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Ian & Raven raveian@wolston.com 541-971-0372


We Dont Need No Stinkin' Fences

by Ian Caldicott

Do you remember that list of rules that I am making about buying a farm, here's another one "there is no such thing as good fence installed by someone with a few cows".  Our flock includes a number of Scottish Blackface sheep, a breed notorious for getting through fences.  Last year at a demonstration farm in Washington I was working at we installed, with the help of a professional, some seven strand high tensile electric fence.  Now this fence is supposed to be great sheep fence and it generally is, unless you own Scotties.  To test the fence we put a group of Scotty rams and wethers in one of the pastures.  Their reaction to encountering the fence was, shall we say, unexpected. 

Everything started out fine, the sheep wandered around, eventually got up to a fence and ZAP, a good jolt on the nose causing them to take several steps back.  That was the last of the expected behavior.  The young ram stood there for a moment then put his head down and ran FULL SPEED at the fence.  The wires parted under the strain and just like that the ram was through.  Over the next 30 minutes we stood in amazement as one after the other about six of the Scotties did the same thing.

When we moved in part of the fencing was six strand electric so I knew that was destined to fail but what I didn't expect was how the rest of the fence was treated.  First the sheep discovered that the old fence between us and our neighbor to the west was not very strong, so they proceeded to tear holes in it.  That was one pasture off limits till the rain let up enough to put up better fence.  Next the east pasture, with all new field fence around it.  Turns out the previous owner was not a strong believer in either particularly tight fence or fence that goes all the way to the ground.  Imagine if you will slowly waking up in the morning to the sound of sheep apparently in your bedroom.  At first you think you're still half asleep and dreaming.  Then you start to wonder, why do the sheep sound so close today.  Then you look out the window.  Sheep everywhere, in the front yard, on the porch and of course the one looking up at you with that look that says "good morning can we come in and see what you have to eat in there".

So now we were down to putting the sheep across the irrigation ditch into the 40 acre field.  This worked well until the next heavy rain.  The ditch, which from now on is referred to as "the Nile", fills up very quickly when it rains and before we knew it the temporary bridge (really just a couple of big boards) we had in place was washed away.  So there we are about 30 minutes before dark with no way to get the sheep back for the night.  Well almost no way.  In a routine that was to carried out several more times through the winter I went out the front gate, down to the corner and up the road that runs on the east side of the farm and in the gate partway down the 40 acre field with Moss.  Moss is one of our Border Collies, he is very powerful and tends to excel at difficult real world situations, that evening I was praying that he would live up to his billing.  We gathered the sheep, took them out the gate and down to the corner.  Now the last stretch to the front gate can be a bit tricky, Highway 226 gets a fair bit of traffic, particularly big trucks. What a sight that must have been for anyone watching.  There is Raven standing in the middle of the road waving a flashlight at an oncoming trucker in the pouring rain.  Around the corner comes a man jogging backwards followed by about 80 sheep.  As we approached the driveway a speeding black and white bullet goes hurtling down the ditch on the far side to reappear a second later across from the driveway to turn the sheep in.  Where's the video camera when you need one and thank god for the talents of a good sheepdog!!