Graham R. Cooper
to put it bluntly
There’s something to be said for blunt shovels: I didn’t quite slice through the pipe. One of the first rules of fencing: check for underground cables and pipes before digging post holes. You’d think I’d have learnt my lesson. I’ve cut through water pipes before.
The most disturbing near miss was when I sliced the insulation round an underground electric cable supplying power to an outbuilding. I wasn’t silly enough or brave enough to have a go at the cable.
bringing home the bacon
Phew – the electrician confirmed that I hadn’t damaged the insulation round the live wire. He was a qualified electrician with many years’ experience in the trade. To those in the know, when small electrical jobs needed to be done, you’d call in the ‘egg and bacon man’. He’d do what was needed in exchange for … You guessed it. Handy that we just happened to have hens and pigs.
These ‘once were farms for yonks’ can have water pipes and electric cables buried all over the place. When a spade slashes a water pipe I do running repairs: the water’s running and I’m running up the hill to turn off the valve, before running to get twine, wire, connectors, spanners, etc, to do temporary or permanent repairs.
Can’t blame somebody else this time though. One of my first jobs on moving here was going round the perimeter of the property putting in outriggers and feeding an electric fence ‘hotwire’ through them. At the time, I put double insulated electric fencing cable inside alkathene pipe and buried it 50cm deep to go under the roadside gate, extending the underground channel several more metres till it got to the far side of the loading bank.
It was so bloody obvious! All I would have needed to do was to glance over to the other side of the drive to see where the cable snaked down the gate post to go under the drive. But no! Other fencing problems cluttered up my thoughts.
I decided I needed to dig a post hole several centimetres out from the concrete gate post that was on the drive side of the old loading bank. I’d been striking a few stones, so thought nothing of it until I got down on hands and knees to push aside some soil to see what was impeding progress.
The alkathene pipe protecting the cable was impeding progress! There were several nicks in it and a couple of deeper gouges where the blunt shovel and its operator had done their darndest, without success, to slice right through. I knew there was a reason I’d put it inside a pipe!
Now I just had the problem of a pipe across the middle of the hole. After much deliberation, which included sleeping on it (in bed, not on the pipe), I determined that my options were limited and really that was the best place for the post to go.
Loosening the soil round the pipe either side of the hole and using the crow bar as a lever, I managed to pull a little extra pipe into the hole area and curve the pipe. With it now arced and close to the side of the hole I had enough room to keep digging pretty much where I’d intended. Ever paranoid about these things, I did hold a wide blade of grass to the hot wire to make sure a pulse was still getting through.
I kid you not
As you will have gathered, if you read my last post, I’m in the throes of getting goat fences up before the ‘new kid on the block’ arrives in a couple of months. We’ll put a wether kid in with the young buck to keep him company, and they’ll take up residence in the paddocks and cattle yards to the west of the driveway. Although I’ll be converting a section of the yards into goat housing, I’ll still be able to use the yards for cattle when necessary.
it’s just a phase I’m going through
During my brief Dexter cattle breeding phase, I got extremely zealous about the need for permanent fences for the paddocks next to the yards. I charged ahead and completed an okay bit of fencing (for a rank amateur), for the holding pen that feeds into the cattle yards. It was my first foray into horizontal strainer and stay assemblies and I was pleased with how they turned out. Previously, I’d always used diagonal stays butted up against the strainer posts.
a life of hard labour
Buoyed by their successful completion (I’m not much of a ‘completer’), I enthusiastically set about putting in the strainer posts needed to fence off the surrounding paddocks. The hard labour I put myself through to get those posts in has probably shortened my life expectancy by years. Going by recent research, day after working day of hard yakka puts far too much strain on the cardiovascular system. The researchers concluded that it more than cancelled out any beneficial effects from all that exercise.
What it was, I had a hefty two-man job post hole rammer, and plenty of not too massive posts that I decided would be okay as strainers in horizontal assembly structures. A spell of wet weather had softened the soil and clay sufficiently for me to fancy my chances.
