Colorado Springs News, Sports & Business

Gazette Premium Content The Country Life: Good fences, good neighbors, dumb dog

By Bill Radford Published: March 4, 2014

Thanks to an escape-artist dog, I've been thinking a lot about fences lately.

In the city, we had a wood-panel fence around our lot, which I often had to repair after winds slashed through the neighborhood. Here in eastern El Paso County, where the winds are typically even more fierce, I would never bother with a wood-panel fence. And few others do, either, which I think adds to the wide-open feel of the countryside.

But that doesn't mean there aren't fences. There's chain link. Split-rail. Mesh field and horse fencing. Tubular corral panels. Cable fence. Barbed wire. Electric.

When we bought our property in the country, there was a gate to the pasture behind the house and T-posts along the outskirts of the pasture, but no fencing on three sides. So one of the first things we did when we moved in was to have a pasture fence installed - three strands of wire that, while it wouldn't keep loose dogs, rabbits or other small animals from crossing the pasture, it would - theoretically, anyway - keep the horses contained.

Unfortunately, at 42 inches the fence wasn't tall enough; Starr, the guest horse that was living with our horse at the time, soon sailed over it. Colorado Parks and Wildlife has a booklet on "Fencing With Wildlife in Mind" (available online at the Colorado State University Extension website, www.ext.colostate.edu/sam/dow-fencing.pdf) that says a fence height of 42 inches "is adequate to keep in nearly all breeds of horse." But apparently nobody told Starr. So we added a strand of electric, which has prevented further escapes. (Psst: The electric wire is without juice because we're getting the charger fixed; don't tell the horse or the mule.)

The Parks and Wildlife booklet runs through options for horse fencing. It warns that a wooden post and rail fence, while a traditional style of horse fence, holds some dangers: Horses, it says, can and will break through rails and boards, and nails can be a hazard if they come loose and a horse steps on them. All fences can be electrified, the booklet notes, but using an electrified wire on its own also poses safety issues, since horses may not see the wire and can get caught up in it. It suggests a more visible electric braid option; there's also electric tape that can be used as a temporary fence.

Similarly, a guide I found online by the University of Tennessee Institute of Agriculture warns that horses can become entangled in the strands of a high-tensile wire fence like we have and suggests making the strands more visible. (We've hung white plastic grocery bags from the electric wire; not only does it make it more visible, but our horse HATES plastic bags, so it helps keep her away.) The University of Tennessee advises against barbed wire since horses can tear their hide on the barbs.

The old saying is that "good fences make good neighbors." In our case, good fences means our critters won't be roaming others' property - and vice versa. What type of fencing you use depends on what you're trying to keep in or out.

Our pet rabbits, easy prey, have a couple of levels of security. They're in a chain-link dog pen within a fenced side yard; the top of the pen is enclosed to keep predators from getting in and there's wire mesh across the bottom, under a layer of dirt, to keep the rabbits, Lois and Lana, from digging out; this Fort Knox approach comes after a time in the city when we had a pet rabbit dig an escape tunnel and end up as breakfast for a fox.

Which brings me back to our efforts to contain the escape-artist dog, Hank. He's a rescue dog, found roaming the area around Hugo, and he still has wanderlust. So he digs. He squeezes through gaps. And, worst of all, he climbs.

I recently built an enclosure for Hank and his new, three-legged canine buddy, Blue, which included adding a fine wire mesh to the gate so that he could not get a foothold and climb. Once I put him in, it took roughly 30 seconds for him to scale the gate anyway. So we'll be adding electric to his fencing as well. While it will be a bit of a shock to him (literally), it ideally will keep him contained - and safe.

If not, I need someone to develop a "Star-Trek"-like force field to keep him in.

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Bill Radford and his wife live in the countryside east of Colorado Springs with a menagerie that includes a horse, a mule, two goats, three dogs, two cats, a half-dozen chickens, two rabbits, two guinea pigs and two parrots. Contact him: Twitter @billradfordiii, gazettebillradford

on Facebook. Follow his blog at blogs.gazette.com/thecountrylife.

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