An Endless Tale of Post and Rail (story)

Discussion in 'Managing Your Flock' started by LynneP, Apr 28, 2008.


    is one of a collection of stories directly or indirectly related to raising chickens.

    The link has the pics...

    An Endless Tale of Post and Rail April 27, 2008

    Until now our sole reason for fencing pasture was the presence of two horses, a Morgan mare and a Quarter Horse gelding. The mare was a particular challenge, and we had realized during her brief stay at a boarding stable before we bought this land that 'She' or 'Herself' as we often called her, considered fencing her particular life challenge. As a long yearling she had broken through a new 2x6, and she considered butt-rubbing and post-snapping a hobby. Well, we knew that cattle fencing would not work because she could uproot posts and push the netting, so we decided on old-style post and rail, of the serious kind.

    At that time, over twenty years ago, there were free-ranging chickens who would gladly pick your pasture clean, following the horses as their hooves stirred up everything insect. The foxes and coyotes changed that as their interest in quick snacks escalated. The feral cats could easily traverse the boundaries too, and we had heard that a certain feed store manufactured their own post and rail out of delivered saplings, so we went to check. It wasn't as though we were without basic fencing at any rate, the pasture and paddocks were newly mended and the posts look good. Back then you could get a peeled pole for $2 and a rail for $1.75. Things have certainly changed.

    Installing a snapped pole is a grunting task, requiring a long steel prybar to strike the earth before winding it in circular motions. Assuming the ground is damp you can usually get a hole big enough to deposit the point of the pole, grab a sledge hammer and slug the shaft deep enough that most horses can't charge through them or lift them up using a rail. Most horses. Such taskes are traditionally carried out in April or late October in our climate, when the earth will seal around the post and keep it firm. On those annoying occasions when a pole must be dug in dry earth, the air fills with many expletives, though not as many as when a big rock gets in the way.

    Rails are installed using a steel spike and a strong man. This is the kind of work that vibrates from wrist to shoulder and should be done in small installments. Always account for every nail, nothing on the planet can be injured by a spike as quickly or permanently as a horse, and the rails are installed on the inside both for strength and so that is a rail is dislodged, the sharp end of the nail points away from the horse, in theory.

    Don't rely on appearance with post and rail, though. We learned that the average post lasted three years in our climate and that a chewing, leaning, rubbing mare could shorten that time. Rails could make it six years if you were lucky, but fence-mending became a second job for us, as we were still teaching full-time in a faraway community.

    The best post and rail I ever saw was in Pennsylvania, at Valley Forge. Not only did they use posts, but the interwoven rails were supported by rocks gathered to clear the fields. It must have taken an army to construct and come to think of it, this version may have been a make-work before that cold winter that nearly did them in.

    Post and rail is a good highway for cats, though, and our horses have adored them. From the cat's point of view it's probably a good way to keep dry and to hunt at the same time, because little moles seems to like the base of posts for nests. We used to have a lot of them, but now we have a lot of cats.

    By the time she had been on the farm three years, Koosa the mare had become an expert at destroying post and rail. Sometimes she grabbed the top rail in her teeth and flexed her massive neck to lift, other times she eased her head and neck under the rail and pressed up. Her favorite technique was easing back against a pole for a little nap, the wiggling her ample quarters for a scratch. If the post seemed fragile, as they often are in spring, just a little rot at the soil line, she would grin, watch to see if we were watching, then SNAP! and the rails hung on a suspended post. We never found a way to break her of this, and yet now that she's gone, I miss the off sense of humour she displayed. She was always looking for a challenge and she had a bold way about her, and yet a toddler's sense of play.

    These days we use wolmanized posts and cattle wire, because the gray gelding is polite at the field perimeter and at 37, is unlikely to display escape behaviors. He misses her too, he paws the edge of her grave daily, nickers and heads off to tend the cats and any other life forms straying into his world. The neat thing about cattle wire is that it's suitable for pigs, goats and even geese and Muscovies.

    If we had it to do over again we'd have used solar electric fencing. But it wasn't out when we needed it, so our days of backbreaking fence labor are drawing to a close. Chickens are more malleable when it comes to fencing. Today we spent a few hours pre-measuring and manufacturing posts of another kind to protect our chicks, which arrive May 16. There is melancholy in giving up a tradition, but it's time has passed, and I look forward to a new set of biosecurities, of the avian kind.
    Last edited: Apr 28, 2008

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