How many farmers does it take to put up a fence? Answer: It don’t make no difference a-tall; just takes one goat to knock it all down.
We recently had volunteer orientation at the farm. As I looked around at the young, fresh, eager faces, I feared I would soon burst their idealistic bubble of notions of rural bliss with the hard reality of barn cleaning, but doggonit, they are determined to love farm life. They also love Mr. Newman Goat. They follow him around, play “push”, yell at me from all corners “Farmer Anne, look what he’s doing now” (and I groan inwardly, dreading to know). It does bring a smile to this old farmer’s grizzled face (all right, I’m just joking about the grizzled part) to hear outraged cries of “New-MAN!” as he does something unexpected or, more likely, just plain rude.
Although it’s clear that erecting any fencing for the benefit of Newman is fruitless, I’ve had hopes of being able to create a pasture management system for the non-caprine residents here; I dreamily imagine sage conversations with serious farmers about pasture rotation and ideal grass blade height, telling them with keen interest of the precise seed mixture I’ve used and learning their methods for weed eradication. It’s strange: I used to get excited about foreign travel and the best salsa dance clubs downtown; I’m not sure what happened or when, or how, but if you really want to capture my attention nowadays, start talking disc harrows, tillage depth, and soil aeration.
So to fulfill my dream of lush pastures, early in the year I sought out people to build the fencing. Yeah, like there are a lot of farm fence builders out there. After receiving one single quote of $4,800 from apparently the only contractor around, I decided to do it myself. That was in March. The “one man post hole digger” that weighed easily 800 pounds and had to be towed back twice to the rental place (’cause it was a “one man” post hole digger and didn’t come with instructions for women) eventually dug some holes. Girlie holes, pronounced by the first guy who came by and said, “those aren’t deep enough”. They’re as deep as they’re gonna get, buster.
The real problem is, about 20 of those 50 holes have gotten filled back in since I didn’t get around to pouring concrete for all of them, um, all that efficiently.
Another challenge has been hanging gates. The trick is to bury the posts on either side of the gate the same width as the gate. Right. Next time you come to the farm, be sure to get on my good side by mentioning the funny-looking gateposts (with extra 4×4’s hanging off of them). The single most difficult part in erecting board fencing has been, not surprisingly, the constant presence of Mr. Newman Goat.
As most of us know, he fancies himself not only an architect but a construction expert. First step in assisting with fence building is to thoroughly investigate (read: rip open unceremoniously) not just one, but all of the concrete bags in the truck. (I suppose the advantage of this is that I won’t have any trouble next winter in the snow with all that extra weight in the bed, given the magic mixture of goat-spread concrete and rainstorms.)
Mr. Newman enjoys power tools, but then that could have been predicted. The battery-powered drill appears to be particularly tasty, but after sampling one wood screw (with me frantically clearing his mouth of the deadly metal), he pronounced them inedible and dumped the entire bucket out on the ground in disgust. If getting ready for the job was hard, hanging the boards was a real challenge: try to screw 8 foot boards onto fence posts by yourself sometime, just for fun. (I can provide the boards and the posts, no sweat.) I found after some experimenting and a lot of colorful language that if you have long legs you can do the spiderman maneuver and hold up one end with an ankle whilst pressing chest into the middle and screwing in on the far end by reaching arms as far as they will go. It’s awkward at best, but becomes almost — not entirely, but almost — impossible with a goat scratching his beard against your butt in the process.
Sometimes when the endless process of fencing gets to be a bit much, I visit other people. On these odd occasions when I attempt to be clad in pressed clothes and engage in polite conversation in clean houses, I’m struck at how easy everything seems. There aren’t packs of dogs running through their hallways, or chickens roosting on their back porch. There are no fresh cowpies on the front walk and their living rooms appear to be entirely free of any type whatsoever of broken feed bags, used turkey foot bandages, or tufts of dirty wool. Many of these people don’t even HAVE fences.
I find this truly remarkable. Sometimes I experience culture shock. Sometimes I have flashbacks to my past life when I could have wall to wall carpeting and my refrigerator wasn’t full of large animal medications and my shoes hadn’t all been eaten by some animal or other. But as I drive home, I think about the large goat who has broken all barriers and is very likely lounging on my front porch, and my heart is so very, very glad.
Till next time,
Star Gazing Farm
A haven for retired farm animals and wayward goats