Barbed wire is a hateful, hateful thing. The same features that make it an effective method of controlling unruly bovines are the same features that make it hard to work with and even harder to love. Our place came with miles and miles of the stuff, and this past week I decided that some of it was coming down.
At some point in the past this place was a dairy operation. Almost all the fields were fenced with cattle in mind. While some of that fencing is still in moderately decent shape, most of it is rusted, broken, and rotted… useless for anything other than rustic decoration and tetanus deliverance.
We have two hay fields that were separated by a line of barbed wire fence. The fence was a hinderance for hay making, and served no purpose for us whatsoever. I decided that before the grass starts growing, I would take it down. A couple of hours work tops, I figured. Yah, right.
I started by taking the staples out of the posts. I didn’t want loose fencing nails getting lost in the fields and then piercing expensive tractor tires. Meticulously I travelled from post to post, yanking out the four staples in each piece of wood, and freeing the barbed wire from it’s hold. I figured this would be the hardest part of the process. It wasn’t.
Once the fencing nails were removed I started untangling the strands of barbed wire and laying them side by side. Now, let’s be clear here, these are loooonnnnnnng strands of barbed wire… probably 200 meters a piece, I figured. Throw in a few rose bushes along the fence line, and untangling that wire was like combing a matted cat. Despite my long sleeves and leather gloves I was lucky to escape with a portion of my skin intact.
Glad that part was over, I selected a strand and began to roll it. If you know me well at all, you’ll know that I have child-like hands. I struggled to keep the roll tightly wound, but 5 or 6 wraps in I’d loose my grip and the thing would sproing apart like fake can of snakes filled with real ones. Those barbs go through leather gloves, through Carharrt pants, through padded barn coats, and through skin. I was fighting a losing battle.
As I cursed my 8th or 9th try, I heard a tractor pull into the drive. Our neighbour John bringing us a bale of hay. I dropped the wire and headed up to open the gate. More importantly, I figured I’d pick John’s brain about barbed wire management techniques. John has been farming a long time and he has tricks for everything, He’s shown me how to fit two bales of hay into a space that should only hold one and he’s helped us get a little more zap out of our electric fence. I figured if anyone would know a good way to wrassle with barbed wire, it would be John. I explained my problem and led him down to the closest strand lying on the ground.
“Do you have a trick for dealing with this?”, I asked him. John shook his head and informed me that there is no trick, you just roll it along the ground.
“But I can’t get very far before it won’t fit into my hand, ” I explained.
“When it gets too big, you cut it.”
The last thing I wanted was hundreds of mini rolls of barbed wire to deal with. I was hellbent on keeping each strand in one piece.
When John left I surveyed the situation and realized I had to come up with a better way. I rummaged through the junk pile at the edge of the property and found half of an old metal ladder, likely from a swingset or a pool. The lightbulb in my head flickered.
I carried the ladder to a strand of wire and wrapped the wire around it. Once it caught on itself I flipped the ladder over and over along the ground, winding the wire onto it as I went. When I got to the back of the fence line I had a neat oval of treachery wrapped around the ladder. I pushed it off the end with my foot and it hit the ground as a nice neat round. Stoked, I moved on to the other three.
Barbed wire is evil. Of that, I am sure. But there’s some contentment in nursing my scratches and scrapes while knowing that I kicked its ass. I’d still like to find the person who invented it and beat him over the head with my pool ladder, but for now I’ll revel in the fact that there’s only about 20 km of barbed wire left to go. Who needs skin, anyway? That’s what bandaids are for.