Barbed Wire by Doug Cooper: The other side of the fence
We all know water flows down hill and you can’t spit into the wind. It’s just the way things work. There are similar gradients encountered in ranch life that I will never understand. I have pondered this problem while fixing fence many times. If I don’t fix the fence, I get the neighbor’s cows, or on a particularly bad day I get their yaks or buffalo. So I fix the fence. It’s always an uphill deal for me, because if the fence isn’t fixed there is no real downside for my neighbors. When the fence is down, the neighbor’s cows get free grass and water until the fence is fixed and they are cut out and sent home. The incentive to fix fence is all on one side of the wire.
Good fences might make good neighbors but the worse the neighbor the better the fence. We once had a neighbor that ran a large herd of wild horses. The three and a half miles of fence between us had only one gate on purpose. Even that precaution failed when a geophysical crew left the gate open and we got a visit from 250 head of these horses. That was a fun day when we had to gather the thundering herd up and put them back on the right side of the fence.
Another time, a large number of that same neighbor’s sheep got mixed in ours. We called the neighbor and told them where we would be working the sheep and asked him to send somebody to get them. We cut out 1,027 of their sheep and they sent a guy out in a car. There is not much a guy in a car can do with a thousand ewes. So we had to trail their sheep back to their pasture. My mother did get a little revenge. This neighbor had several ranches around Wyoming and at a party he was telling everyone that at Rawlins, Wyoming the sheep ranchers there hired a man to go around to all the ranches when they worked their sheep and pick out strays. The stray picker got paid a dollar a head for any sheep he got back to the rightful owner. My mother thought that was a great idea and suggested he pay us $1,027 for the sheep we returned. He quickly changed the subject. When that guy died, he still owed us for 26 rolls of woven wire for his half of the cost of building the fence between our outfits.
My dad was bedeviled by one of the last of the homesteaders. This old fellow lived in a shack on his section of land. When he got short of grass he would kick his cows out on us in the evening and my dad would have to gather them up every morning and put them back. This little game went on for some time until my dad came up with a solution. He bought the homesteaders cows. I am still looking for the solution to maintaining fences.
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Outtagrass Cattle Co. cartoon by Jan Swan Wood for the July 24, 2021, edition of Tri-State Livestock News