Wire Gates

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The classic wire gate; in this case, the back gate into the big pasture.

The classic wire gate; in this case, the back gate into the big pasture.

Fences need gates, which seems a little obvious, but it’s a more complex issue than it first appears. Wood is plentiful in many places and barbed wire is relatively inexpensive. Barbed wire was also heavily used back in the days when the open range (which in many cases on the windswept plains meant few trees) was being fenced in. Fences in these areas were often built from corner “posts” of wire cages filled with rocks. While they work well, it’s impossible to hang a standard gate from this kind of corner post. Wire gates are used all over the world, which may be why they have so many different names. I’ve heard them called Texas gates, New Zealand gates and Portagee gates in the US. The British use the term Hampshire gate, while Aussies call them cocky’s gates (cocky is the Australian nickname for farmers). In New Zealand itself, they’re called Taranaki gates, and in Ireland, the wire gate is known as a slap.

Small ranch hands about to open the gate to feed; you can see the gate past the shoulder of the smallest one.

Small ranch hands about to open the gate to feed; you can see the gate past the shoulder of the smallest one.

Looking through the open gate; branch lever on chain to the left.

Looking through the open gate; branch lever on chain to the left.

A regular “built” gate, whether of metal or wood, needs hinges and usually needs a higher and larger gatepost and some sort of wire stays to keep it from sagging. As a result, wire gates are common in the West, especially in areas where you don’t need to go through them too frequently. They are also handy because you can make them considerably wider than a conventional gate, and since you’ve already got the wire and staples at hand for fence building, you don’t need to cart along extra material – a boon to building fence in distant pastures. They don’t require the kind of precision you need in building a wood gate. The average steel livestock gate costs well upwards of $100 for something inexpensive, so a wire gate is a moneysaver as well.

Gates like these are handier for working livestock. When opened to the rear, they form a handy alleyway to move critters from one pasture to another.

Gates like these are handier for working livestock. When opened to the rear, they form a handy alleyway to move critters from one pasture to another.

A metal gate like this is better for a corral.

A metal gate like this is better for a corral.

They have their disadvantages. Since they don’t swing on hinges, you may need more than one person to keep hungry stock back as you open the gate. They are floppy, which can make them a little hard to handle – unlike a wood or metal gate, you can’t open and close them from horseback. One of the biggest difficulties with wire gates (at least from the ranch wife’s point of view) is that they are all too often built by males with more upper body strength than the female of the species happens to possess. That makes them hard to open and hard to close. A cheater bar of wood or metal on an attached chain helps supply the necessary leverage, but you still have to be able to get the upright close enough to the bar to hook it in place and supply leverage. My handy hubby built this to solve the problem.

Classic cheater bar for a wire gate.

Classic cheater bar for a wire gate.

In its previous iteration, this gate simply had a wire loop attached to the gatepost; hard for me to pull the smaller post close enough to slip the wire over the top.

In its previous iteration, this gate simply had a wire loop attached to the gatepost; hard for me to pull the smaller post close enough to slip the wire over the top.

Rotate the handle to tighten the loop of cable; this takes all the strain off your arms and chest.

Rotate the handle to tighten the loop of cable; this takes all the strain off your arms and chest.

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Weed Barriers

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The way basil self-seeds in my garden, it could easily become a major weed problem if it weren't so easy to pull.

The way basil self-seeds in my garden, it could easily become a major weed problem if it weren’t so easy to pull.

If you can’t pull ’em, bury ’em or barrier ’em. Weeds, that is. Weeds are the bane of a gardener’s life. That’s particularly true in dryland gardening — so I understand, not being a dryland gardener myself — where the weeds steal precious moisture. It’s also true in intensive gardening, because you have to make every inch count. As I get older, kneeling to pull out the invasive little critters is more of an effort. I can still bend from the waist, but there’s no point popping the discs in my back, and after several hours in that position, I straighten carefully and by degrees before heading for the heating pad. The knees protest, even with a pillow or cushion, and the getting up and down is decidedly less than graceful. Not much point in carefully weeding the beds when you stomp all over plants as you stagger to your feet, or squash them when you fall down trying to get back up. So, as I usually do when balked in the pursuit of whatever, I’ve started looking for other ways to deal with the situation (I’m not good at giving up on things).

