THE OFFICIAL BLOG
We started the new year, as we always do, with an ambitious plan. We decided it was time for a complete overhaul of the use of our land. Although we love the idea of waiting for our livestock to shape and change our rocky and heavily wooded property, we are mortal and only have so much time on this earth to get things done.
Part of our plan was to have a professional with heavy machinery come in to clear the brush and smaller trees on the three acres on either side of our long drive. However, the extreme rockiness of our land proved too much for a couple days work and we were left with a bit of a mess by the time spring rolled around. Undaunted (mostly), we forged on with making a nice, new wooded lot for our little fold of Highland cattle. It would not be as large as we had intended, but featured lots of lovely shade for summer and would be nearly rock free for heavy cow hooves. Also, it would be close enough to our hay storage area to provide them with an entire bale of hay periodically.
We long passed the point of temporary pens and fences and very much want to make sure that we spend our time on projects that will endure for many years to come. We took our time making sure our cattle panel fencing was neat and well-joined. Posts were driven straight and solid. Gates were hung nicely on good hinges and heavy chain. Only the best for our cows, and all that.
An incredibly long and miserable season of rain stopped progress for weeks. Our cow paradise was on hold well into the heat of summer. By the time we were able to get back to it, the brush had grown up and we had to designate someone as a lookout for snakes as we worked, but we DID work in spite of it. And it was beautiful. It was clear and flat and full of cow enrichment possibilities -- trees to scratch on, little shrubs to nibble, brush piles to headbutt, and an entire fresh bale of grass hay in a lovely grove of hickory trees with the stock tank nearby. Can you hear the birds chirping in my mind? It was perfect.
To me. It reminds me of all those times I spent hours making houses out of cardboard boxes for my cats, really. I cut out little windows and doors and made planters for their porches full of cat nip. The cats were not interested. Apparently, I learned nothing from that experience.
We had these cattle for just over a year before they were moved into cow paradise one sunny afternoon. In all of those months, we never had an escape attempt. And a good thing that was, considering just how flimsy our fences were. (At one point, they were even deterred by nothing but some green plastic snow fence wired to a couple floppy t-posts.) There WAS that one time that our oldest cow got a little overenthusiastic when reaching for hay on the outside of the fence and basically walked right over it... but she didn't leave. No one left. They liked it here.
I think they hated cow paradise.
Within the first 48 hours, three of them escaped. Two had wandered far into the woods on the road side of the property. In the meantime, our bull was wandering around in the driveway as if he had nothing better to do. So, they had found the weak part in our fencing. We knew there would be bumps along the way. It was all very normal. We brought them in and repaired the fence. But there were a couple more short break-outs within the next few days, followed by a dramatic prison-break which brought one of our neighbors to the door one morning telling me they were on the loose. They had walked out... past several bales of hay and plenty of fresh grass on the easement.... and were on their way to parts unknown.
The question in my mind is: "Why?" But I don't think I will ever think like a cow. We gave up after that final adventure and moved them back to their small pen behind the barn. In the meantime, we moved our donkeys to cow paradise and it pleases me to say that the donkeys seem content there. The cows are content as well so far - at least happier than they were when we put too much effort into their surroundings.
Plans for 2022 continue with the intention to eventually add an adjoining area to their existing pen -- in the hopes that they won't mind adventuring a little closer to home.
When we acquired our first donkey, we thought we would keep her in a barn stall overnight and then set her out to roam and graze our property during the day. She was such a tiny thing and so cute and would be a joy to halter every morning for the routine. Except. The first problem was that she was as wild as any ass in the desert and wouldn't let me anywhere near her to halter. The second problem was that this tiny little donkey managed to kick down the stall gate within the first 48 hours of her time here.
Such problems continued with our plans as we acquired more donkeys. For quite a while they were housed in a large fenced area behind our main barn with access to the barn itself for shelter. But our jack, Loreto, is prone to boredom and bored toddler type destruction. The boy wrecked our barn. Then he turned his attention to our chickens and goats.
We spent several weeks over a previous summer building a low barbed wire fence around the immediate perimeter of the cleared area around our house and barn so as to give the donkeys more room to range and play -- and curb frustration and boredom. It worked. They were no longer bored. They were completely entertained by eating all of our trees and shrubs and accessible outbuildings. Oh.. and grass. Every. blade. of. grass.
So then came the Okay. New Plan. part of this story: we bit the bullet and hired a good company out of Tulsa to build us a pole-barn type building. It was a slightly strange request as I was looking for a run-in or loafing shed - but wanted it to be large enough to take care of future needs including weather-safe stalls if necessary. The result was a 20 x 30 foot steel building totally enclosed on three sides and totally open on one long side -- an over-sized loafing shed.
We also enclosed a little less than one half acre of a nice wooded area with cattle panel for them to play in when they aren't out with us. There are tweaks to be made to the fence as we put it up as quickly as possible to get them moved in. We also have a few frustrations to work out on the building itself as the pad takes on all of the drainage from our driveway and is staying pretty wet -- too wet for donkeys -- during all of this rain. Some more grade work and ditch-digging will take care of that.
We are using the corral panels that we had already purchased to make barn stalls inside the shed. We are short one gate panel before we can put together two stalls which will do for the time being as we are expecting two foals this summer. Ultimately, we would need four more gate panels and $360 more dollars. And, honestly, after all of this construction that's not currently in the budget.
I think maybe our barn-building guys thought I was a little touched in the head to be having all of this built for these tiny little donkeys. And I may actually be a little touched in the head, but I think it will all work out just right when it is done. I mean, the donkeys are here to stay and they are well worth it.
And once the tack hooks, solar lights, and decorations are all in place - we will be able to move on to all of the other little projects we have neglected for years - such as planting trees without having to build fences around them. Maybe someday we will even buy a park bench ... and then we will sit on it... and relax and enjoy all of the work we have done. Maybe. I can dream anyway.
Fences are expensive.
And I mean really expensive. The next time you are driving down a country road and you see one of those cheap barbed-wire fences, remember that cheap is relative.
Sure, you can pick up a roll of regular barbed-wire for around 60 cents a foot. But then you have to multiply whatever length you need by 4 or 5 depending on how many strands you are going to be using on the fence. Pretty quickly you can find yourself shelling out $3.00 per linear foot. Chances are, you won't be pulling barbed-wire for anything less than 100 feet at a time per side.
Add in the cost of those beautiful wooden posts for corner and center braces at between $10 and $15 each and pick up some unsightly t-posts (just under $5 each) to drive in every 8 feet or so and you've got yourself an investment.
Full disclosure: This is not at all something I learned today. I figured out the expensive part just a few months into our small farming adventure. However, it is something fresh on my mind today because Emily brought the above photo evidence of downed-fence to me a few minutes ago.
To be fair, this particular stretch of fence was supposed to be temporary anyway. But it turns out that a lot of our temporary fixes end up in service a lot longer than planned. And, unfortunately, it simply is not time for a big fence project - the ticks are still alive and well, the temperatures are still in the 90s in the shade, and I have this totally rational fear of copperheads keeping me out of the woods right now.
Besides, we have floor tile to finish.
For now we will throw up some sort of emergency something to keep the donkeys from exploring all of Mayes County while we sleep at night. And we will be praying that Oklahoma storms get all of the fence-destroying business out of the way over the next few weeks and before we make repairs.
Posted by Anita
Keeper of the ever-expanding to-do list.