Wascally...

Quite a while back we noticed that we had rabbits living on the outer edges of the yard.

This was a delightful change because, although we are in a considerably rural location, we have a limited variety of actual wildlife we encounter at the homestead proper. We have birds, of course, and certainly have had our issues with trash pandas and the smaller members of the rodent sect, but the more common, semi-benign outdoor companions like squirrels and rabbits have largely been absent. We know they are out here - I routinely see them on my rides through the countryside - but they hadn’t been on the property. This is why that initial rabbit sighting was such a treat.

We still see them periodically, and over the past several months I’ve seen them run across the front yard - this usually as I’m pulling out of the driveway. Across the front yard seems somewhat unusual, since that’s dog territory. Our earlier sightings of our leporid friends saw them on the outer edge of the property - outside of, or at least within a short running distance of, that line. But the front yard is solidly within the canine zone.

And then the other day I saw this in the snow:

Rabbit tracks out the window

rabbit track

rabbit track out the window annotated

Rabbit track annotated

It’s hard to tell from the initial shot, being directly overhead, but this track is within 10-15’ of the house.

Dog territory

This would not only be within canine territory, but a considerable distance from the boundary line. There are a couple of bushes nearby - lilac and mock orange - which could potentially provide some cover, but otherwise it’s a long run to escape from interested dogs.

And then, the other morning, I looked out the window at the back stairwell and saw this:

There are actually two rabbits there. The one is easy to discern because it is moving, the other is a gray lump to the left side of the screen at the beginning. This is on the opposite side of the house from the rabbit track, and again well within the dog fence. The dogs were actually inside at the time I took this - I believe I was on my way down to let them out - so that might be why they were so bold. But it seems pretty risky territory regardless.

This probably seems, to the average suburbanite, a pretty banal thing to be excited about. But as I noted, it’s been a long time in coming. These farm homes are little islands of horticultural variety in a sea of monoculture. If the "island" loses its variety of critters, it seems difficult to get them back.

Now - will I be as excited to see the rabbits if (when?) they, say, start digging in our garden? Possibly not. But that actually seems a pretty reasonable thing to have to deal with out here on the prairie, so excited or not, it just feels more right.

All-Too Invisible Fence

I do not usually mow the lawn - often this is a task that others either enjoy (MLW) or have inflicted upon them (LB), but I decided to give it a go today. One of the things I decided I was going to do with my mowing adventure was really cut in close to the edge of the property and trim back some of the tall stuff that tends to grow along the field.

Back in October of 2015 I relayed a situation in which my cousin had inadvertently cut our invisible fence line. After this event I had put in several steel fence posts as markers to provide reference points for him, and for myself, indicating where the fence wire was. I thought myself pretty clever for doing so and, in fact, my cousin hasn't encountered the fence since.

What I didn't anticipate is that I might later be a victim of my own cleverness and drive over one of those fence posts in my effort to trim close to the edge of the property. I was fortunate, however, to only roll over it with a tire as opposed to the more serious problem of hitting it with the blades (did I mention that I do not usually mow...?).

I chalked this up to life experience and largely forgot about it until LB fed the dogs and said "the alarm on the invisible fence is going off".

I'm not sure the swearing was out loud, but the volume of it in my head was considerable.

It could be worse, though. I had a rough idea of where I thought it was (around the aforementioned fence post), and I had purchased a kit to help find breaks in the fencing during the adventure in October of '15.

So I gathered up the items from the basement shelves and got to work. As I started the process of searching I became aware of a couple of things:

  • All of those teachers in elementary school who accused me of not reading all the way through the directions before starting a task were a pain in my ass. And, incidentally, they may have been right; and
  • I get very crabby when I think I'm winding things up for the day and a new problem pops up.

That second item isn't really a revelation, per se, as much as it is a periodic reminder.

At any rate, I gathered up my cheapie radio and telescoping handle and walked out to the area I thought the damage was, only to find it was doing nothing but bringing in local radio stations. I messed around with this for a little bit before finally admitting that it was at least remotely possible that I'd forgotten how the procedure all works since my single experience with it 20 months ago.

Turns out there are several additional pieces of paraphernalia, and some additional setup, that is required before you can detect your break in the fence. It also turns out, oddly enough, that all of those additional pieces were sitting on the shelf right next to where I'd retrieved the first couple of pieces. Who would have guessed?

As I noted back when, the repairs are fairly simple once the break is located and uncovered. Today's repairs, though, were somewhat complicated by the extensive colony of ants that had apparently made their home somewhere in the vicinity of my damaged wire. They were not shy about making their objections known:

unhappy ants

For the record, they were not just crawling, but also biting. As it all went on I'm sure I appeared the monster, since many of them would end up returning home on their shields...

It's all better now, though, assuming there is not some giant ant overlord coming for revenge...

When Your Invisible Fence Disappears...

 

When we arrived home Wednesday evening I pulled up to the garage door and hit the opener. As the door slowly rolled open I heard it: the telltale sound of the alarm on the invisible fence transmitter, indicating that there was a break somewhere in the fence. 

This is a more familiar sound than one might expect. 

The invisible fence is, overall, a wonderful thing. It was far easier to put in, as well as being less expensive, than a traditional fence. Its also much more reliable  as a means for keeping the dogs in the yard than traditional fencing, not having gates to be left open or spaces for the determined canine to work her way through. And, when there is a fault in the fence, it lets you know. 

But when it goes down, when that alarm sounds, it means it's time for a search. 

