Barbed Wire Fences & Women’s Dresses

Diamond willow fence posts on a barbed wire fence on a Montana prairie with sky horizon behind.

It’s seems pretty obvious, & is probably a pretty safe bet that Sophia Loren never had anything to do with either side of a barbed wire fence.  I ran across her quote a few months ago….. “A woman’s dress should be like a barbed wire fence: serving its purpose without obstructing the view.”  Hmmm….. I don’t mean to be disrespectful, but she doesn’t get it.  A barbed wire fence is part of the view.  It’s part of the landscape.  The history.  The heritage.  As ranchers, it’s woven into the very culture of who we are, & where we came from.

Earlier this summer, I went with Farmer Farver to finish up some fencing.  Prairie Boy & I had done what we could the previous few days, but the river crossings & a couple big stretches that needed to be completely rebuilt were well above our pay grade & skill level.
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Fencing with my Farmer is one of my very favorite things in the whole world.  There’s something about just being quiet together.  Quiet in your soul.  No conversation necessary.  Only the stillness of a prairie morning, and the shared appreciation of a landscape & the work to be done.  You can’t buy that kind of therapy.
Rancher fixing a barbed wire fence in a water crossing. Admittedly, I spent more time taking pictures than I did helping fence on this trip.  I was a great stapler holder & wire un-tangeler though.  I was also apparently a good source of entertainment for my Farmer.  Part of the fence that needed fixing was in an irrigation ditch that had recently been temporarily diverted for some maintenance to the ditch– so it was muddy & full of debris, & the wire was buried under the muck.
Barbed wire fence covered in grass and debris after being buried in an irrigation ditch.
Fun fact:  when you pull the wire out of the smelly muck quickly, & intentionally flick it in any general direction, the muck flies far & fast.  And farmers wives squeal & feign indignation when they’re covered in the flying concoction.  Little secret:  farmers wives (at least this one) also revel in the playfulness & intimacy of such a simple event–one of those rare moments when the universe stops spinning & the sun shines just for us.

This particular morning, the sun was indeed putting on a display as it streaked through the reeds, newly uncovered from their watery oasis.
Sun shining through reeds and a barbed wire fence.
The power of that oasis-like water was on display as well.  Even in a lazy irrigation ditch, moving water can twist solid metal fence posts like they’re decorative Christmas ribbons and drive them into the ground with the force of a sledge hammer.

Metal fence post still attached to barbed-wire buried in mud in an irrigation ditch.

Fencing serves several purposes.  Besides making sure the posts & wires are structurally sound & secure enough to keep livestock contained, it also gives us a chance to check the quality of the grass in the pasture– to make sure it’s at the right stage to provide good nutrition for our cows.  And it’s also a good time to evaluate wildlife populations, which are another good indicator of pasture as well as river health.  On this trip, we saw at least 6 species of birds, fox, gophers and frogs.  We also saw footprints that indicated coyotes, deer …. & racoons!
Racoon paw print in mud on a Montana prairie.

And we also found several wood fence posts that had been chewed off by beaver.  This is the biggest reason we mostly use steel fence posts now.  The beaver have a little more difficult time chewing through them!  Metal posts also take less man power & less time to drive into the ground.  We had a pretty good laugh imagining a beaver working and working to get this post chewed off, then trying to figure out why he couldn’t pack it away!
Wooden fence post sawed off by beaver,still attached to barbed-wire.

The downside to replacing wood posts with metal, is the loss of the culture & heritage I talked about earlier.  Wood fence posts are a reminder of a time lost forever.  In certain parts of the fence on our place, you’ll find diamond willow fence posts that are more than 50 years old.  They’re a lightweight kind of wood that has a diamond pattern that was used commonly by early settlers.
Diamond willow fence posts on barbed-wire fence on Montana prairie. These pictures show a heritage unique to our family.  The piece of diamond willow on the left, & the other piece of wood laying horizontal to the fence are what has been referred to as a ‘jabby-twist’ by Farmer Farver & his family for 3 generations.  Uncle Herman, an old bachelor who lived in a homestead shack on the property used them extensively years ago.  They were once used to help tighten a piece of wire where it was sagging & making the fence loose.
Diamond willow fence posts on a barbed wire fence on a Montana prairie with sky horizon behind.

We don’t use them anymore,… and many of them have rotted & been removed.  But we leave some.  They remind us that a barbed wire fence is far more than utilitarian wood & wire with a purpose to serve.  It is a living, breathing piece of history.  And it does not obstruct the view– it provides a window through which we can view the legacies of famly, cattle ranching, and the American West.

If you’re getting a kick out of reading about the antics & adventures at Farver Farms, make sure you sign up for our free Newsletter so you don’t miss a thing.  And if you know someone else who would enjoy reading about the Farm, we’d be truly grateful to have you share this blog post with them.

We’d love to hear your thoughts about fencing on the prairie…or whatever else is on your mind.  So make sure & leave us a little note in the comments section.

I’ll see you next time on the farm! -Shauna

 

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