The fencing workout

Some tasks never seem to be finished. Just as I finish washing the dishes, dirty ones seem to appear from nowhere. Laundry multiplies by some scientifically unexplained method of reproduction and keeping my desk tidy involves never-ending vigilance.

Fixing fences is another one of those jobs that never end.

A West River friend described to me the many hours he spent cutting up trees that have fallen on his fences last summer. Every time he got the debris from one storm cleaned up and repairs done another storm blew through dropping even more branches on his fences.

I sympathized with his frustration over the constant repairs which fences require. Trees falling on them is something, however, we really haven’t experienced much in our pastures. Here in the midst of the prairie pot holes there are very few trees anywhere near our fences.

My friend from western North Dakota looked at me in disbelief when I told him grass pulling our fences down was a bigger problem than tree branches. I guess he had lived his whole life west of the Missouri, he had trouble envisioning grass tall enough to drop over the top wire of a four-wire high-tensile fence.

Our fencing challenges from grass are greater than simply having tall grass short out the bottom fence wires. In the winter the grass stops snow drifts higher than the fence especially where the fence runs along the road ditch. When the snow drifts melt, the snow and grass, which always seems to lean from the road ditch across the fence, pull on the wires as the drifts shrink to the ground. The weight of the melting snow and wet dead grass break insulators and stretch wires. I am not exaggerating the fact that snow and grass literally push fence posts into the ground. The wires pull corner posts out and break tighteners. Pulling the bottom wires out of the grass is a tedious, back breaking, muscle-building task. Loosening the wire tension in the fall helps save some of the insulators…sometimes.

The obvious question is, “Why don’t you just trim the grass under the wires?” Trimming would probably solve several problems including a much more easily energized electric fence and less maintenance in the long run. The aerobic exercise provided would be an excellent alternative to a gym membership, but realistically, there just aren’t enough hands or time to trim all the fences with a string trimmer a couple of times every summer. Chemicals aren’t an option on a certified organic farm.

Carrying a trimmer that is too big and heavy and a gas can that is always an eighth of a mile behind you increases the number of calories you can burn with this exercise. This is assuming, of course, that you can even get the cantankerous piece of machinery started. Need I say that I hate internal combustion engines on the end of a stick with a string? I’ve looked into battery operated trimmers but most of them are even heavier than gasoline models. I do think the idea of trimming for an hour or less at a time is just fine. That’s about as long as any of the batteries will last without recharging. At that rate, I should be able to get the fences trimmed every other year or so. Unfortunately, I can’t find a rechargeable model that is heavy duty enough to stand up to cutting cattails and six-foot-tall stands of sweet clover plants. Using a blade rather than a string helps but that can cause havoc with fiberglass fence posts if you aren’t careful.

I know there are bush hogs and push style trimmers but the rough terrain in some places would make them unwise even if we could afford the purchase price.

Grass that reaches to the sheep’s shoulders is a blessing. Unfortunately when it shorts out the fence, the sheep seek out the even greener stuff on the other side.

Oh, well. The gym is too far away anyway and I dislike treadmills even more than I dislike string trimmers.

Copyright © 2011 Janet Jacobson and Sustaining the Northern Plains