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Farm Byline: January 2021

Good fences

by Al Gustin


The warm weather and lack of snow these past couple of months have given farmers and ranchers the opportunity to get caught up on some late-season projects. Twice during early December, cattlemen told me they’ve been building or rebuilding pasture fences. We did that, too, replacing old, rusted barbed wire on several long stretches of fence.

I started fixing those fences as a young boy, helping my dad, and some of it was old then, more than 60 years ago. Most ranchers can tell you about trying to fix barbed wire that’s so old, rusted and brittle that it breaks whenever you stretch or tie it, or it breaks when some cow leans through, because, as we all know, the grass is always greener on the other side.

I remember how bad some of those old fences used to be. I recall fixing fence around some pasture that Dad had rented. You could hardly call it a fence. In one spot, an old bed spring had been tied up to block an opening where the cows had broken through.

I also remember how common it once was to see cattle in the road ditches – fence crawlers. A metal “yoke” was sometimes bolted around the cow’s neck. It was a collar with one arm extending upward and another downward to prevent the cow from pushing through the fence. I read in a homesteaders’ handbook about how a forked tree branch could be fastened around the cow’s neck to accomplish the same thing.

Today, most fences are a lot better. I’m always impressed, driving through the country, by the miles and miles of really good fence – three or often four tight wires, and strong wooden or pipe assemblies at the corners and by gates. Much of that fence was made by professional fence-building crews and they do an excellent job.

Keeping cows off of country roads is more important today than it once was. Those roads now carry semi-trucks and school busses. And everybody drives faster. Good fences make for safer roadways. And, as always, they make for good neighbors.

Al Gustin is a retired farm broadcaster, active rancher and a member of Mor-Gran-Sou Electric Cooperative.