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Irons in the fire: Fix your fence and get some sleep

Paul Marchant Published on 24 February 2014

My grandfather, a World War I veteran, died when I was 13. He was always an old man when I knew him, but the memories I have of him are mostly good ones.

The first time I ever roped a live critter from a horse was to doctor a calf when we were moving cows to the mountain one spring.

I don’t remember how many tries it took me to catch the lame leppy calf, but I do remember not wanting to fail because Grandpa, following behind us in the truck, had told my dad that he wanted to see me rope the calf.

I suppose like many grandpas, he had a lot of stories that he shared with his grandchildren. He always had some little song or limerick that he’d recite.

To this day, one of my all-time favorite songs is “Strawberry Roan” because it’s probably one of the first songs I learned from hearing Grandpa sing it.

It made me a Marty Robbins fan, because my very first vinyl LP was Marty Robbins singing gunfighter ballads. I didn’t know or care about any of the other songs on the record, but I knew it had Strawberry on it, so I had to have it.

One of the stories that I heard Grandpa tell several times was of the man who could sleep when the wind blew. It told of a farmer who, in need of a reliable hired man, interviewed several candidates and finally decided on a young man who intrigued the farmer when he told him that he should get the job because he could sleep when the wind blows.

As it turned out, the young man was reliable help but genuinely proved his worth on the night of a big storm. As a monstrous storm was approaching one night, the farmer frantically searched for his new hired man to help him prepare for the impending disaster.

Unable to find him, the farmer finally decided to do the work himself. However, as he went out in the darkness to gather the teams in the barn, secure the equipment, cover the hay and fasten the gates and barn doors, he found that the work had already been done.

The farmer now understood what his young employee meant when he said he could sleep when the wind blows.

Anyone who runs cattle in the high country of the West probably knows what a lay-down fence is. Because of heavy snowfall in the higher elevations that will strain and break the wires of fences in the winter, the fences have to be let down every fall when the cattle come home and put back up each spring before the cattle are turned on the mountain.

Our forest allotment is in some pretty steep country, and our fences stretch over several miles of rough terrain at elevations of 7,000 to 10,000 feet.

Putting the fence up every year is not necessarily one of the most pleasant jobs in the world, even though it includes some gorgeous scenery. It involves a lot of walking and bending over and walking and wire cuts and walking.

It’s usually a family affair because the more hands available, the easier and quicker the job is. My daughters were always pretty good about helping with putting the fence up.

I guess they appreciated the fresh air and the views. Their younger brothers, now in their teens, don’t seem to appreciate the experience. They’d much rather be on the couch playing Madden and guzzling Dr. Pepper.

Laying the fence down in the fall is not near the chore that putting it up is. A lot of it can be done without even getting off your horse.

In terms of ease of the work, putting the fence up is like fishing for tuna in the North Atlantic. Letting it down is like sticking catfish in a bucket with a pitchfork. It’s always a race, though, to get the fence down between the time the cattle come off the mountain and the snow comes.

One year we didn’t get part of the fence on top laid down before the snow came. I wasn’t too concerned, though. It was only a stretch of about a mile.

How bad could it be? Answer: Very bad. The next spring it took several days to stretch and splice wire and replace all of the bent and broken steel posts.

A job that should have taken a couple of hours took the better part of a week. It’s probably what really soured my sons on fixing fence. I don’t think Grandpa would ever have left the fence up all winter.

Everyone knows that good fences make good neighbors. There is a lot more to be learned from a timely repaired fence, though – both literally and metaphorically.

It’s much easier to let the fence down before the snow than it is to rebuild it after the snow. Not only that – if your fences are in good repair, you can sleep when the wind blows.  end mark

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