Sunday, December 8, 2013

Fences and Flying Shovels

 Clear blue skies with fluffy clouds.  No sinister omens in sight to warn of how steep our learning curve is when it comes to putting up barbed wire...

This past week went well in some respects and in others it was humbling and frustrating. One thing that's really important when it's just the two of us is learning to work together. My husband and I have very different work styles and abilities and teamwork skills. That is the preface for this update post :-D

Fence Not Done Right

 There are several factors that slow us down in working at the farm, the biggest one being

We're complete rookies and often have NO IDEA WHAT WE'RE DOING.  I can't repeat that enough :) Book-learning and youtube videos are indispensable, but they are not infallible and they don't replace the actual hands-on that happens.  The learning curve is steep.

We had better have our act together before heading out there, because it's an hour's drive each direction and fuel costs are prohibitive, so we have to plan each trip. Sometimes we do better than others.

This past week we pretty much flopped. Another slow-down factor is whether Jack is up to the labor or not on any given day. Because he works some night shifts, the off days are hard "daytime" days on his body's time's like constantly switching his sleep/waking cycle complete opposite hours every few days. My schedule can be like that, too, when I work night shifts. But it's less crucial for me because I'm not doing much of the actual physical labor at the farm. His digging post holes, lifting those heavy posts, unloading the heavier items from the truck, and so on requires him to not be so jet-lagged. So often he will simply sleep an entire day in between his work days and a farm day. And I don't want to push him, no matter how anxious I am for us to have a day there getting things done. After all, this is SO THAT we can be together for the long term, not at the expense OF being together. Jack's my treasure. Got to take care of the man :)

EXPENSE.  We can't throw money at everything because we don't have it.  We have to pick and choose the highest priority expenses, to make much of little.  This equates in things going very slowly for us, pay as we go and do it ourselves.  We are unable to take advantage of a lot of labor-saving help because cash is rare and we have to do much of it ourselves or not at all. Some things we have no choice but to save for...for instance the initial clearing. And recently chainsawing down a big tree.  We don't have the tools to cut into thick unbroken palmetto, and we also paid to have the culvert dug and installed because to rent the equipment ourselves and have it delivered on site cost just as much as hiring a neighbor to do it and would have been more hassle. It took a LOT of saving...months and months.

Other people's realities are not always ours.  This whole process up to now has been that way, but it's hard to explain to folks sometimes. Yes, it would certainly be smarter and faster and probably even better to use professionals to do the work. No, we can't afford it. And we're not whining. It's our reality. Anyway, I mentioned Jack and I  are learning to work together in new ways. Sometimes that means getting better at communicating, sometimes it means we find separate tasks one is better at than another, sometimes we do not see eye to eye, and sometimes we argue and then have to walk away.

Pine tree to left, needed to be cut down, too near power lines
Unexpected jobs arise. One of those recently was tree removal. We want to keep all our trees, and this past year I've had to understand that some of the plants just had to go. Some areas just have to be cleared to be accessible. Some areas were cleared with equipment hired in (the few jobs we planned and paid for) and others have been cleared by hand. Jack's downed some small trees himself and a lot of bushes and brush.
This week a dear friend and another man came in and took down a pretty large pine tree. It was deceptively large and was a bigger job than originally thought (by me...Jack estimated it better...he won that bet). The man cutting the tree literally shimmied up the trunk with some rope and a chainsaw and took it out limb by limb by tying himself off with the rope way up high and systematically felling portions. It was a little tricky, but he made it seem easy.

The tree had to come out because it was growing too close to the electric line overhead. There was a lot of praying going on while that man chainsawed things while balanced way up high in that tree! Thankfully all went well... This is one of those times when I wish we had more cash for these projects. There are experienced people like this man who could have our fence put up in a jiffy for a fair price. He's willing, we're willing. It can't happen without the cash, though. SO...

The tree that was bigger than what it appeared

Wednesday while the tree was being cut down, we began putting some barbed wire on the front corner section, the short one. It was a lesson in patience and starting over a few times. I can hammer staples and help unroll the wire and hold it. Jack does the lion's share of everything. His knee was so sore after being out there just a little while, he needed to just put it up and rest it that night, and he was in pain. This has rarely happened, but it's important not to push a potential injury. So...

Thursday was a day for him to recoup. He mostly stayed in bed and I fed him good food.