There are some weeds - like the wild blackberries pictured here - that really don't respond to much short of an atomic blast.

There are some weeds – like the wild blackberries pictured here – that really don’t respond to much short of an atomic blast.

Commercial weed barriers — also known in the trade as weed cloth or landscape cloth — are made from polypropylene fabric or heavy biodegradable paper. You lay them down on the ground and punch holes in them to plant your plants. The paper is meant to be left in place, but the polyethylene stuff can be rolled up at the end of each season and reused. Some are supposed to last 20 years. Heavy duty black plastic is also used by some folks. Any of these can be covered with more esthetically appealing materials like wood chips or gravel, which are often used in flower gardens and shrubbery. However, plastic isn’t water permeable, so your plantings may not get enough moisture unless you lay drip irrigation underneath. For permanent plantings, you still have the problem of weed seeds coming to visit on top of the mulch, and since your plants have to have holes cut in the barrier to grow through, weeds will also get a root-hold there.
For the veggie garden, weed barriers are a mixed bag, in my experience. In a row garden, they work reasonably well, and some folks swear by them. They’re particularly effective in row gardens if you cultivate before laying them, remove at the end of the year and cultivate as soon as you pull them up. For intensive gardening, however, they can quickly become a problem as you try to rotate plants with different spacing requirements; the barriers wind up looking like Swiss cheese because you keep punching holes in them. And they’re expensive, especially if you go for the high-end, long-lasting stuff.
When dealing with weeds, you want to stop them from getting a head start in spring or from growing to any size once they get started (weed seeds will blow in on top of your barriers no matter what you use). If you have the sort of garden that you put to bed in the fall, a heavy mulch will work wonders for weed control. I caution you, however, that if you use something like spoiled hay or straw, you’ll be dealing with the seeds from the mulch a few months later, even if you turn it into the soil.

Cabbage transplants with chicken litter mulch.

Cabbage transplants with chicken litter mulch.

For winter slumbering, I like a heavy mulch of leaves, grass clippings, sheep pen cleanings and/or chicken litter, or any combination thereof. You can just leave it in place over the winter and let it decompose, although the aforementioned weed seeds will blow in and get going in spring. If you water it well and then cover with something like several layers of newspaper (weighted down with rocks), cardboard, old carpet, or strips of tarp too battered to use for covering the hay pile anymore, it will break down nicely without losing nutrients. Since none of those covers cost me anything (or I’ve already paid for them and would otherwise be throwing them away), it helps satisfy my cheapskate instincts. By the way, this is also a great way to build new garden beds without having to till. Come spring, you take off the cover, till if desired (I don’t desire) and start planting. However, you’ll still have to weed as the gardening year goes on.

Close plant spacing (this is celtuce) also helps keep down weeds.

Close plant spacing (this is celtuce) also helps keep down weeds.

Although the winter slumber method works well, I’m trying to move more toward year-round gardening (helped along by climate change, which has extended my frost-free period and made our winter lows about 10 degrees less low). Since the kitchen garden now has plants in it year round, the winter slumber method doesn’t work. This year, I tried the Paul/Elizabeth Kaiser method in which you lay several inches of compost over a freshly harvested bed and replant within a week (two at most) of harvest. In most cases, you’re planting transplants on intensive spacings, which means you quickly have a relatively crowded bed in which the plants help shade out weeds. For direct seeding, since the veggie seeds are on top of the compost while the weed seeds are three or four inches under, the veggies can get a considerable head start. I have to say that weed problems have been minimal with this method. It also allows me to pursue my year-round harvest methods, keeps the soil covered to prevent erosion, boosts microbial populations, improves soil moisture and increases my harvest without expanding either the size of the garden or my workload. Pretty much a win-win so far, except maybe from the weeds’ point of view…

(PS – sorry the site was down; of course, technical and similar snafus always seem to happen on weekends and holidays!)

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Election 2016 – Update

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Apparently we have some folks out there who would like to know the answers to the question in the previous post, so here you go!

