January 2012
Through the Fence

Flip of a Switch

I think all women dream of being able to set our own schedules. What a luxury that would be! Not only the planning of time, but the actual execution of the appointments on our calendar. Instead, our hair appointments, girls’ night out or even afternoon naps frequently have to be postponed, cancelled or rescheduled because our husbands, kids, parents or animals have some crisis that comes up. It’s like the sign in my brother-in-law’s barn, "Let me just drop everything and tend to you!"

Like most school teachers, my friend Sarah’s life is a blur of planning, teaching, grading papers and dealing with students during the day, only to come home at night and start her second job as mother, tutor, housekeeper and ranch hand. Her husband usually stays busy farming and working animals.

Free time is rare, but last weekend offered a promise of some much needed relaxation. After her family came in at midnight after a local ranch rodeo, they fell asleep before their heads hit the pillow. They were looking forward to sleeping late and having some "down time" for once. But with a simple flip of a switch, their plans changed drastically.

They awoke on Sunday morning to what she called "a stroke-inducing mess." When her husband got up he heard the auger banging away. When he went out, he discovered their sheep had rubbed against the control sometime during the night. The entire contents of their feed bin had been dumped on a rough patch of gravel that would soon become a road to their pond. About 70 sheep were milling aimlessly through the pile and making an even messier mess.

"I saw them playing ring-around-the-rosy over there the other day," her husband later admitted.

He certainly didn’t envision the possibility of such a disaster when he’d installed a switch low enough for their five-year-old son to reach.

With about 7,000 pounds of feed on the ground, there was no time for speculation or laying-of-blame. It would take a good part of their "free day" to get it all picked up and redistributed. First, Sarah and her husband attached the front-end loader to the tractor and started scooping up feed. They filled both the creep feeders at their house and went out to the pasture and brought two more back and filled them as well. All the while, their children, 5-year-old Garrett and 15-year-old Sidney, sat on the ground sifting through the feed and picking out the rocks as best they could.

To clean up the final dregs, they brought up some panels and fenced off the area and turned the sheep into the enclosure. They would pick through the rocks and debris to get every little piece.

"At least it won’t get rained on," Sarah said, trying to be optimistic.

Of course, saying that is like washing the car or watering the lawn, it spawns unforecasted thunderstorms. But, during the worst-recorded drought in the state’s history, no one’s going to complain about rain under any circumstances. She’d rather have a little wet feed than no rain. Even though that was not the day she’d anticipated, Sarah told me later, it actually turned into a fun family day with everyone working together to achieve a common goal. That’s always a good day whether it’s planned or not.

Lisa Hamblen Hood lives near Priddy, Texas, where she teaches English, Art and Spanish. E-mail her at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..