Thursday, January 15, 2015

Getting a charge out of morning chores

After breaking stock tank ice in the northwest hay meadow where calves are wintering, I did the same for the bred heifers. It was a gorgeous winter morning; sun peeking over the southeast horizon, temperature 15 and already warming, calm and still. After the misery of a of blasting north wind, I was almost giddy with delight at the lack of wind. It’s a marvel how many really, really nice days we have here in autumn and winter. That they’re usually book-ended by nasty weather makes them all the more enjoyable.

The heifers were, as usual, fine. They’re a solid group with good disposition and look like they’ll make good herd cows. They're bred to heifer bulls selected for calving ease. It’ll be interesting to see how they do at calving time in April.

On this fine winter morning, curiosity has led the heifers to a weak spot in the the corner of the pasture where my patching and procrastination has led to a dogs breakfast of embarrassment. The not-for-public-viewing fence allowed the heifers to go walkabout, and as I drove toward the group in bright, early-morning sunshine, the last few were just getting up the courage to join their sisters in the adjacent stubble field.

A dogs breakfast of patchwork fencing.
One of the headaches – and paradoxically, joys – of raising young cattle is their natural curiosity. They seem to love to explore the world, and they seem to delight in finding new things. When one finds something interesting, say a tattered piece of feed bag fluttering along the ground, the rest come running to sniff at, follow, and startle in mock terror at the bit of grimy paper. Then, as often as not, they break out across the prairie in a rearing, jumping, heel-kicking gallop. Watching their playful antics, it’s hard not to think that they’re having fun and enjoying life. I’d guess that they are, but I’ll never know for sure of course.

No problem, really. Fixing fence is part of the job. The frozen ground called for more patchwork instead of rebuilding, but in the short term that's okay. If the fences look too nice the assessor jacks the value anyway. That's my excuse and I'm stickin' to it.

I nipped out of the pickup and quickly turned the heifers back in the way they went out. These young cattle have a nice temperament and are used to seeing me up close on a daily basis, so moving them back through the fence gap wasn't much of a chore.

With the warming sunshine, no wind, and rising temperature, stretching and splicing a few strands of wire was a pleasant break rather than a chore.

In less time than it takes to type these words, I had the bottom two wires repaired. I noticed a broken strand in the top wire and clipped it out, then rolled out a four-foot piece of new wire to replace it. I looped and twisted the new wire to the post, grabbed the stretcher, and attached the old wire to the fixed clamp. I opened up the clamp on the ratcheting end of the stretcher, and still holding the stretcher in my right hand, grabbed the new wire with my left hand.

I had failed to notice one detail, and forgotten another detail.

The unnoticed detail was that the new wire I’d twisted on to the fence post had slipped down until it was touching the top wire going the other way along the fence.

The forgotten detail was that the other top wire was “hot.”


The jolt of electricity shot through my body from left hand to right. The sensation is hard to describe. It's a combination of a sharp, snapping pain and the sudden contracting of every muscle along the path the electricity took. I jumped back, hollered, threw down the stretcher and wire, and gave a lesson in salty sailor talk. The heifers stood there looking at me, waiting to see if there would be more entertainment.

I chastised them severely and made fun of their lowly status. “See what you’d have to deal with if you’d developed opposable thumbs and reasoning?” I said. I can be snarky as hell, I can.

Shaking my head I climbed back into the pickup, drove to the building containing the fencer, unplugged it (never just switch it off. Trust me.), then retraced my path to the scene of my recent electrocution.

The fencer.
I quickly stretched the wire (making sure it was no longer in contact with the “hot” side), spliced it together, and got on with my morning chores.

I’m always shocked when I get zapped by one of my electric fences. Fortunately, while the voltage carried by modern electric fence is quite high, the amperage is quite low, so the jolt is painful but harmless. You'd think an experienced fellow would finally learn, but you'd think wrong.

Oh well, it's a good waker-upper.


  1. “See what you’d have to deal with if you’d developed opposable thumbs and reasoning?”

    And that, my friend, is a classic line. Brilliant. Somehow I can see you out there, berating the cattle and them, standing there, staring at you in their bovine way, getting a chuckle out of it. (Do cows chuckle? Or is it more of a guffaw?)

  2. LOL Hot fences are a blessing or a curse and sometimes both. Hot wire can bite you in a lot of way.... High tensile will whip you if someone breaks it while driving staples too deep... Being rolled up in a barbwire break is no fun either. How do I know? It would be nice to say deductive reasoning, but that isn't so...