Jerry Nelson: Old Fences | Farm Forum

The first cup of steaming coffee was just starting to get my brain pumping when I caught a glimpse of a large, shaggy animal tumbling past our living room window.

Was it Bigfoot or a Sasquatch or maybe even Keanu Reeves? Sadly no. If it had been one of them, I wouldn’t be here. I would be on E! Watch TV, show my cell phone video and share all the juicy details about my epic encounter.

The beast was actually one of our Jersey ox. His presence on the sidewalk was just as shocking as if he was a mythical forest creature or someone from “The Matrix”.

Our handful of Jersey oxen roam freely on an acre of grass. They are prevented from roaming the entire planet by an electric fence connected to a charger that emits bursts of electrons strong enough to crash a satellite.

So the oxen have a deep respect for the “hot” wire. It was all the more puzzling that one of them had somehow escaped from the cattle yard and got so close to our house that he could ring the doorbell.

The inspection showed that the electric fence was working properly. The ox had escaped by crumpling a corroded old cattle plate next to the water well. Not exactly a Houdini move, but effective.

The cattle panel clearly needed to be replaced. I built this section of fence about 30 years ago so I doubted there would be any warranty on the cattle slab. They don’t do things like they used to!

As I got the new livestock panel in place, I thought of Old Frank, my former landlord.

Old Frank was way north of 80 when I met him. He was a wiry old man with a mop of white hair and eyebrows the size of hamsters. I started farming more than four decades ago when I leased a humble little dairy farm from him.

When I say “humble” I mean “run down”. The homestead was a collection of dilapidated buildings in various stages of advanced decay. But my desire to manage was so great that I didn’t care about the condition of the buildings. I would have lived in a mud hut and milked cows by hand if it had meant that I could become a farmer.

Soon after I moved to the farm, it turned out to be Old Frank’s favorite project. He drove out almost every day and told me stories about his long and colorful life. He kept telling the same epic stories over and over again, but I assumed that this was simply part of the cost of doing business with him.

When Old Frank realized that my farm was in dire need of repair, he played around, grabbed some tin here, and spilled some paint there. One morning he came to the farm with a bucket of crooked nails that he had bought at auction for fifty cents.

“Nothing wrong with these nails!” explained old Frank as he was pounding it more or less straight on a wooden fence post. “They were only used once!”

Old Frank often had to rest. He rubbed his back and took a deep breath of the spring air. “I went soft this winter,” he muttered. “I just have to tighten up.”

My Holsteins often fled through the rickety pasture fence and wandered onto a nearby freeway. This was frightening for both the livestock and motorists driving by. Cows are not known to obey the rules of the road.

One day Old Frank brought me several large, unwieldy rolls of rusty barbed wire. “Can you believe someone left this in the dump?” he asked. “There is nothing wrong with this wire! I bet it has only been used once! “

A few years later I saw this type of barbed wire again. It was part of a museum exhibition.

I was thinking about these things when installing my new livestock panel. It was a tedious task, but it felt good to be in the warm spring sunshine after our endless COVID-19 winter.

I took a deep breath and smelled the earthy perfume of the warming earth. “There it is!” I thought, feeling like I had just reconnected with an old buddy I hadn’t seen in years.

It took a lot of effort to drive all of these staples in. It was surprising how often my arm needed rest.

I straightened up to rub my back and thought to myself, “It’s been a long winter. I just have to tighten up. “

If you’d like to contact Jerry Nelson to speak publicly or just to register your comments, you can email him at [email protected]. His book, Dear County Agent Guy, is available from and booksellers everywhere.

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