Good fences make good neighbors. Well, maybe not if you have in-laws for neighbors. But I can say good fences make for good privacy, good livestock containment, pet protection, wind break, shelter for starting trees and on and on.
Living and working on a ranch as we do now and have for years elsewhere as well, fencing is a regular part of our job and our life. It would be hard to have livestock if you didn’t enjoy most of the jobs associated with ownership. I may not love each and every aspect (for example, mucking manure), but if I couldn’t manage the less pleasant ones and enjoy the majority, I’d be in the wrong business. Fencing is one of those decent jobs. Although I can’t say I would want to work on fencing all day, every day (there are just too many other things to do), we do find ourselves occupied by fencing projects for about a month out of every year. It is good work, and we’re lucky to enjoy being out there together getting it done.
And so, each year, around the same time in Spring on the first warm days of the season when the snow has finally melted off, and the air is fresh, and the mountain is still sleepy, just rubbing it’s eyes in awakening for the season, you’ll find us out there either digging post holes, pounding posts, stretching wire, welding metal pipe, or nailing up boards…
Having lived in New Mexico for years, I enjoyed the crafty fencing that was often referred to as “coyote fencing.” Obviously originally designed to keep the coyotes out of the yard and away from livestock, these fences were built with whatever material was close by and on hand – thin branches or saplings, attached onto a cross brace or braces, held up by solid, secure posts.
We do not have coyote “problems” (it’s the fox that gets a couple chickens every Spring, climbing right over the coyote fence!) but we do have terrible winds that come from the west, and without the patience to wait for a row of trees to grow and serve our needs during winter and early spring especially, we were quite keen on the idea of a windbreak fence.
The fence supplies “came” to us one fall. Really! Early in September, when the leaves were still on the trees, before they had even started to turn, we were hit with a big, wet, heavy snow – nearly a foot if my memory isn’t too far off, as it was many years ago now. The mountain was caught unprepared. The Aspen, it seemed all of them, bent over from the weight of the snow, creating graceful arches, bowing so low their tops were touching the ground.
The majority of the Aspen did not bounce back. The weight of the snow was too great. At best, the tops snapped off. At worst, then entire tree fell over. The mountain became littered with Aspen branches and broken trees, and the forest looked so odd with entire stands of Aspen appearing as if their tops were all intentionally lopped off at a similar height.
The road became impassible. Road crew is not so quick to come help us out up here. And although the mountain was still quite crowded with tourists and hunters, we knew it would at best be days before the county or Forest Service sent someone up with a chain saw. But living in the mountains, you don’t tend to sit around and call for or wait around for help. More often than not, you get together with Neighbors and get done whatever needs to be done.
The hunters and campers were the first to get out there and start clearing the road. I imagine they were feeling rather trapped! As for us, wanting to help out in part, we hooked up the little flat bed trailer, and inched our way along the road behind our ranch, with a couple of chainsaws buzzing non-stop, and a couple other folks clearing the Aspen from the road and onto the trailer. At the end of the day, we found ourselves with all this scrap Aspen branch wood – far too small to be worthy for fire wood, and far too much fuel to just dump along side the road. But a use for it did not occur to us until the following spring, after staring at that massive pile of wood all winter… we would turn it into a fence.
Early in the season, we set about to build us a coyote fence around our “yard.” Bob used a backhoe to set heavy cedar posts spaced about 10 feet apart. The cedar posts, of course, Bob had got used from a farm auction years earlier. And yes, they had been stored in one of those beloved junk piles!
Then we attached on the horizontal rough-cut oak 1-by cull boards – spaced at about 2 and 3 ½ feet in height, running between the cedar posts. The oak came from the same junk pile.
Onto the oak slats, we attached the Aspen branches. We tried several methods, but found the best way was to wire them on – using, of course, used baling wired saved from the bales of hay we had fed to the horses the previous winter.
At first we hand cut each branch to the right height before wiring it onto the oak. But what we found worked best was after each section that I wired on, I would call Bob over with the chain saw, and he’d zip the tops off, 25 or 30 at a time, in a perfect height to create the arched look.
Every year, we walk the fence line, straighten up a few branches, and tighten a few wires. Last year, the fence was then five years old, I had to replace perhaps three or four branches (the Aspen shrink when they dry in time, and horses love to chew on them). That’s it, and not bad required annual maintenance for a fence that has protected us from the winds and drifting snow, contained many a mare and newborn foals when I like to keep them close by, provided our chickens with a safe environment to free range, and much to our surprise, been admired and photographed by many – it’s a nice looking fence!
It still hasn’t made my in-laws good neighbors, though.