For anyone interested in starting farming or keeping livestock, the first thing they have to ask themselves is whether they like to spend time outside working on fences. Fences constitute about 70% of my work day at the farm. And it is impossible to farm all day and not consider the huge impact that fences have and have had on our lives and development as human beings. I do not want to wax philosophical on you now, but ... we have evolved as a species because of fences. We were able to settle down and stop moving around following the herds of animals because fences allowed us to keep animals in one spot. We have been able to keep ouselves and our animals safe since fences can be used for protection from predators. Basically, a farmer is the master of fences. By using fences, we are able to provide meat and vegetables to our community, and this frees time for others to get busy in other areas, such as fine arts, engineering, etc., etc. All because of these nets and branches I am carrying around and carefully placing around the perimeter of the paddocks. Fences are my eternal love, mistery, foe, and threat.
Love: After a good rotational season I look at the grass on my land and see the progress the soil has made - the richness of the grass, the ability of the soil to hold water. And I know it can all be attributed to the fences' keeping animals away from the grass when it is young and to their keeping the animals in when the grass is at its peak and needs a hair cut. I love how the fences allow me to add richness to our land.
Mistery: Really??? This tiny piece of metal will keep a 300Lb sow from wanting to graze over there where the new tender grass looks so inviting. However, the heavy duty 4-foot metal mesh will be completely useless in front of the genius of our creative sheep that use each other as trampolines.
Foe: If you ever happen to drive by 3256 Silver St and see me trapped in a tangle of white sheep fence, you know you better keep on driving. And do not bring a pair of scissors near me or I may make a several-hundred-dollar mistake.
Threat: If you have ever had pigs, sheep, or cows, you know how important fences are, and you know the feeling you get in your gut when the fences fail to ... well, fence. In our first years of homesteading, Farmer Charles and I learned quickly to fear the question "do you have pigs?" The first time we saw two policemen pointing directly to our home from across the meadow-
"Do you have pigs?"
"Where are they?"
"They're in our woods."
"No, they are not."
Through the years we have had strangers and neighbors knocking on our front door asking similar questions. These are not usually the questions of someone interested in petting your pig, wanting to see if you are selling their delicious meat, or just ready to congratulate you for your decision to humanely raise your livestock. Alas, this question is usually followed by a frantic run for the "emergency dairy bucket" - pigs will follow a bucket full of dairy products no matter where they are or how far they have to walk to reach it. So, the "emergency dairy bucket" is as important as a fire estinguisher at our place.
If you are so unlucky that your sheep are out and they have decided to go for a stroll, then good luck. We had a memorable two-hour event in the middle of Hinesburg where over 20 cars joined us (Farmer Chalres and Farmer Ale - 7 months pregnant at the time) trying to catch three little lambs that had just arrived at our farm and were not used to either electric fences or their new home.
Let's just say that we have learned to fear, respect and love fences very quickly. Through the years we have had fewer escapes, and now the pigs, if they run away, mostly come to our front steps demanding some cheese. However, a tree falling on the fences in the middle of the night, a lightening bolt shorting out the fence and killing the electricity in the barn...these are the images that remain vivid in our dreams.