Fifty Mile Fence

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by CJ Mouser

One of our gilts (young female pig) began giving birth to her first litter of piglets at about eight p.m. on Saturday night. Since this was a first attempt, I suspected that it was going to be a long, drawn out affair, and I wasn’t disappointed.

The sows and gilts are on pasture, which gives them a greater range of motion. It allows them to supplement their diets with roots and grasses, and just generally makes them happier animals to be around. They have approximately five square acres to roam, fenced with goat wire, with one strand of electric around the bottom inside perimeter to keep them in, and a strand of barbed wire running across the top to keep the goats out. As a result of all this space and freedom, they tend to farrow (give birth) wherever the spirit moves them, and Lily decided to dig a hole and lay down right out in the middle of the pasture. Go figure.

Not only was it barely forty degrees (cold as the dickens for Florida) but the wind was howling, which made it feel like about twenty. There she lay, struggling with her first birth, and shivering, her breath coming out in little misty puffs. As I stood there next to my husband, I rejoiced in the fact that he was going to be able to help with the birth. Being a Saturday night, he could stay up late as he doesn’t work on Sundays.

To make things a little easier, we unplugged the electric fence so that we could simply step over the goat wire and duck under the barbed wire, rather than going all the way around to the gate to get to the house for anything we might need. The electric fence is designed for fifty miles of fence line. We are using it for less than a tenth of what it’s intended for, and it delivers a pretty good jolt. Effective enough to deter a wild boar trying to break in, or a five hundred pound sow trying to root her way out.

“I’ll take first shift.” I offered, and set about piling hay up around Lily in an effort to block some of the wind.

“Okay.” My husband grinned at me, and headed back to the house. I shoulda known better.

When I went inside to be relieved at about ten p.m. I found out why he’d been grinning. I discovered him snuggled under the covers in bed, snoring like a buzz saw. Big liar.

I’d made up my mind right then that I wasn’t going back out until twelve o’clock. Lily was delivering an average of a piglet an hour, and she’d just had her third, so I figured I had time to warm up and watch a bit of television. At some point I nodded off, and then awoke with a start at twelve-thirty, yanked on my coat and out the door I went.

Why I didn’t hear the rhythmic thump from the electric fence box when I went back out is beyond me. The sound carries, especially in the night, and sometimes you can even hear it inside the house. I guess I was so intent on getting out there to do a new head count and check on Lily, I just wasn’t paying attention. I gingerly lifted the strand of barbed wire and ducked under it, simultaneously stepping over the goat fence with my left leg. I was straddling the goat wire, holding the flashlight in one hand and the barbed wire in the other, when the inside of my left leg touched the electric wire and the current hit me.

For about ten seconds I had no idea what was happening. All I knew is that I’d gone stiff all over, bitten my tongue, and my heart felt like it had swelled to three times it’s normal size and then just stopped. Then it dawned on me what was going on, so I pried myself loose from the goat wire and stumbled on into the pasture, touching my right leg to the hot wire in the process, which meant that I went through the whole tongue biting thing all over again.

For a full minute or so I wandered around the pasture trying to remember what I went out there for. I was stumbling around like a drunk, and cussing like a sailor. I was tired, it was late, I didn’t know if I had sabotaged myself by plugging in the fence out of habit, or if someone else had been out to get me, and done it out of meanness. When I finally got my bearings I wandered over to Lily. She had one more on the ground and was straining her way on to the next one, but my heart wasn’t in it anymore. I growled at her and turned on my heel, making my way all the way around to the gate. By now I had figured out that it wasn’t me who had plugged the fence back in, and all my thoughts and efforts had turned to revenge. Being Saturday night, I found my daughter Jenny still up, working on the computer.

“Who…who…plugged the fence back in!?” I yelled. I must have been a sight, my hair all tousled by the wind, my face red from the cold, and murder in my eye. There was a slight hesitation from her and then…

“I did.”

“For pity’s sake, why!?” I demanded.

“Because I was told to.” Stated with confidence. She knows that fecal matter rolls downhill and she was not to be held responsible for being a good girl, and doing what she was told.

“Who told you to?” I asked, already knowing the answer.

Without looking up from the keyboard she pointed over her shoulder toward the bedroom door, from which I could still hear the raspy snoring. I went though a little foot stomping conniption and said a lot of things that shouldn’t said in front of a thirteen year old kid regarding the relative lack of intelligence of her father.

“Didja get zapped?” She asked, her eyes meeting mine, her mouth trying to smile, her brain telling her she shouldn’t allow it to happen. Her mouth won.

“Whut do you think?” I snapped, my eyes narrowed into slits.

I didn’t wait for her answer, but stomped my way into the bedroom, walked straight up to the bed and kicked it reminiscent a drill sergeant the first morning of boot camp.

“Huh! Whazzat!?” The offender muttered.

“It was bad enough that you abandoned me, leaving me to deal with Lily, but did you have to try and kill me in the process?”

“Whaddya mean?”

“Why’d you tell Jenny to plug the fence back in?”

“Well…I saw you sleeping on the couch, and I thought you were done.” He mumbled.

“Oh…you did. Well, lemme tell you something! I wasn’t done, Lily’s not done, and it’s a wonder that I’m not laying out there right now dead as a mackerel, and you would never know it, because you are in here sleeping!”

I am a woman. I know how to deliver two condemning verbal punches in one sentence, but I surprised even myself by doing it twice in one diatribe.

“Well, I’m sorry. Like I said, I thought you were done. You were sleeping, and I didn’t want to wake you up just to ask, and you know as well as I do that the minute we leave the stupid thing unplugged all night, there’s gonna be trouble. Besides, I sincerely doubt that that electric fence is strong enough to kill you, even if you fell on it, soaking wet, unconscious, and laid across it for an hour. You’d probably just short it out.”

I was losing momentum. Every thing he said made sense. He’s a man. He knows how to pack a whole bunch of logic into one response, but I was surprised again at how effectively he was doing it despite being woken from a sound sleep by an irate wife.

It seems I was getting more than my share of surprises, and it dawned on me that the only way I was going to get any satisfaction was by being unreasonable.

“Well, you know what?” I muttered. “I am done now. I don’t care if she has one more piglet or a hundred more, I’m not going back out there! I don’t care if a gust of wind picks her up and carries her from here to Texas. I don’t care if she gives birth to a solid gold piglet, you ain’t getting me out there again tonight.”

“That’s fine. I’ll get up in a couple hours and go check on her. You’ve done your share.” He said, and then rolled over and went back to sleep.

I just stood there fidgeting like a six-legged cat in a sand box. I could still feel the sting of the wire against my legs and the electricity coursing through my body, and the only thing worse than carrying around a whole boat load of revenge, is not being able to find anyone to heap it on. I guess I’ll just have to file this one under…

…and next time we have a sow or a gilt that decides to throw herself down in the middle of the pasture and have her babies in the middle of the night, I’m gonna pretend to be sick.

© C.J. Mouser, used with permission.

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