Our property is relatively small as rural spots go - a little over two acres. But the invisible fence circles the entire perimeter, which gives a lot of territory to cover. Fortunately, this particular break offered an opportunity to narrow down the area of focus. My cousin, who owns the farm land on three of the four sides of us, had plowed that afternoon. This meant it was likely that he'd accidentally clipped the fence wire with his plow. This had happened before, this past spring, and it seemed too coincidental for these two events to be unrelated. 

When this had happened before I'd gotten lucky. I walked along the edge of the field and came across the wires, sticking up out of the ground, clearly cut. Of course, that time I'd discovered it in the daylight. This time I was getting home at 8 in the evening, and the sun had long since set. Still, I grabbed a flashlight, put the dogs in their pen, and started walking the edge of the field. 

My cousin saw me doing this and drove up alongside with the tractor. He asked if I was looking for something, and I explained the situation. "Well shit" he said "I'm sorry about that". He helped me look for a while, but it was clear that we weren't going to find it in the dark. It's hard enough to tell, from looking and memory, where exactly the fencing wire runs. And each time my cousin plows or plants the landscape changes slightly, changing the landmarks in subtle ways. 

One might wonder: why is he plowing close enough to the edge of the property to hit the invisible fence?  And the answer is that the fence installer (yours truly) did not have the foresight to consider farm activity when he put the wiring in, instead opting for going out as far out to the edge of the yard as seemed possible. I didn't allow for a safety margin in that respect, and so the fencing is vulnerable to any mishaps with respect to plow placement. At some point I will likely need to re-run sections of the wiring to correct for that error - something that occurred to me multiple times as I was searching for the break - but for now I simply wanted to get it all back up and working. 

Even in the daylight it's hard to fiind things along here...

Even in the daylight it's hard to fiind things along here...

I gave up for the evening and took the morning off of work the following day to undertake my search in light of day. After multiple passes, even in daylight, turned up nothing, it occurred to me that I was not actually 100% sure where the line ran, and so could not be sure that I was actually looking in the right places for a break. It was time for some problem-solving - I am a man of science, after all. 

I started by digging a series of small trenches perpendicular to the fence in order to uncover the wiring (in the process of which, I managed to cut the wire myself on one occasion). I spaced these out in positions across the edge of the yard so I could extrapolate the position of the wire between them. Then I put down stakes and garden fence posts, and ran string between them to determine the line that the wiring was following. 

 

I felt pretty darn clever about doing all of this and, indeed, it made it clear that I wasn't always looking in the right place. In some cases, the wiring was several inches, and sometimes up to a foot or more away from where I'd been searching. And, of course, now that I knew where the wiring should be I could focus my search in the correct area which, of course, yielded... 

...Nothing. I still could not find the break. 

During all of this activity a colleague had texted me with an article about using an RF Choke and a handheld AM Radio to locate the break. The gist of this is that additional device causes the fence to emit a signal even though it's broken, and the radio reads the signal. In places where the fence is broken, the signal changes or stops. Amazon turned out to have a pre-made version of this available, so I ordered it up and planned to address it over the weekend. Given that we've had to address this issue more than once over the past couple of years, it made sense to have something on hand to more quickly detect the breaks. 

Wire Break Locator kit as it comes in the box

Wire Break Locator kit as it comes in the box

The kit that came contained, ostensibly, everything needed to find a break in the line. Unfortunately, the little transistor radio that it included - which looked to have cost approximately $0.23 to make - worked for about 30 seconds after I opened it. This send me on a different search. 

It really isn't terribly surprising, in this day and age, but it is fiendishly difficult to find a store that carries handheld AM/FM radios any longer. Indeed, part of the reason that I had ordered the complete kit through Amazon was that the original article my colleague had sent suggested that the reader "run down to Radio Shack" to pick up the parts needed - and Radio Shack has been gone for a little while now...

No place in town seemed to have radios, so I took a shot at Wal-Mart in Peru. I generally regard entering a Wal-Mart as an event equally as pleasurable as having a root canal performed, but I was desperate to get this project up and running. And, it turned out, the hated big-box store did actually have two different options for portable radios. The one I picked looked slightly more robust than the one that had come in the kit - perhaps costing up to $0.27 to build - so I also picked up some batteries and tried it out in the parking lot to make sure it worked before I headed for home. 

Neither of the radio options at Wal-Mart had an external speaker, so I had to go with headphones.  Does anyone else besides me remember that Memorex used to be an  audio casette tape company ? 

Neither of the radio options at Wal-Mart had an external speaker, so I had to go with headphones.  Does anyone else besides me remember that Memorex used to be an audio casette tape company

This is the setup you walk the fence using.  The handle telescopes, and the radio is attached to the end of it with zip ties.  Not very fancy, but it is effective.  Unfortunately, the headphones weren't quite long enough for me to fully extend the handle and still use them, and while I'm certain I have a headphone extension cord  somewhere,  I absolutely could not find it (of course), so I spent a lot of time hunched over while I was searching.

This is the setup you walk the fence using.  The handle telescopes, and the radio is attached to the end of it with zip ties.  Not very fancy, but it is effective.  Unfortunately, the headphones weren't quite long enough for me to fully extend the handle and still use them, and while I'm certain I have a headphone extension cord somewhere, I absolutely could not find it (of course), so I spent a lot of time hunched over while I was searching.

From there it worked like a charm. The kit put out a signal that the radio picked up, and I was able to find and repair the breaks - there were two of them fairly close to one another on the north side of the property. The repairs themselves, once you find them, are really pretty easy to perform, and there are few things as satisfying as plugging in the transmitter and NOT hearing the alarm going off any longer. 

Plus the dogs were happy because they could now run free.

Once you actually find the break it's a pretty simple repair.

Once you actually find the break it's a pretty simple repair.