Do you know how to tell if a cow has had enough to eat?
The rumen is the first stomach of a cow; she grazes steadily until her rumen is full, then goes to find a spot where she can chew her cud. The rumen is located roughly in front of the hip bones on the left. A cow who is finished grazing for the day shouldn’t have a shrunken area here (it also shouldn’t be overly distended, as that can indicate bloat). Cows that are getting enough to eat will also be mildly interested in you when you come to feed, but they won’t be bawling all the time and following you down the fence line when when you drive by. Nita Wilton has a great post on this issue, plus pictures:https://matronofhusbandry.wordpress.com/2009/09/09/is-my-cow-getting-enough-to-eat/

When the tie-down bolt on the trailer breaks, can you either replace it by drilling it out for a new one or weld the old one back together?
This isn’t really a here’s-the-answer question. It’s more of a do-you-have-the-skill question. I must admit that while I could drill it out and replace it, I’m not the welder around here, so that job would go to my hubby.

What’s the difference between white, Dutch, alsike, ladino and crimson clover?
White Dutch clover is the stuff you find in your yard. Although other clovers are often better choices, odds are you’ll have some in your pasture just because it spreads easily. Alsike is usually better in cool than hot climates and is good for soils with poor drainage. Ladino is like a giant form of white clover that does better in warm climates and is often used as forage, especially in mixed pasture. The aforementioned clovers are all perennials. Crimson clover is a winter annual that provides good forage fairly early in the spring (at least in my area).

Is it better to grow ryegrass, orchard grass, Bermuda grass or reed canary grass in the wet spots in the pasture?
Well it depends on your climate, rainfall and soil type. In some places reed canary grass is considered an invasive species. Bermuda grass is better in drought conditions.

What can you do with baling wire after you break open the bale?
Darn near anything! It’s an old joke that many ranches are held together with baling wire and duct tape.Just this last week, I used it to make a new latch for the chicken coop, keep a horse blanket snap closed and wire a hole in the fence closed so the deer couldn’t go through it.

How can you tell if those thunderheads are going to give you a sprinkle or a downpour?
Thunderheads with a dark blue or purple band across the bottom are likely to give you a downpour, especially if the wind is out of the West.

Can you midwife a cow, sheep or horse?
My answer would be yes, but I try to avoid it by making sure I use a bull, ram or stud that isn’t known for large babies. An animal that has birthing problems gets sold, eaten or is used for some other purpose than breeding.

Do you know how to milk a cow, ride a horse, rope a calf or shear a sheep?
Yes, yes, no (but hubby does), yes, but I prefer to raise hair sheep so that isn’t an issue.

Can you shoe a horse?
I know the basics, but hubby is the expert.

How can you tell if your cows have selenium deficiency?
We live in a selenium-deficient area, so I just assume our cows don’t get enough and supplement them. Signs of deficiency include poor production – especially in milk cows – calving problems, mastitis, low fertility and weak or premature calves. You can also take a blood sample.

How many different knots can you tie?
I’m good for four or five; hubby knows how to tie just about any knot in the book.

When can you expect to see swallows in your area each year?
Around here, it’s the end of February.

What are the indications that a cow might need to be wormed?
The cow looks poor and won’t gain weight no matter how much she eats. She may have diarrhea or pale gums (a sign of blood loss).

How do you save seeds from biennial plants?
You have to carry them through the winter and let them go to seed the next spring. Most of these are pollinated by wind and insects; in fact, off the top of my head, I can’t think of any self-pollinating biennials in the vegetable garden.

What widely available herb makes a good cough syrup?
Horehound. It tastes terrible, even with lots of honey, but it really works.

Is it better to feed horses alfalfa, grass or alfalfa/grass mix hay?
Young horses in good condition will do fine on good quality grass hay. They also get more roughage with grass hay, which is a good thing; in the wild, horses graze about 18 hours a day. Alfalfa/grass mix is better for those that are pregnant or working hard; I like a 40/60 ratio of alfalfa to grass. Straight alfalfa can make them “hot” behavior-wise, and it can make it harder to ensure the proper calcium ratio.

How many of the following skills do you have: welder, plumber, veterinarian, electrician, cowboy/cowgirl, carpenter, logger, herbalist, hunter, cook, dairyman/woman, shepherd, naturalist, meteorologist, salesman/woman, poultry man/woman, accountant, blacksmith, heavy equipment operator, mechanic, harness maker, gardener?
Among the four adults on the place, we have all of these, as well as skills/knowledge in chemistry, microbiology, computer skills, hand crafts like making jewelry, knitting, crocheting and sewing.

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