The Building of a Bridge
Our home is on 20 acres and I have leased another 20 across the creek that roughly divides the two properties. For 4 years, I have moved my small herd of Dexters back and forth across this creek to rotate them around the paddocks.
We significantly plussed up the number of sheep on this farm this year and currently have around 160+ ewes. My Dexter herd is now gone except for a couple I need for the freezer.
Back in late July, I needed to move the sheep across the creek for the first time so that I could give a rest/recovery period to the paddocks they’d been on. My two partners and I laid out polywire across the creek in the channel the cows usually use and everything looked ready to go.
I anticipated a few problems in getting the sheep interested in crossing, however, as it turned out, I grossly underestimated the issues.
It rained a little the night before so the steep sides (it’s only 3 feet deep) were slick and muddy. So, although there was no water in the seasonal creek, the sheep were afraid to head down the embankment.
We pushed them from behind, tried to lead them from the front, physically picked up a couple and pushed them across hoping the others would follow. All to no avail. We even left them alone for about 3 hours while we got ready for a sheep delivery.
I could go on about this frustrating experience but suffice it to say that after 10 hours they were still not across.
I took delivery of more sheep late that day and the guy was kind enough, after hearing our story, to offer to put our stubborn sheep in his now empty trailer and haul them around to the gate on a side road, which we gratefully accepted.
I wound up with the sheep where I wanted them, but not in the method I’d planned.
My partners and I looked at each other and expressed the same thought at the same time: we’re not doing this again! So, plan B became building a bridge.
Due to many other issues (more on that in upcoming blogs) on my new farm a few miles away, we did not get to the point of building a bridge until late Sep. Moving the sheep back to my side of the creek had become a critical issue as the pastures were getting rough looking without the rest periods I had originally planned.
I bought three used steel utility poles from a neighbor and some full-dimensional white oak 2×6’s from a local sawmill.
We spent about a half day positioning the steel posts: digging out a shallow hole on each end of the poles, filling them with gravel, and then making sure each side was level. The gravel will ensure that water does not stay in constant contact with the steel. You can see poles on the gravel in the picture (along with my hard working LGD).
A couple of weekends later, the planking (2×6’s 8 feet long and 2ea 10 feet long) was ready to go. We squared off the first plank and screwed it into each pole using self-drilling screws (wood-metal screws) and then laid out about four feet of additional planking before again checking to make sure it was still square. While not a fast process, once we got into a routine, things went fairly quickly and the entire bridge was usable, albeit not finished, after a few hours.
Meanwhile, the sheep were working on their third rotation through the four 5-acre paddocks they’d been on for two months and needed to move. However, I did not trust them to cross the bridge without railings in place.
So, after buying some 2×4’s from Lowe’s, I took an hour or so each day after work this past week putting in curbs part of the railing. I laid out 2×4’s end-to-end on each side of the bridge as a safety warning when driving an ATV across. I (temporarily) braced in the uprights. I also bought 3x 16-foot-long hog panels from Orscheln’s, which are 34” high.
Yesterday, my partners were back out and we put the finishing touches on the railing. After measuring the distance between each upright 2×4, we cut others to size and installed them across the top. Next, we placed bracing on each end of the 10 footers (both at 1/3 the distance from each end of the bridge) and screwed them in place. Eight braces were used, one on each side of the end of a 10-foot plank.
The last step was easy as we just hammered in staples to keep the hog panel in place along the railing supports.
We took a few minutes to admire our handiwork and decided to test the bridge by driving the sheep across.
It took 30 minutes to round up the sheep as they were scattered across 10 acres. We finally got them in a big group staring through the now-open gate at the bridge a mere 6 feet away from the lead sheep. We stayed behind and to the sides, only moving fast to stop a sheep or two that tried to go out between us into the open field.
After about 5 or 10 minutes of 4 or 5 sheep staring at the bridge and making tentative steps towards and onto it, then backing off, 3 sheep started walking across. By the time they reached the halfway point of the 24-foot span, it was off to the races as the remainder of the 160-strong flock followed them and galloped across and into the awaiting paddock (shown below).
It was a beautiful sight and a huge relief.
You never know what you’ll need to wind up doing on a farm. Never in a million years did I think I’d be building a bridge for any reason (except for the decorative arched bridge my wife keeps begging me to put in the front yard). Yet here I am with a successful first (and hopefully last) completed bridge…except the one for my wife…