Friday we wanted to finish reinforcing the front brace posts.  
Here's what went wrong...
1. Ever had a day when you felt like a zombie for no reason? We both did. We didn't load everything we needed into the truck before setting out. We thought we had, but we hadn't. That's happened before.  Once we forgot specific tools.  Another time we forgot the 5 gallon potty and TP.  (If you're going to be out there ALL day, it comes in handy)  Sometimes  a particular tool.  It's frustrating if you take the paint but leave the paintbrushes behind, and so on.  Time for a master checklist...
2. We were both out of sorts. Not sure why.  But feeling like we still have no clue after reading and TRYING to have a clue on some particulars can contribute to frustration...
3. Jack understood what he wanted/needed to do...I did not. And we had not communicated well about the day beforehand.  It began to seem to me like we did not have enough of a plan for how to proceed with the fencing. I wanted to understand better and adjust our plans early on rather than continue doing something the wrong way if that were the case. Being ON the job sometimes is not the best time for losing the time needed to get on the same page.
4. We have a HUGE disagreement about whether to run the wire inside the perimeter posts or outside them. I vote for inside, according to all I've read and for the reason we hope to have cattle. I also noticed that spacing the wire a foot apart was probably not going to be close enough together. I had images of cows running loose or leaning against the wire and popping the staples out. Jack disagreed and gave me no real reasons why, other than his feelings on the subject. That just didn't go over well with me. If felt we should work this out now, not wait till later. With that said, I found plenty of evidence that if the fence is constructed well enough, the wire can probably be fine either side of the posts. I just disagree with Jack's lack of reasons to do it that way, especially since most of the ag fences we see in that area are run with the wire inside. THAT was the beginning, and the continuance, of our being out of sorts with each other those days. And I still feel like the wire needs to be run on the inside, but 'nuff said.
5. We looked at sizes and prices of the actual fence posts at tractor supply, and I was calculating costs. Originally we wanted to put up woven wire around the perimeter, but the barbed wire is much less expensive and would still suit our purposes for the larger livestock. So far we have 8 foot posts on the front. Jack wants a five foot fence, and I don't care if it's four feet or not at this point. After much back and forth (some of it heated some not) we're going to put in the 8 foot posts (five feet high above-ground) along the front roadway, and consider doing the sides and back with the six foot posts (four feet above ground).

Before our amateur fence wire attempts...

We did all the wrong things so far with the barbed wire. I don't like that Jack doesn't wear long sleeves or heavy enough gloves working with that stuff. Those barbs can rip through skin in no time. I reckon he'll find what works for him, but since the days are in the mid 80s and up still right now, he gets mighty hot with long sleeves. I wear them anyway, and I burn up. In retrospect, after a very polite and kind employee at Tractor Supply walked us through the fencing tools section answering a lot of questions while I jotted notes and drew diagrams in a notebook, we found out some of the things we were doing wrong.

 Friday, when we were finally out at The Fence That Wasn't, we saw that the three strands of wire we had already put up were sagging. Sagging enough that when I put my foot on one, it would just go downnnnn. Even rookies like us know that's a lousy thing. So I asked Jack to see if we could just get them tight enough before doing anything else. He used the fence stretcher, which would have worked ok if we knew how much tension to keep when cranking the handle. He got the wire to a good tension and the part grabbed in the stretching tool was supposed to be tightened, I think, by using another tool to grab and turn it till taut. It worked, initially, till we did one turn too far and then it broke (the wire). Then Jack tried to figure out how to splice another wire there, and he did, but when we released it, the wire was still too loose.

At this point, this whole procedure had taken about an hour. I think I said "we have to learn to do this the right way so we don't repeat this every time" and it was apparent we just weren't doing something right or this was going to be the longest running wire-breaking-and-repairing nightmare ever. We were too disorganized, too ignorant of just what to do, and too irritable to flex and find a better task to round out the day. A couple adult tantrums were thrown under a beautiful blue sky, and I believe also a shovel was thrown into the ditch as we "discussed" things.

So I think we realized that it would be better to regroup and write out questions, make a master list of supplies as a checklist for future trips, and to make a trip to Tractor Supply for exact prices and sizes of things (as stated above). Then we went and got tea and all you can eat fish at a local dive that was on the way home, and started THE LIST.

Then we went to Tractor Supply and spoke to The Very Nice Employee and his sidekick, who gave us these two enlightening instructions that may save our fence and our marriage (ha!) ;-)...
1. Use the "come along" tool for the initial installation of the barbed wire strands. I drew diagrams, he showed us the gadgets and how to use them, we plopped them into the cart and removed other gadgets from the cart we did not need.
2. Drawing a diagram of the corner posts, we were beginning the wire on the wrong post. The wire is wrapped on THE corner post a coupe times, all the way to THE OTHER corner post, and tightened up using the "come along" tool, NOT the fence stretcher tool. THAT was supposed to be for repairing fence breaks. Even though it seems very self-explanatory, those two little steps, because we had not been doing them or doing them the right way, are crucial and basic. SO...let's see if we can figure them out the next time.
Oh, and we bought a roll of SMOOTH WIRE for reinforcing. They were out of it before, but they had a roll this trip. And SMOOTH WIRE is.......SMOOTH.

That's all. We're still together. We still love each other. Being two stubborn people working on one stubborn fence will try us both. Better planning. We hope that's in place now. We're not going to be defeated by a few strands of barbed wire. Let's see if we can actually GET IT ONTO THE FENCE now...

See?  I'm smiling....  :-D

Just keep the shovel out of throwing distance a while longer...

No comments: