Fences are healthy boundaries for people, animals

Published 12:46 pm Saturday, March 9, 2013

by James D. “Archie” Howell

My dog is missing; he’s been gone for a day or two; I usually don’t worry about him just overnight. It is not unusual for our dogs to be gone for short periods of time, especially during hunting season. This is my pet dog, not given to hunting except for mealtimes. Then he seems to find the bowl without a lot of fuss and bother; he’s not a house animal. Although my mother has a small house dog, other animals are restricted to the great outdoors, rain or shine, hot or cold. Cats also fit this category; they are outside creatures.

A few days later my dog appears in the yard dragging a rapidly putrefying right hind leg. It is obvious he has spent time entangled in a fence. Raw bone is visible halfway between the hock and foot; flesh has separated completely around the leg at the hock. He is thin but nutrition is not his major problem. My father takes him to our local vet and the leg is amputated at the hock. From this time forward, he will be a three-legged dog. His temperament doesn’t seem to be affected by the missing appendage; his tail continues to wag and he jumps around in an abbreviated manner, but it’s evident he’s happy.

It is not unusual to lose animals to fences. Many times, while inspecting line fences, evidence of an animal/fence battle is very apparent. Sometimes the animal is found still entangled, lifeless. On those somewhat sad occasions, the carcass is removed and repairs made to the fence.

Other boundary fences are attacked regularly by a surly cow, rooting pig, or horse grazing on greener grasses on the other side. Sundays seem to be the favorite time for fence excursions; many times a vehicle will turn in at our path and report livestock of some description wandering along highway right of way. If someone stops at our house, it’s assumed the animals are ours; they usually are. Nobody ever reports the cows loose in the woods; it’s always the highway.

I think cows have the most aggressive attitude toward fences; some are downright belligerent. For those, my father affixes a long pole to a collar with part of the pole protruding out front and the rest dragging along between the cows’ legs. The theory is that the pole will catch in the top part of the fence and prevent the cow from jumping over or falling across the wire. Or it gets tangled in their feet and prevents any jumping at all. It seems to work. Belligerent cows also seem to find their way to market before less boisterous beasts.

Winter is time for walking and inspecting all the line fences on our farm. I tag along behind my brother, sometimes carrying a bucket of fence staples and a “fencing” tool. The tool has long handles for leverage, a striking head, jaws with a pincers, and wire-cutting grooves set in the swivel. Opposite the striking head is a horn like shape that can be driven into a fence post under a staple to remove it, or used to pry things into a desired shape. We also carry a hammer to help drive the staples. I don’t think the fencing pliers are best for driving staples; obviously, my brother doesn’t either. Sometimes mosquitoes gather along the shoulders of his jacket, thick enough to turn the fabric dark. It’s just part of the job to us.

Line fences generally have one or two strands of barbed wire across the top as a further deterrent to animals. Some farmers run a strand of barbed wire at the bottom of the fence to discourage hogs from rooting. We only have the barbed wire at the top.

Temporary fences are strung after harvest of corn, peanut, or soybean fields. Usually peanut (pea) sticks are used for posts and wire is affixed in a manner that will allow easier removal when the field once again becomes a row crop. Livestock is “turned in” to those fields to forage leftovers. When the livestock finishes, there’s not much food value left. Strangely, we rarely have a breakout through temporary fences. Both hogs and cows seem content with the foraging.

Fences are healthy boundaries, for livestock and people alike. They protect the animals, the farmer, and the public at large. Highways can operate without fear of infringement. Fences maintain order in our neighborhood.

Boundaries are healthy principles in my life; they provide a safe operating area for my work and imagination. It’s generally easy to evaluate a farm or life by the quality of fences erected.

 JAMES D. “ARCHIE” HOWELL is a Southampton County native and 1955 graduate of Franklin High School. He can be reached at archiepix@kingwoodcable.com.