the thing finally came to a head, it sprayed pus and debris eight feet away. it was the size of a rugby ball. worse, after it healed up, the splinter was still in residence and caused another abscess to form several years later. there’s nothing like the look of plank fence, nothing as evocative of “horse farm” as miles of wooden fencing, but it’s just dangerous. plus, horses do love to gnaw on it. and it rots over time. it’s just not good.
barbed wire and high-tensile (metal) electric fences are horse killers. i once worked at a farm that lost four school ponies to an electric fence one night when something spooked them in the pasture. three were dead when they were discovered the next morning and one was euthanized immediately. only one pony survived that fence and she had terrible scars. (she was also a major jerk, but i always gave her the benefit of the doubt. pony PTSD.)
there are lots of other options: no-climb wire (like sheep fencing, only with narrower openings), polyrope (an electric option), wire-impregnated plastics, plastic planking… if you can think of it, it’s out there. the only thing that made sense on my property was portable electric. this is an electric fence using polywire (a twisted plastic string with wires in), light fiberglass fence posts, and plastic insulators. one person can build a pasture in a day and take it down later. the fence posts slide into our hard, rocky soil pretty readily. the wire will snap under stress and not cut a horse to ribbons. it’s easily repaired (a knot will do) and can be cut shorter or tied longer. it’s basically just a really easy fencing system that requires minimal maintenance (i go around a few times per season and whack the fence posts back in and check for branches on the wires). the downside is that because it breaks so easily, any assault on the fence will result in loose horses, but that’s a small price to pay for safety and i don’t have to worry about traffic or other hazards where i live. the thing i worry about most is the neighbour’s barbed wire fence, but they usually head the other direction at the end of the driveway.
saturday morning, doughnut on board, i put on my work gloves and my ratty barn coat (yes, that old thing is still around) and my muck boots; got a knife, a hammer, and a plastic post cap/driver (which we call a “pete” after a friend of ours who never knew what those were for [they come attached to each bundle of fiberglass posts when you buy them] and adored them once he did) to keep the posts from splintering when you’re whacking them into the ground; and headed out with mimi the bad cat for a day of fencing.
in summer, i like to keep the horses in four separate pastures. this means a lot of tromping around at chore time and a lot of water buckets to keep filled, but it means quieter horses at mealtimes, fewer loose horses in general, and greater motivation to work with each one individually because it doesn’t require a rodeo to separate them every time. in winter, this just isn’t feasible. for the last two years, i’ve kept dana, morgan, and qohqoh in one pasture and soni in another. this ensures that soni gets to eat all his own food, you see.
the horses were already in the same pasture last weekend because dana was in season and soni had wreaked havoc and let the whole herd out late last week. fortunately, it was just about dinner time when all of this went down, so they were all inclined to stick around. the mare, especially when she’s in season, is usually more inclined to go for a long walk (long walk for me, not for her). friday night, we had a severe wind storm that took down several trees, one of them onto the electric wires, leaving us without power. the power company came in the dark and the wind and got us up and running again, but left most of the tree they hacked up right on the fence line in the lower pasture. the maple tree out by the composter also took a hit and landed smack on the fence of the back pasture. i patched up the boys’ pasture as best i could, hoped they wouldn’t notice the gaps next to the mountain of pine boughs, and let them all run in there while i worked above.
i took down the back pasture, reeling the polywire up onto a plastic reel and the going back and pulling posts. i had to crawl into the branches of the downed maple to take the wire off the insulator. the post had been pounded about two feet into the ground and then snapped and shattered by the weight of the tree.
next, i took down the fence on the lawn. i don’t enjoy mowing so much and the horses like the grass, so it’s a win-win arrangement except that it gets overgrazed and pooped on a bit. it’ll be fine in the spring (just in time for me to wreck it again by putting horses on it).
the main job was to strengthen the winter pasture. in summer, i place 4 ft posts about 12 feet apart and wrap the fence on every third or fifth insulator (unless i’m fencing soni, in which case i wrap every insulator). in winter, i use 6 ft posts, put them 8 feet apart, and wrap every insulator. i also angle the corner posts, including any curves. it took most of the day to complete the winter pasture and, of course, when i got done i realized that i’d built it so well that i wasn’t going to be able to move the horses into it short of bringing them in through the gate on lead ropes or spoiling a section of my nice, new winter fence. i opted for the latter and patched it up as best i could once the nags had gone through. i guarantee that section will be my problem spot all winter long.
i disconnected the lower pasture so that i could plug in the winter pasture and have it work. i have yet to take down the fence in the lower pasture. i suspect that i will have to abandon several sections of fence that are lost under a heap of pine tree parts and next spring i’ll have to fence inside of the debris and lose some pasture for a while as a result.
i tidied up a few more tasks (ran extension cords for bucket heaters and the like), but have another couple of weekends more to do. i just finished an incredibly stressful two weeks of work and am treating myself to a four day weekend to recoup. who wants to place bets that i’m out there early tomorrow morning moving the goat pen (don’t do it; it’s a trap)?