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Fences And Fencing

Though I have already indicated, incidentally, my decided objections to

our prevalent system of Fencing, I deem the subject of such importance

that I choose to discuss it directly. Excessive Fencing is peculiarly an

American abuse, which urgently cries for reform.

Solon Robinson says the fence-tax is the heaviest of our farmer's taxes.

I add, that it is the most needless and indefensible.

hways we must have, and people must traverse them; but this gives

them no right to trample down or otherwise injure the crops growing on

either side. In France, and other parts of Europe, you see grass and

grain growing luxuriantly up to the very edge of the beaten tracks, with

nothing like a fence between them. Yet those crops are nowise injured or

disturbed by wayfarers. Whoever chooses to impel animals along these

roads must take care to have them completely under subjection, and must

see that they do no harm to whatever grows by the wayside.

In this country, cattle-driving, except on a small scale, and for short

distances, has nearly been superceded by railroads. The great droves

formerly reaching the Atlantic seaboard on foot, from Ohio or further

West, are now huddled into cars and hurried through in far less time,

and with less waste of flesh; but they reach us fevered, bruised, and

every way unwholesome. Every animal should be turned out to grass, after

a railroad journey of more than twelve hours, and left there a full

month before he is taken to the slaughter-pen. We must have many more

deaths per annum in this city than if the animals on which we subsist

were killed in a condition which rendered them fit for human food.

Ultimately, our fresh Beef, Mutton and Pork, will come to us from the

Prairies in refrigerating cars: each animal having been killed while in

perfect health, unfevered and untortured by days of cramped, galled, and

thirsty suffering, on the cars. This will leave their offal, including a

large portion of their bones, to enrich the fields whence their

sustenance was drawn and from which they should never be taken. The cost

of transporting the meat, hides, and tallow, in such cars, would be less

than that of bringing through the animals on their legs; while the

danger of putrefaction might be utterly precluded.

But to return to Fencing:

Our growing plants must be preserved from animal ravage; but it is most

unjust to impose the cost of this protection on the growers. Whoever

chooses to rear or buy animals must take care that they do not infest

and despoil his neighbors. Whoever sees fit to turn animals into the

street, should send some one with them who will be sure to keep them out

of mischief, which browsing young trees in a forest clearly is.

If the inhabitants of a settlement or village surrounded by open

prairie, see fit to pasture their cattle thereon, they should send them

out each morning in the charge of a well-mounted herdsmen, whose duty

should be summed up in keeping them from evildoing by day and bringing

them safely back to their yard or yards at nightfall.

Fencing bears with special severity on the pioneer class, who are least

able to afford the outlay. The "clearing" of the pioneer's first year in

the wilderness, being enlarged by ax and fire, needs a new and far

longer environment next year; and so through subsequent years until

clearing is at an end. Many a pioneer is thus impelled to devote a large

share of his time to Fencing; and yet his crops often come to grief

through the depredations of his own or his neighbor's breachy cattle.

Fences produce nothing but unwelcome bushes, briers and weeds. So far as

they may be necessary, they are a deplorable necessity. When constructed

where they are not really needed, they evince costly folly. I think I

could point out farms which would not sell to-day for the cost of

rebuilding their present fences.

We cannot make open drains or ditches serve for fences in this country,

as they sometimes do in milder and more equable climates, because our

severe frosts would heave and crumble their banks if nearly

perpendicular, sloping them at length in places so that animals might

cross them at leisure. Nor have we, so far north as this city, had much

success with hedges, for a like reason. There is scarcely a hedge-plant

at once efficient in stopping animals and so hardy as to defy the

severity, or rather the caprice, of our Winters. I scarcely know a hedge

which is not either inefficient or too costly for the average farmer;

and then a hedge is a fixture; whereas we often need to move or demolish

our fences.

Wire Fences are least obnoxious to this objection; they are very easily

removed; but a careless teamster, a stupid animal, or a clumsy friend,

easily makes a breach in one, which is not so easily repaired. Of the

few Wire Fences within my knowledge, hardly one has remained entire and

efficient after standing two or three years.

Stone Walls, well built, on raised foundations of dry earth, are

enduring and quite effective, but very costly. My best have cost me at

least $5 per rod, though the raw material was abundant and accessible. I

doubt that any good wall is built, with labor at present prices, for

less than $5 per rod. Perhaps I should account this costliness a merit,

since it must impel farmers to study how to make few fences serve their


Rail Fences will be constructed only where timber is very abundant, of

little value, and easily split. Whenever the burning of timber to be

rid of it has ceased, there the making of rail fences must be near its


Where fences must still be maintained, I apprehend that posts and boards

are the cheapest material. Though Pine lumber grows dear, Hemlock still

abounds; and the rapid destruction of trees for their bark to be used in

tanning must give us cheap hemlock boards throughout many ensuing years.

Spruce, Tamarack, and other evergreens from our Northern swamps, will

come into play after Hemlock shall have been exhausted.

As for posts, Red Cedar is a general favorite; and this tree seems to be

rapidly multiplying hereabout. I judge that farmers who have it not,

might wisely order it from a nursery and give it an experimental trial.

It is hardy; it is clean; it makes but little shade; and it seems to

fear no insect whatever. It flourishes on rocky, thin soils; and a grove

of it is pleasant to the sight--at least, to mine.

Locust is more widely known and esteemed; but the borer has proved

destructive to it on very many farms, though not on mine. I like it

well, and mean to multiply it extensively by drilling the seed in rich

garden soil and transplanting to rocky woodland when two years old.

Sowing the seed among rocks and bushes I have tried rather extensively,

with poor success. If it germinates at all, the young tree is so tiny

and feeble that bushes, weeds, and grass, overtop and smother it.

That a post set top-end down will last many years longer than if set as

it grew, I do firmly believe, though I cannot attest it from personal

observation. I understand the reason to be this: Trees absorb or suck up

moisture from the earth; and the particles which compose them are so

combined and adjusted as to facilitate this operation. Plant a post

deeply and firmly in the ground, butt-end downward, and it will continue

to absorb moisture from the earth as it did when alive; and the post,

thus moistened to-day and dried by wind and sun to-morrow, is thereby

subjected to more rapid disintegration and decay than when reversed.

My general conclusion is, that the good farmer will have fewer and

better fences than his thriftless neighbor, and that he will study and

plan to make fewer and fewer rods of fence serve his needs, taking care

that all he retains shall be perfect and conclusive. Breachy cattle are

a sad affliction alike to their owner and his neighbor; and shaky,

rotting, tumble-down fences, are justly responsible for their perverse

education. Let us each resolve to take good care that his own cattle

shall in no case afflict his neighbors, and we shall all need fewer

fences henceforth and evermore.