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Sunday, July 15, 2012

Not the Day We Planned

The heat and drought continue and it cooled only to 73 degrees last night, but was so humid that even that warm temperature was below the dewpoint. At dawn the thermoclines produced a couple distinct bands of fog overhead, which quickly burned off into another hot, clear, and windless day. Alan and I were out of the house by eight o'clock, he to the shop to make some repairs and me to the gardens to continue my holding action against the awful purslane.

Hoes in hand, I rounded the corner of the machine shed and encountered a cow and two calves grazing in the yard, the third time this obstreperous creature and its young had breached the north fence from the neighbor's pasture. The grass is always greener...

photo credit: Rex
Iowa law uses a right-hand rule to describe the shared responsibility for fence maintenance between neighboring properties. You stand at the center along a shared boundary, looking across into your neighbor's land, and the half of the fence to your right is yours to maintain. Our half of this fence is decrepit, repairs upon repairs of old barbed and welded wire fencing, with a motley collection of mostly rotted posts. The neighbor had installed some electric fencing as a stop-gap, and we'd made some very cursory repairs, but these cows just broke through again in the same place (they're smarter than you might think), and now there were really no more half-measures to be taken.

The breach:

There were lots of things we'd rather have done today, but we built fence. The nearest braced posts required we put in a 150-foot section, using 78-inch T-posts at 12-foot spacing, and five courses of barbed wire spaced nine inches apart. Barbed wire is nasty stuff. A quarter-mile of it on a reel is very heavy. It has to be tensioned with chains and come-alongs, and we were working in and around the several previous versions of the fence and the current (ha!) electric fence. We each got a pretty good jolt along the way, and that is a damned uncomfortable experience. I rent my clothing, and I rent my flesh but, by god, we got it done.

We began at this post made of "hedge" or Osage orange, and worked our way east.

The fenceline drops into a gully at the other end and, further complicating matters, at this point the electric fence makes a 90-degree turn into the neighbor's land. Our barbed wire had to fit through it all without shorting. Here we used plastic bottles as insulators to keep the wires apart while we strung and tensioned. The sheet metal behind the trees is the vane from an old windmill, apparently placed to stabilize the slope, which here is falling from upper right to lower left.

The neighbor, who's been caring for his family farm since he was eighteen, forty years ago, gave us high marks for the finished work, so I think we did all right.

And now I'm very tired and it's time to go to bed.

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