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Over the Fence
Photo: Jeremy Menking
I grew up on a farm in north‑central Minnesota in a community where we got along very well with the neighbors. That is, with one exception. Our back pasture bordered the property of a neighbor I’ll call Alfred.

We had pretty good fences, but even the best fences can have some weaknesses if livestock have a notion that the grass is greener on the other side. Alfred had a field of ripening corn that some of our cattle must have felt it was just something too tempting to pass up. At any rate, our cattle got across that fence. To say they made a feast of the neighbor’s corn field would be an understatement.

It took us a while, but with the help of some other neighbors, we got the cows back on our side of the fence. 

 “This is going to cost you, Joe,” Alfred told my father in no uncertain terms. “Your cows did a lot of damage to my corn.” 

 “How much do we owe you?” my father asked.

 “I haven’t figured it out yet. When I do, I’ll send you a bill.

My father nodded. I was at a loss for words. But I wasn’t when we got the bill. “No way!” I told my father. “He’s charging way too much for his corn!

My father shrugged, “What choice do we have? Take it to court? That’s not a good idea between neighbors.

The following year was very dry. On Alfred’s land there were no ponds; he watered his cattle from a well. We had a well for the cattle, too, but we also had several ponds on our land. The soil surrounding the ponds had moisture so that grass could grow.

One late-summer morning, Alfred’s cows suddenly seemed to think that the grass was lot greener on our side of the fence. Alfred’s cows were in our pasture; on our side of the fence. At first I was upset. But then I thought, Ah, the shoe is on the other foot now.

Sharing Pastures

 “What do I owe you?” Alfred asked sheepishly. My father waved him off, “We’ll talk about that later. First, let’s get these cows back across.

When we got back to our house, I anxiously asked my father what he was going to charge Alfred for this little incident.

My father answered, “Why, we’re not going to charge him a penny.”

I gasped, “You must be joking, Dad!”

“Look,” he said, “all they did was eat a little bit of hay.

“But he charged a lot for the damage to his corn last year!” I protested.

"That’s in the past,” my father said. “I know Alfred doesn’t have much money. In fact, I have an idea that will prevent something like this from ever happening again.”

His reasoning was this: We would share pastures. “It’s always a good idea to rotate pastures if you can,” he said. “Early in the summer, before it gets too dry, we can run the cattle on Alfred’s land. When it gets dry, the cows can come into our pasture with the ponds.” After talking it over with Alfred, we put a gate between our properties.

Soon I recognized the wisdom of my father’s thinking. Fences are necessary on a farm. They separate what needs to be kept apart. But gates connect—both pastures and people.

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By Tom Kovach. Excerpts reprinted with persmission from Signs of the Times, April 2005. Copyright © 2015 by GraceNotes. All rights reserved. Use of this material is subject to usage guidelines.

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