I’m grateful for electronet, the portable electric fence I use to contain my sheep for much of the year. It’s light, quick to set up, easy to move, and it’s the critical technology that allows me to graze fields around town that don’t have permanent livestock fencing in place. But electronet has a kryptonite — ice — and we had 32º rain and freezing fog all day long. By afternoon, the ‘net was carrying more of a burden than it was designed for.
The ice causes a host of problems: it’s a very good insulator, defeating the purpose of an electrified fence; its weight makes the ‘net sag to the point where even my smallest lambs could step over it; and, if there’s already some snow cover, the ice can lock the electronet to the ground until spring. Conditions this afternoon were perfect for the rain to freeze on contact with the conductive strands of the ‘net, but the snow was still pretty slushy, so I rushed to do some damage control.
I put in some temporary posts to hold up the worst of the saggy sections, and then I shoveled away the slush at the points where I needed to open the electronet to bring in bales or let out the sheep. I also made a vain attempt to bash the ice off the strands of the ‘net, but darkness, wet gloves, and miles of ‘net defeated me.
I’m now hoping that I can get away with half-assed fence for a couple more weeks, until breeding is over. The sheep and guardian dogs seem pretty habituated to the (usually) hot fence, and they haven’t been challenging the edges of their enclosures lately. My fence-jumper, #721, no longer has the incentive of greener grass on the other side, and Bravo gave up jumping out once he demonstrated that he had no problem doing so. And I haven’t seen any sign of coyotes hanging around, so I assume that Bravo and Cleo will provide sufficient deterrence to any local lamb-eaters. The second breeding cycle is over on 5 January, at which point I’ll move the rams to their monastery and put the lambs into the Fortress with everyone else.
The 2 acres of hard-fenced pasture, which Bill christened the Winter Fortress, has 4 feet of woven wire fence stretched between permanent wood posts. There’s a hot wire on top, for good measure, but the woven wire alone has been more than adequate to keep sheep in and hungry carnivores out. Building the Fortress was the very first project I undertook when I moved here last fall, knowing that I needed a secure, weather-independent place to overwinter my flock. Last year, I only had 8 ewe lambs who weren’t being bred, so it was easy enough to keep them in a small sub-enclosure away from the rams. But today’s ice reminds me that I need a better solution for lamb housing during December breeding, since I shouldn’t really count on using electronet at this time of year. Of course I don’t really know what that better solution will look like, but I’m trying to cut a deal with the weather gods: if they give me 13 more days of semi-funtional electronet this year, I promise to come up with something for next year.