Electric fences build character


There was no better job on the farm than going after the cows out in the big pasture.

After being cooped up in school for what seemed like many merciless hours, the thought of grabbing the stock cane and heading off on a productive jaunt with a great dog was the best part of a day.

The cows, calm from a day out in the wide open, bellies full of pasture grass, always cooperated and began moving toward the opening to the smaller pasture.

Our black and tan English Shepherd helped with a steady presence, knowing the job just as well as any of us. It was a great job for a child.

The fence

There was one hitch. And it was a mighty big hitch. Once in awhile the gate handle to close off the big pasture could give off a surprise for the child bringing up the herd.

I knew I had to grab it with enough strength to pull the electric wire taut, lining it up to the closure link. I tried the ‘grab it with gusto’ approach, but sometimes as a little girl, I didn’t have enough force in the pull.

The fence to the big pasture had to be closed, or we would have to repeat this long walk at 4:30 a.m. when milking time rolled around again.

I planted my feet, pulled on the red plastic gate handle, lined it up just right and finally reached the closing. YOWZA!


My pride in accomplishment paled mighty quick with the jolt of electricity that darn thing gave me. I pictured myself looking like a character in a cartoon, lifted off the ground, hair flying straight up to the sky.

It wasn’t nearly as fun as the comics made it look. I told my sister about it right away, thinking we all were surely going to go bald or die young or something.


“Oh, yeh, it’s like that sometimes. You just have to be tough.” I told another sister. She told me it builds character, and she could see I had improved in the character department already. Whining would be frowned upon, so stoic was the way to go.

I learned to put a glove in my pocket to take the edge off the jolt, or purposefully waste a bunch of time whistling at the clouds, in the hope someone else would come along to close the fence.

Some days it got ya, some days it was just fine. It was always going to be a surprise, I thought, like spinning a wheel to determine if it was a shocker day or not.

Fix it

Well, it turns out I had told the wrong sisters. One day, the three of us busy doing something else, our oldest sister took the stock cane and the dog and went after the cows at milking time.

Shivers were sent up the spine with the yelp for help that could be heard all the way to Canada. It was pretty clear she had spun the wheel and the fence had handed out a surprise jolt.

“Dad, the red fence handle thingy has GOT to be replaced,” she announced on no uncertain terms at the supper table that evening. “I got shocked today closing the fence to the big pasture.”

“Glad you told me. I’ll get a new one first thing in the morning,” he replied.

“Sometimes those things can get just the tiniest crack that can’t even be seen, and they need replaced. I don’t want anyone getting shocked.”

Three young girls exchanged wide-eyed looks, mouths dropped open. So, it was as easy as this?

There was no denying I felt like a fool. But I now was a fool with plenty of character!


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Judith Sutherland, born and raised on an Ohio family dairy farm, now lives on a 70-acre farm not far from the area where her father’s family settled in the 1850s. Appreciating the tranquility of rural life, Sutherland enjoys sharing a view of her world through writing. Other interests include teaching, reading, training dogs and raising puppies. She and her husband have two children, a son and a daughter, and three grandchildren.



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