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Idaho Enterprise

Good Fences Make Good Neighbors

Jun 05, 2024 03:06PM ● By Allison Eliason

One of the best parts of ranch life is the wisdom passed down from the old ranchers.  Their days spent working the cattle and land in the heat, the rain, the cold, and the dust has left them with some well earned sage advice to share.  Those old adages they love to quote are passed on for a good reason because their philosophy is spot on.

We hear and say things like, “don’t look a gift horse in the mouth,” “don’t put all your eggs in one basket,” “make hay while the sun shines,” and “you can lead a horse to water, but you can’t make it drink.” They are rooted in a farm life that has simply demonstrated life lessons that can be used still today, even if you are living far from the barn.

My favorite lately is, “good fences make good neighbors.”  Unfortunately over the last few weeks we have had more than our fair share of bad experiences because of poor fencing.  We have spent days searching for lost cattle, sorting out wanding pairs, and tracking down wayward bulls.  Don’t worry, I’m not here to air out our dirty laundry but I will share some more of those bits of wisdom ranching has given us that we can apply to life in general.

It can be easy to look at a fence you share with your neighbor and say it's his to take care of.  Yes, you’re right, it is his fence.  But when he looks at it, it is your fence too.  So choose to take responsibility of your shared fence.  That doesn’t mean you have to do all the mending or pay for all the supplies but you can be the one that starts the conversation of those things.  Same with life, don’t cast all the burden of responsibility on someone else.  In one way or another, you share a duty so shoulder it.

Fences aren’t built to be indestructible.  Snow and tumbleweed push on them, deer break through them, and breachy cows stretch them.  Time makes them sag or turn brittle.  It is just how it is.  Which means there are places along the fence that will need fixing.  Don’t wait until you see cattle getting out before you check for any holes in the fences.  Be proactive to keep those fences in good shape.  A little maintenance work in the beginning will always be easier than trying to fix a mess in the end.  Whether it is maintenance on a home, car or even a relationship, checking for weaknesses and bolstering them up will be far better than trying to mend mistakes later on.

At the same time, if there is some reason you are snipping a fence whether it is to rebuild it or make a temporary gate, be sure to put it back up.  Just like if you go through a closed gate, you shut it behind you.  Don’t ever assume that just because you don’t see cattle doesn’t mean they aren’t in there.  Assumptions made are rarely the full story and that other adage old timers pass along about what they make out of you and me couldn’t be more true. 

Sometimes folks forget that if you don’t keep a fence right and tight and your cattle get out, it isn’t just you that will be affected.  Those breachy cows have a way of creating headaches for the rancher that owns them, the farmer whose field they jumped in or the travelers along the road they are walking.  Don’t think for a minute that your fencing philosophy will leave results for only you.  So make good choices.  Keep it straight and stiff, fix it fast when you see it down and fix it good.  You don’t want to be the reason your neighbor misses out on his holiday plans because he is scouring the range looking for strays or runs late for an important meeting because she had to sort your cattle out.  Choices have consequences, so make good choices.   

Cattle ranching is an industry where we have to look out for one another.  It might seem counterintuitive to help the business you are competing with but the truth is, there really is no competition.  We are all trying to do our part to feed this hungry world.  When we see cattle out we try and punch them back in and if we can pin up a wire we do.  And if we can’t, we don’t just let it be.  We call someone so they can put it right because that is what we would want someone to do for us.  Don’t just look out for your friends and neighbors when it comes to their fences.  Remember to do for them what you would hope they would do for you.

A rancher can be doing all the things right when it comes to his fence and things will still go wrong and cows will still get out.  And this is where we give grace.  Wildlife will come through making holes, bulls will still rub gates down and old cows will still know how to sneak through.  You have every right to hold the line and keep your neighbor accountable for his stray cattle.  But be understanding that things just happen sometimes and he doesn’t want to have wandering critters anymore than you do.  So be kind and patient.  Give the benefit of the doubt.  Give grace.

It might seem a little backwards that something like a fence that divides neighbors is actually something that brings them together.  Shared responsibilities, ranchers looking out for each other, and defining boundaries is how we keep the peace, divvy up the load and spread a little karma.  Keeping a good fence is our way of showing our neighbors friendship and respect and asking for it in return. 

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