The end of June brought the shift into summer that we were all anticipating. Sunnier days, more visitors, and (hooray!!!) the arrival of extra summer help. Many conversations from June went something along the lines of “When we have more help we’ll….” or “I’ll get to that when so-and-so gets here”. Thankfully, that help did arrive… and, as was the case last year, it is mostly in the form of teenagers. Now that school’s out, we’ve got some very willing farmhands. The flipside of this shiny bit of luck is that the relief isn’t immediate. All these eager young humans lack experience and need to be trained.
As you might imagine, there are a LOT of details to track on a farm. “Air traffic control” comes to mind, but instead of airplanes, picture pigs, cows, goats, chickens, waterers, hoses, feed (so many different kinds), eggs, garden gleanings and electronet all hurtling through the skies. It makes for a chaotic visual, which on some days is not all that far from the truth!
We are learning how to manage this changing cast of farmhands more efficiently. This includes things like training days and lots of laminated chore charts taped to various structures. This week, Eric held an electronet training session. Electronet is a huge part of our farm infrastructure, as it allows us to graze the pastures rotationally, set up paths for moving livestock or keep raccoons out of the chicken yards.
It seems fairly straight-forward. The fence charger is run by a battery, with one line clipped to the fence (which has metal strands woven throughout) and another line clipped to the grounding rod. When something that is also touching the ground touches the fence, the circuit is completed and the interloper gets a shock. It’s not life-threatening, but it’s not pleasant.
Of course, all sorts of things can go amiss with electronet. The issue is most often human error. If the fence is set up in the tall grasses, the charge is weakened by the stalks that brush against it. Or, someone forgets to connect the two metal clips that continue the charge between fence sections, or forgets to connect the clamp to the grounding rod. The battery runs out, or the charge is simply not strong enough to deter the critters.
For our training session, we set up a new section of fencing in the front pasture, where we currently have our sheep, Rosey the cow, and this year’s goat kids. The livestock watched the workshop intently… possibly listening for tips regarding avenues of escape? More likely, because they know that new fencing means a new juicy section of pasture.
As you can see, they were kicking up their heels when the moment arrived. Sometimes the grass really is greener on the other side.
Early July also has a magic window during which the sun sets just about the time that evening milking is finished. I happened to be on milking duty during the evening of a spectacular sunset. I sat in the grass, relishing the cooling breeze and watching the interchange between sun and clouds. The cows noticed me and ambled over.
Sun set, milking parlour clean and animals fed and cozy, I headed back up to the house to have a nightcap with Amy and Eric. The cast of characters inside the farmhouse on a given night is just about as lively (albeit a little more weary) than those outside.
We were enjoying ourselves when suddenly we heard the moo of a cow…. a little too close. We all stopped and turned our ears towards the door. There it came again, even closer. Springing to the deck, we peered off into the dark and could just make out a cow… no, ALL the cows… heading with purpose towards our rows of snap peas.
We scrambled for shoes and headlamps and raced out into the dark, fanning out in all directions to head them off. It was a cross between spooky action film and slapstick comedy. Giant beasts rumbling nearby unseen, and farmers tangled up in row markers or tripping headlong into bushes in the dark. The dogs actually helped, until they got the cows riled up enough that the protective mamas did some charging (during which cowdog Annie hid behind Damian, who possibly saw his life flash before him).
[I have no photos of this part of the story as I was, well, chasing cows]
Many moments later we got them *mostly* back in the right area, and did some quick shuffling of electronet to get them hemmed in. We found the spot where they had trampled the net and righted it. Eric did some investigatory work, and found what had happened. The fence around the cows had lost its grounding rod, which had been knocked loose while setting up a foot bath for the goats (this sentence reminds me of the aforementioned traffic control metaphor). The cows simply had to figure out that the fence packed no punch and then just stepped right over it.
We all headed to bed late that night, as the Great Cow Chase was somewhere close to midnight. The following early light, Eric and Amy heard the Baaaa of a sheep… entirely too close. And again, closer, even seeming to surround the house.
Amy turned to Eric and said “I hear nothing.”