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FENCING PROJECT PROVIDES STINGING LESSON

Our farm lies on both sides of Alps Road, with about 90 acres on each side. As we have increased our beef herd, we have worked to fence the south side first because that is where the barn and electricity to power the fence are.

This summer, one parcel at the southeast corner remained open, and we have worked on the fence irregularly since spring. We decided we should finish it before we started cutting firewood and doing fall work.

The corner plot is about nine acres, in the form of two hills with a draw between them. The section is divided from the rest of the pastures by a seasonal creek bordered by a corridor of ash and willow trees. We call it No. 9 on our pasture map.

Next season, it should be a productive grazing spot, but now it is a wild piece of land. Box elder trees have sprung up all over, trying to pioneer the field's return to forest.

Al came with his spreader truck this week and gave the land a sweetening at the rate of a ton of dolomite lime an acre. I strung fence wire as he maneuvered the heavy truck around the roller-coaster field.

I got an unpleasant surprise last Saturday. It was bound to happen sooner or later, and I guess this was later. Through the years, I have gotten used to working around nests of yellow jackets. They are all over the farm, perhaps because -- like the woodchucks -- they like to burrow in the sandy ground. While plowing, I always turn up big nests of them. Once while walking along a fence, I stepped on a football-size nest and trotted away without being stung.

I wasn't so lucky late that afternoon. While installing some insulators on a fence post, I unwittingly stepped on the entrance to a yellow-jacket nest and then went strolling off to the next post. The first sting didn't surprise me much, but the next bunch set me running and flapping around with my hat. They got me about six times before they let up, and I turned to go back to wagon where I had tools. What were a few stings? I had another hour of work time, and I wanted to get this lower section in shape. Then another four or five yellow rascals scored on my back. It hurt.

If I had my choice, I would rather be stung by a honey bee any day. After the first prick, the pain subsides quickly, and the soreness is replaced by a warm sensation that is almost pleasant. But the yellow jacket sting just keeps on stinging for a whole day, after which it itches for days. Scratching doesn't help at all.

I gave the subterranean nest a wide berth when I went back to finish fencing No. 9.

Kathleen came along, and we moved the herd down the hill through the gate into the new section. The cows went nuts, running and kicking like they were pursued by a pack of wolves. The herd, almost 60 strong, crashed through the willow brush and stampeded up the hills.

When settlers first came to the forest-bound lands of Western New York, there was no grass for their cattle to graze, so trees were cut to allow the cows to forage on the foliage. Watching our cows going at the greenery, we could see how well this would work, with the land being cleared and the cattle fed at the same time.

In a half hour or so, they settled down to start picking over the field to see what else it held. Next summer, the limed ground should be lush with good pasturage. It will be tamed farmland then, providing better grazing, but probably won't be half as interesting as it is now.

I scratched my arms and legs and remembered to take the longer way around the fence on my way back to the house. The yellow jackets may still have a warrant out for the likes of Farmer John.

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