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Fencing a creek.

A small meandering brook runs the length of my pasture. It winds its way through a rock-strewn stream bed, between moss covered tree trunks, seldom reaching more than a foot in depth except for an occasional pool created by nature's handiwork.

This creek is one of the main reasons I settled here 13 years ago. On a bright day glints of sunlight play irresistibly across its face. In winter, snow caps the rocks and contrasts its whiteness against the chilly dark channel. The creek is restful and brings me a peace of soul I never found in urban settings. But its beauty belies its potential to wreak havoc with the land and my fences.

My little brook is listed as a dry run on area maps. Years ago, before conservation practices on the farms surrounding me became widespread, the spring that trickles life into my creek would dry up every summer, leaving the skeletal rocks of the stream bed parched and exposed. Yet, it would rage with a furious silt laden torrent when seasonal thunderstorms belched sheets of rain onto the three square mile watershed it drains. The aging flood tore trees from the banks, catapulting them into the waters; rolled enormous boulders from their resting places to spew them like a giant's marbles across the land; and of course, ripped any fencing in its path into a caricature of tangled wire, wood and posts.

Even with good conservation practices, my creek still floods. And when it floods, the fencing I have erected across the creek to keep my horses secure in their pasture is defenseless to its brown, foam tipped, tearing fingers. When the waters subside there is the inevitable chore of checking fences to secure the livestock. I have found pieces of my fence as far as a quarter of a mile down the stream bed.

I no longer attempt to span the stream bed with high priced, long fence boards. Barbed wire invariably tangles and breaks from its posts to lie in either heavy sodden strands of braided weeds and branches or a murderous entwined coil waiting to ensnare man or beast. Cable held secure to the posts but, when caught by the plummeting roots of a flood impelled tree, yanked half my fenceline down. If I raised the fence to allow the water to pass under it, invariably a pony or donkey would slip under it. It was a frustrating six-year-long war.

Creek fencing became an obsession. I talked about it with whoever would listen. The old timers would invariably nod their heads in appreciation of the dire situation and give a candid comment like, "Yup, cricks are nice, but ya gotta pay the toll," or "Pears like a Jeckle and Hyde sit-eation, what ya plan on doin' `bout it?" I'd just shake my head. If I knew, why would I be asking? I talked with store clerks who sold fencing, but most had never put any up, and weren't of much help. I talked to the extension agent. He wasn't any help at all. I checked out books from the library on fencing, but not one covered flooding creeks. I drove around the countryside assessing other farmer's creek fencing. It appeared that everyone who had a creek simply resigned themselves to fixing fence after a flood.

Later that year the kids and I went on the Minnesota Donkey and Mule Association's annual trail ride. It was held at Jim and Carolyn Burnap's 1200 acre ranch/farm. On the trail ride I spied what appeared to be a long narrow wooden gate suspended across the river that bisected their cattle pasture. Ah ha! A flap-type flood fence that floated when the river came up and hung imposingly when the river was at its normal level. They apparently didn't have trouble with trees sweeping down the river at flood stage or the flood gate would have been torn from its supports long ago. But it did give me an idea.

I was close enough to current to utilize electric fence. One horizontal line was run fairly high to be out of the reach of passing tree roots and branches. Vertical strands were attached at one foot intervals to the single horizontal line and hung to nearly water level. Flood water would simply lift and short out the electric wires tripping the circuit breaker. Trees, branches, etc., could flow right through the vertical strands without catching or breaking the wire. After the flood, just trip the circuit breaker to kick in the electric again. And when the creek was down, any beastie that decided this veil of wire strands looked like an easy way out need only step into the water, brush against the innocent hanging wires and receive a nasty jolt to discourage wandering.

I don't believe I have won the war. But for the past seven years, I have won every battle the creek has yet mounted against my fence.
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Title Annotation:a floating electrified fence
Author:Sandlin, Beverly
Publication:Countryside & Small Stock Journal
Article Type:Brief Article
Date:Mar 1, 1998
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