Good Fences

By on Mar 26, 2017 in Carole's Corner |

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When you get a call from a neighbor at 5:30 in the morning it’s probably not a social call. Whenever I get an early morning call it’s usually because my cattle, pigs or horses are roaming the neighborhood. I don’t ignore those calls.

Robert Frost wrote, “Good fences make good neighbors.” They also keep cattle and pigs out of the garden and off the highway. No matter how often we repair the two strands of electric wire that surrounds our 36-acre farm the work never ends. Fallen trees take down the wire and heavy snow shorts out the electricity that zap our livestock if they touch the wire. The electrical charge is not strong, I know because I’ve been zapped many times, by accident. Sometimes I get zapped because my husband, Bruce, says, “Don’t worry, that fence has no charge.” Right. The funny thing is that if you are not grounded you won’t get zapped. Zapping requires a full circuit and Bruce often wears non-conductive boots so he can grab the charged fence and not feel a thing. I always get zapped. Have you ever seen a bird sitting on a fence wire? As long as the bird doesn’t touch the ground or anything connected to the ground (like a fence post), they won’t get zapped.

Missy, a Scottish Highlander cow, checks out the electric fence.

Even if it is not charged, the older cows still respect the electric wire fence. Photo by Carole Soule Miles Smith Farm

The electric charge is not life threatening but when a cow touches its nose to a live fence they sure think it is. After a zap, the cattle are not eager to repeat the process. In fact, once “trained” to the zap, most cattle won’t touch the fence even when it’s not charged. There is always a curious young calf or motivated bull or piglet that will test the fence and go through, under or over it if there is no charge. That’s when I’ll get a call from my neighbors.

Scottish Highlander Calves

When the electric fence is not working, panels keep the livestock from escaping. Photo by Carole Soule Miles Smith Farm

The other day I got a Facebook message from a new neighbor that my piglets were in his driveway. When I checked the piglets were in the pig yard waiting to go back into their pen. I put them away and checked my neighbor’s address. Those fifteen piglets had traveled over a half mile, past three houses, down the road and returned, on their own. Talk about stealth piggies! Did they have a lookout to watch for cars and pedestrians as they snuck down the road? They must have stayed in formation to make it down and back together without anyone, almost anyone, noticing.

Star escapes regularly from the pasture

Star escapes from the fenced pasture regularly to spend time with her buddy, nine-year-old Olivia. Photo by Carole Soule Miles Smith Farm

Electric pig fencing, because it is a lot lower to the ground than cattle fencing, is often shorted out by heavy snow. With the snow this winter we installed an uncharged, woven wire fence to keep the piglets in until the snow melts and we can fix the electric fence. With this new woven fencing the piglets have not escaped in weeks and, except for one calf named Star, the rest of our herd respects the fences. I’m not sure how much charge is left. Maybe I’ll have Bruce check that.

Piglets waiting for food

Woven wire keeps the piglets contained until we fix the electric fences. Photo by Carole Soule Miles Smith Farm