One of the things about this property that appealed to us, as I mentioned before, was that we had an interest in having goats and it was already set up for that. There was a nice little barn, two pastures with plenty of forage, and a wooden board fence with a few strands of barbed wire and a strand or two of electric fence across the lower half. The herd could be seen grazing peacefully out in the pasture and, for folks who had only a partial clue what they were looking at, things looked to be in reasonably decent shape, at least as far as the goats went.
Now, we had heard and read and were well aware that goats are famous for getting out, and they can climb. So I was pleasantly surprised to see a more moderate approach to fencing that didn’t look like a concentration camp, and seemed to be effective. After all, if the guy had a problem with them getting out he would have put more in place, right? Riiiight.
So near the end of last week I got a call from my mother (who’s living there now to oversee renovations) saying that she saw some of the younger kids outside of the fence. She’d gone back up to the house to find something to perhaps rope them with, but when she came back they weren’t out there anymore. I was headed over that evening anyway to take care of a more pressing matter (the outdoor wood furnace’s water tank was alarmingly low), so while I was there I did a really stupid thing (I now know) and checked the electric fence with my finger. I knew it would hurt if it was on and working, but if it wasn’t I needed to know that, and had no idea how else to check it.
I’ve since learned that that’s just about one of the worst ways to check it. If you absolutely must test one with your body, use the back of your hand. Using the front (palm) of your hand can make your hand muscles contract, causing you to actually grip the wire (d’oh!); using your fingertip puts a much higher concentration of nerve endings right at the point of contact. But really, just don’t touch the thing. They make cheap testers for that.
All of this I learned the next night, when some friends came over to help me figure out why I didn’t feel anything when I touched it. I learned a few other things too, like how smaller electric fence units can’t even have weeds touching the wire. Bigger ones (for lengths of fence in the tens of miles) have a strong enough current that weeds aren’t a problem, but the current from the smaller units gets shorted out much more easily.
Unsurprisingly (given the state of the rest of the property) we had a ton of weeds all around the fence. Not only that, but numerous sections of the wire were twisted up and around the nearest strand of barbed wire (another source of shorting). You know, like what might happen if a small goat kept wriggling through there. Hypothetically speaking, of course. So I spent several hours on the weekend with a machete working on clearing and de-tangling what I could, but wasn’t able to finish to see if that did the trick. Turns out I probably shouldn’t have bothered. Sunday morning we were able to catch up with and finally meet another family from our church who have a goat farm in the next town over, and they said even fully functioning electric fence wasn’t effective for them. The only thing that worked, they said, was actual four-inch-square metal goat fencing, and even that they had to regularly check to make sure it stayed tacked down. We also learned that same morning, from another family in our church who are our new neighbors, that some of the goats get out all the time and eat their trees. They were very cool about it and not blaming us or anything, but wanted to make sure we knew.
Right, okay. Guy’s got goats on the property, got some fencing in place, looks like things are in order. Sure. Except the electric’s not working and probably hasn’t been for who knows how long, it wouldn’t have been effective even when it was, and now they’re our goats, eating our neighbor’s trees. Lovely. So a few nights ago we stopped at Tractor Supply and bought out their stock of goat fencing (five rolls, which won’t be enough) and dropped it off at the farm. Tomorrow (Friday) I get to see how much of it I can get up in one day. And once it’s all in place I might string the electric somewhere near the top of it just for good measure. The fun continues…