I thought long and hard about where the posts needed to go and duly placed them at the end of fence lines. I was ready to start ramming my first post. I used a crowbar to put a cone-shaped indent in the soil, placed the tapered end of the post in it and wacked the top of it a few times with a sledge hammer to get the post to stay upright. It was a bit of grunt to get the rammer high enough to go over the top of the post.
post traumatic stress
Bugger! The post was too fat or the rammer hole was too small, depending on how you wanted to look at it!
So frustrating – it almost fit! I wasn’t about to buy in new posts, and by this stage I was fixated on the idea of ramming them in. I figured taking a sliver off the posts would still be quicker than digging all those holes. Out came the chainsaw.
I did a pretty tidy job of slicing slivers off right round the circumference of the posts; not too bad considering my saw weighs over 7 kg and has a 20 inch bar. I should go in for sculpting posts and big blocks of wood with a chainsaw – there are a few creatives who do just that.
Over time, the no longer smoothly rounded posts have lost their raw cut yellow-greenness and turned the dull green of your typical aged tanalised posts. At a glance, who’d guess at the savaging they’ve endured?
I did eventually get all the posts rammed in. But for little old me, weighing in at 65 kg in my socks, physical exertion in extremis. I did wear more than my socks, but given the sweat pouring off, perhaps even socks would have been too much.
I’d count in my head as I slammed the rammer down, aiming for 15 before a rest, but as I got more exhausted or the post hit heavier going clay, the number would dwindle dramatically and the slam become more of a tap.
it’s the woman’s prerogative to change her mind
Then, as I’m inclined to do, I changed my mind. I was no longer intent on having my very own small herd of small Dexters: bringing in a purebred bull in late spring for seven or eight weeks to get my cows in calf, and employing all sorts of amazing livestock management techniques (but that’s another story – or two or three).
Suddenly, state of the art chainsaw sculpted posts and horizontal strainer assemblies (don’t they sound just grand?) slipped so far down the ‘must do’ list that any mention of them disappeared for a few years. In the meantime, the good old temporary electric fencing I used as a stop gap measure put no strain whatsoever on those rammed in end posts.
Then, towards the end of last winter, we made the momentous decision to get a billy goat. The yards, holding pen and surrounding paddocks once more preoccupied our thoughts.
We both agreed that it was the best area for keeping a buck contained: it was well away from the goat paddocks; had shelter and shade provided by trees; an area in the cattle yards that could be easily adapted to double as goat housing, and we’d just need to walk down the drive to check on buck and wether and toss them a daily ration of willow or poplar twigs. What’s more, the area leant itself to dividing into four paddocks. I’d even be able to use four of the posts I’d rammed in as gateways for the internal paddocks.
jumping for Joy (or a doe by any other name)
What more could we ask for? Well, goat-proof perimeter fencing for starters! I’d rammed in posts that stuck a metre above ground level – more than high enough for cows. But even if I added fence outriggers that stuck out 30 cm and had an electrified wire through them, I couldn’t be entirely confident that a goat buck wouldn’t still jump over the fence to get at a doe in heat.
The recommended height for a goat fence is 1.5 metres, so I decided I’d achieve that using sheep netting topped with two strands of electrified high-tensile steel wire. Having made that decision, I now find myself digging holes right next to posts I’d slimmed and rammed in! The idea is to use the existing posts to help brace the longer strainer posts.
What have I done so far? Well, I’ve dug the holes and successfully skirted round the underground cable pipe to put in that strainer post. I’m blaming festive season goings on (did they always start this early?) for not getting further ahead with the fencing last week.
Speaking of which, I’m going to take a blog break over Xmas and New Year. I’ll be back posting as usual in a couple of weeks. So my next post will be published on Monday, 4th January.
Postscript: It’s been 9 months since I started my on-line journal about modern-day homesteading at Little Owl Gully. A big shout-out to my readers – thanks heaps. Wishing you all a Merry Xmas and a Happy New Year.