HOME & HEART: On the Fence


For the most part, I grew up in the country. I had country-kid skills. I could slip through a barbed wire fence without getting snagged. I herded cows to the milking barn on my Auntie Bea’s dairy. I knew the Pasture Prime Directive: When you come upon a gate, open or closed, leave it how you found it.

When my husband Bob-O and I lived at the edge of the forest, our whole county was open range, but nobody ranged their cattle in the woods. Moving to our current homestead was my first experience being surrounded by open range and dealing with roaming critters.

Our parcel of 10.2 acres held the roundup cabin, hay barn, and corral and chutes for the large cattle ranch that had been subdivided and sold off. About 5 acres around the cabin were fenced with the typical four strands of barbed wire attached to cedar posts, but the fence was old and run down in places. There was a metal gate across the road at the bottom of the property and a wooden plank bridge over the creek with gaps that served as a cattle guard.

That first autumn, Bob-O and I realized we would have to fence the area we wanted to grow vegetables in, since the deer jump right over barbed-wire fences. Ever resourceful, we cut and used lengths of irrigation pipe as fence posts. The pipe had once been used to transport water from a now-defunct water ditch on the hillside above our house. We bought 6-foot-high “rabbit” fencing to attach to the posts. The horizontal spacing is smaller toward the bottom of the fence—where protection against rabbits and varmints is needed most. Toward the top, the upper spacing allows your hand (or as we found out, a raccoon) to pass through. We fenced the only piece of flat ground within the 5 fenced acres for our vegetable garden. At one end, we installed a 4-foot-tall gate with a PVC arch over it to deter the deer from jumping over it. The back of the garden area was covered in brush; the side along the road I planted with lavender and rosemary shrubs.

While our garden was protected from deer, that still left the rest of the land—and the shaggy range cattle that would jump the barbed wire fence almost as easily as the deer. When the cows jumped the barbed wire, my trusty canine companion Amelia Airedale and I would go shoo them back over the fence. If there were several, I would sneak around them, open the bottom gate, and herd them out.

Still, it was disconcerting to walk out the front door and come face to face with a 1,600-pound cow in the yard. Range cattle are not as docile as the dairy cows I knew. They will just as soon turn on you, as not.

One morning, I looked out the front window and thought I saw a big black cow. I called Amelia and we headed out. As we crossed the field, it became apparent that it was a huge bull—about 2,200 pounds of half-wild creature was giving us the eye. Amelia stayed by my side and kept looking up at me like, “Are we really going to do this?” I picked up a piece of 2-foot-long PVC pipe and held it above my head, trying to look bigger than I was. Yelling as loudly as I could, I ran for the bull and Amelia ran alongside, barking excitedly. Lucky for us, the bull decided to jump back over the fence and went on his way.

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