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Fixing Barbed Wire Fences

Farm crew got up close and personal with nature while tackling barbed wire fence repairs.

| December 2016

  • The barbed wire over our heads indicates we were trying to get some kind of cattle-tight fence down in the creek channel.
    Photo by Clell G. Ballard
  • On the flat, we often fixed fence with the jeep so we could drive along the fence where there was no road. A water bag is hanging on the tow bar.
    Photo by Clell G. Ballard
  • We spent many hours fixing the fence in the hills on this rainy day. Note the post hole diggers leaning against the vehicle.
    Photo by Clell G. Ballard
  • Rattlesnake rattles are very small, but the sound they make is terrifying if it is heard at close range. The number of rattles indicates the age of the snake.
    Photo by Clell G. Ballard
  • Rattlesnake rattles are very small, but the sound they make is terrifying if it is heard at close range. The number of rattles indicates the age of the snake.
    Photo by Clell G. Ballard

As a young person doing fieldwork, I always hoped that the weather might turn to rain. When that happened, you were allowed to quit and go in. Any change of the routine from hour after hour of driving a tractor was welcome. Leaving the field and returning to the home place didn’t mean that the workday was over, but whatever took up the rest of the day certainly would be different than usual.

In our area of high plateau western America, rain was so unusual that we joked that there were 12-year-old kids who had never experienced a rain storm. That is an exaggeration, of course, but annual rainfall here is very sparse. In the wide open spaces, one could see storm clouds for miles, but they never seemed to end up over the long-suffering tractor driver. At least they were interesting to look at, as opposed to looking at the same field day after day.

No easy way around it

Fixing fence was one of the many jobs undertaken on days it was too wet to work in the field, meaning that we fixed fence about two or three times a year. In the spring, before fieldwork began, all of the many, many miles of barbed wire fences on the 1,500-acre farm/ranch were “repaired” to excellent condition. Posts were set as needed, and wire was spliced, stretched and securely stapled to wooden posts. That took several days of concentrated work, because heavy winter snow often wreaked havoc. The rest of the summer we just “fixed” any problems or breaks.

About 90 percent of the fences were on the fairly flat valley floor. Fixing those was not difficult, but at the end of a long day’s work, a person couldn’t see where his toil of walking back and forth, checking and correcting problems, had made a visual improvement. I always considered it drudgery.

Working on fences up in the foothills was a completely different experience. The distance we had to walk was considerably shorter, but brush, willows, gullies and rocks made the work difficult. When two of us were working together just dealing with the barbed wire, one person would go one way and the other the other way.

Sometimes we didn’t run into each other until late in the day. The creek that ran through the section always needed major attention, because cattle often found ways through the wire we stretched down near the bottom of the creek bed.


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