Thursday, February 11, 2010

Fencing 101

If ranching were an actual major in college, the Fencing aspect of it would be a required minor.
The course catalog description would read something along the lines of: must have fantastic upper body strength, must have updated tetanus shot, leather gloves required, laboratory time is dependent on cattle activity (be prepared for professor to call you at all times of day or night if fence needs fixed). It would be that weed-out course in the second semester of your freshman year. You either pass and continue on with the Ranching major or head over to talk to the Philosophy professors about a possible transfer.
The first few weeks would be spent on fencing philosophy, on how the romanticized American West of the Teddy Roosevelt era doesn't really exist anymore other than in attitude. You would learn about how land was partitioned off to starry-eyed homesteaders in the early part of the 20th century and how those partitions mostly stuck, for better or worse, and have become the sticking point for neighbors all over the west: who really is responsible for fixing that fence?
You would not want to miss the first laboratory period of Fencing 101. In it, you would learn gate-opening techniques. For women, this is an important lesson on how to not give yourself grisly pinch marks in the sensitive pectoral region. Be sure to wear old clothes. Barbed wire has a funny way of creating an "L"-shaped tear on anything it touches.
You would also learn a number of introductory techniques, such as spacing the posts somewhere between 16-20' apart, depending on terrain; whether or not a barbed wire anchor or an entire brace setting is required; how to operate the awkward and insanely heavy steel post pounder; and how to run a fair of fencing pliers. Graduate students and professors will direct you to sort out the wires of a fence that has been broken and hold them while they do the necessary splicing and repairs. Be wary of the professor that has you do the clipping of the fence wires to the posts: "No, higher on the post. No, lower. That wire there needs to come up a few inches. NO! THAT wire!" It can be an absolutely demoralizing experience to be a beginning fencer. But when you graduate to actually being allowed to run the fence stretcher, you know you are getting somewhere.
In later weeks of the course, you might learn a little bit about the theories behind cattle handling and thus how the set-up of transitions between pastures are critically important. Stockmanship 101 is a recommended prerequisite for this course. At the very least, take it simultaneously.
Your professor would also allude to the follow-up to Fencing 101: oddly enough called Fencing 201. I don't recommend this course. It involves learning how to incorporate water tanks into fences and communicating with cattle who repeatedly slither through fences. The communication generally involves some confinement in a corral and a trip to the sales ring, but anyway...
You'll no doubt hear stories from upperclassmen about Danish Cowboy's dreaded final exam in which he provokes two bulls into fighting and has them mangle an eighty-year-old fence into various parts and pieces. Hopefully you will have learned the appropriate language for this situation and can successfully herd the bulls back into the pasture and fix the fence, all while being bitten by flies, slipping in the mud and dealing with the still-frozen ground that won't let you pound the fence post as deep as it needs to go. It's a great class. I really encourage you to take it.

1 comment:

  1. Emily...Thank you for this post...these photographs...this humor...THIS BLOG! I become a bigger fan everyday!