Maynard van der Galien
American poet Robert Frost penned the popular expression “Good fences make good neighbours” in his poem The Mending Wall back in 1914. In the poem he questions this suggesting that we often separate ourselves from each other unnecessarily. The poem is about a rural stone wall that two neighbours come to fix in the springtime. One has all pine trees and the other has an apple orchard.
We wear our fingers rough with handling them.
Oh, just another kind of out-door game,
One on a side. It comes to little more:
There where it is we do not need the wall:
He is all pine and I am apple orchard.
My apple trees will never get across
And eat the cones under his pines, I tell him.
He only says, ‘Good fences make good neighbors.’
The poet goes on to ask:
If I could put a notion in his head: ‘Why do they make good neighbors? Isn’t it
Where there are cows? But here there are no cows.
Before I built a wall I’d ask to know
What I was walling in or walling out.
I’m a strong believer in having a good sturdy fence around the perimeter of a pasture field where livestock is kept. Gates should be securely closed. But if the land is just cropped it makes no sense to have a fence as a line-fence, or a wall, between two farms. About 30 years ago I took out a thick wide haw- thorn line fence between my property and a neigh- bour’s farm. We didn’t put up a fence as neither of us used the land for livestock grazing. We crop the land tight to each other not letting weeds grow. Snow is swept away with the wind and doesn’t bank up there like it used to when prickly hawthorns were the line-fence.
In recent years, many farmers have gone to cash-cropping instead of raising livestock and fences have been taken out. That has been a bonanza for the many snowmobile clubs. They can run their trails across vast farm fields. That wasn’t possible when the sport of snowmobiling first became popular 50 to 60 years ago.
All the years I had livestock I was paranoid about them getting out and taking off and I’d have to round them up. And what would I round them up with as I didn’t always have an all-terrain vehicle? It never happened because I had gates that were well secured and breaking out was impossible. And my page wire fences were well built and sturdy with a strand of barb wire over the top.
I would always tie the holding chain of the gate together with a piece of wire so the cattle couldn’t flip it out of the holding slot with their tongue.
Last summer there was an astonishing sight of dairy cows that had gotten out and ran into a nearby town and were pictured taking a rest on a lawn in town under some shady trees.
My worry about cattle getting out was they’d be hard to round up as they could travel for miles. They could be hard to find in fields of corn and they could do a lot of damage trotting through fields of crops.
There was an incident back in the mid-1970s that taught me a valuable lesson. My father and I accompanied a cattle trucker to an abattoir with a cow to be butchered. It was in February and the abattoir owner told the truck driver not to drive all the way down to the building as it was icy but to stay about 40 feet up. We were to stand on each side of that open space with a stick in our hands and the cow was expected to go straight for the open door. So two of us stood on each side to close off that open space. As the cow came off the ramp a pig inside the building gave a loud squeal and the cow turned sideways and fled in terror through the men holding the sticks. The cow had never heard a pig squeal before.
The cow ran down the long laneway, down the road and into a deep snowy field where she came to a stop. That taught me when you’re loading or unloading cattle to always have sturdy gates in place. You never know what might spook them.
Maynard van der Galien is a Renfrew-area farmer and newspaper columnist. He hasn’t had livestock now for four years and has taken down all the fences on his 320 acre farm.