A classic email about the dangers of electric fences

I received this email many years ago from my neighbor Dustin. Dustin is now a salty farmer having been involved in fires, shootings, processing animals, and pretty much everything else that happens on a farm. You can’t really excite him at this point with farm shenanigans.

However at a time in the distant past, Dustin was a database nerd from California who knew pretty much nothing about farming and was a new tenant here on the farm.

He’d recently acquired a dog, Virginia, and he decided that she needed to be kept in the back yard, in the fence. Not wherever she decided to roam and to get in trouble.

This story is even funnier if you know the end, which is that Virginia since has run of the house and can come and go outside as she pleases. Despite this freedom, she can be found, almost incessantly, asleep on Dustin’s bed rather than outside causing any mischief.

But at this distant period of time, it was assumed she would make it her life’s goal to escape and cause havoc on the farm. Dustin, being responsible, was trying to assure she’d stay inside.

This email, which was recently unearthed from the vast archives of emails past, was the result.

So, this morning, after some poor life choices involving a very heavy roll of wire fencing, I decided to put up a hot wire to keep the dog in the back yard (and thus prevent her from eating the chickens).  Several stores later, I had a roll of wire, some insulater clippy things, and an ADU (Automatic Devil Unit) that would electrify about 10 miles of hot wire.  I brought it back to the house and, in pouring rain, started installing the clips.  I strung the wire, ran some Romex from the ADU to the fence – which I cut too long – ran some more from the ADU to the grounding rod – which I cut to short – and wired it all together.  Then I took it apart and wired it up the right way and plugged it in.  The light blinked as lights do, but there was no popping noise, I think I need to drive the ground in deeper, for which I’ll need a much heavier hammer than I have.  Still, I thought, it’s probably ok.

Now, damp from rain and perspiration, I went into the backyard to check the wire.  An amateur would have unplugged the ADU first, however, after careful consideration I concluded, “meh” and left it on.  I stood at the end of the wire, which looked fine to me, and thought that I should test it.  After all, if I wasn’t willing to get at least one shock, how could I inflict the several it would take Virginia to learn to stop biting it?  So, I decided to touch it.


Here we go now.

And, like a junior high girl dissecting a frog (like, eww) I brushed the wire with the tip of my finger.  Nothing happened, naturally causing me to snatch my hand back like I’d been hit with a hammer.  I tried again, nothing.  I touched it longer, waiting for the pulse, nothing.  I grabbed it and shook it, hoping to unclog the automatic devils.  Nada.  I drew upon my vast electrical knowledge and decided that Something Was Wrong.  I walked the perimeter and found that the wire was touching the metal fence – ah ha!  An amateur would have checked for that first, pfft.  Now, it didn’t immediately occur to me that the wire was touching the fence between me and the ADU, thus shunting the current into the ground before it got to me.  That turned out to be important.  I went back in the house, retrieved not one but several clippy things (I know, smart, right?).  While I was sure the hot wire was anything but, I nonetheless exercised caution while threading the clip onto the wire.  An amateur would have turned off the ADU first, but being not an amateur but a great fool, I decided to leave it on and just “be careful”.  One clip installed.  Cake.  Moving on.  I found another spot where the wire wasn’t touching, but if, say, we had a hurricane or very strong earthquake, it might have touched.  I threaded another clip onto the wire and tried to attach it to the fence.  It resisted, so in an effort to force it, I grabbed the steel pole driven into the ground with one hand and the wire with the other.

At this point several things happened at once, most of which I can’t remember.  What I do remember is thinking very loudly “Fu©k”, which came out verbally as “Hngh”, and letting go of the wire.  Deciding that “Safety Third” isn’t always the best policy, I unplugged the ADU before finishing the adjustments.  If the dog gets the same jolt I did and still gets out, I’m just going to buy Dan more chickens.  If she can shrug that off, I’m not messing with her.

My fingers feel salty, and my hamburger tastes like the color blue, and I think I can see glitches in the Matrix out of the corner of my eye, but I’m sure I’m fine.


Reminder about the produce CSA for 2018

While we were out of town, I had a posted scheduled to announce the new CSA we are affiliated with for 2018. A few people have already signed up and things are looking good for 2018. I’m excited about being a drop point for a CSA here at our farm, because we’ve traditionally had lots of people ask to get produce here and until this year, I’ve not had a good solution for them.

The plan is to be a drop point for Chickadee on Wednesdays. That means for those of you who sign up, you can get your box of VERY fresh produce, your milk, eggs, hamburger, pork chops, yogurt, sauces, seasonings, etc. all at one place, with one stop, and one transaction.

When I got back to town, I checked in with Chickadee to see how things are going, and I was informed that she’d been allowing some time for our folks to sign up before advertising out to the general public. She also informed me that the grace period is ending the end of January which is a few days away!

I talked to Jeanette (remember I’ve been gone) yesterday and she said we had a bunch of people interested and who were talking about it. If you are interested, now is the time to get your name on the list over at Chicakadee. Once all the spots are sold for the spring, that is it, no more signups! So contact Chickadee and let them know you want to try the CSA program this spring. We look forward to seeing you on Wednesdays.

Snow pics from our recent snow, and why we didn’t see the snow.

Thanks to Erin, I have some pics of the farm all snowed in. 

It really was pretty. I mention Erin took the pics because we sorta missed the snow. We were busy farming elsewhere.

Out of state.

Actually out of the country.

Wildflower feeding pigs at No Name Cay in the Bahamas
No Name Cay, Abaco Bahamas

The cold snap that brought snow and awful cold to NC actually got it down to the low 70s and even 60s one day in the Bahamas. I know, boo hoo, right? Except we didn’t pack for cool weather. Oops.

We still had fun but we are glad to be back.

Feeding the pigs was a highlight.

Well, except for Spork and I who feed pigs all the time.  We let the girls do all the pig stuff while we secured the boat and wondered, somewhat grumpily, where the girls were when we were feeding our own pigs routinely. Oh well, everyone had fun. Fun to go, fun to be home.

I thought this was pretty funny

I was looking for something on our website and came across this post from 2016. I thought it was funny then. I think it is funny now, so I’m reposting it.

College Humor is a channel I routinely visit on Youtube. I don’t always love what they do but this one was pretty close to home and I thought I should share it. It’ll get your Monday started off right. There is a little bit of language right in the middle so don’t play it around the kids. Or the boss if you’re at work.


Changes to NC law affecting farmers

The laws covering farms and farmers have been changed, and oddly I haven’t seen anyone in our industry talking about it. Either this went under everyone’s radar or there was something no bueno in the changes, dunno.

Let’s take a look at what they did, but before we do that, let me say that a large part of why I farm is because there are such favorable laws in North Carolina concerning farmers. We are exempt from building codes, business licenses, annexation. The list goes on and on. Here is a great article written in 2011 about farming and farmer protection laws.

That article is a few years old. The bill that was just passed this last session updates a few key parts of that article. The bill itself was Senate Bill 615. If you are so inclined, you can read it for yourself. It’s easier than you think. The changes to the law are the parts that are underlined, the deleted parts are the parts that are struck through, so it’s easy enough to see what was changed.

I’m going to unpack the bill a bit here, at least the highlights. I have a number of fellow farmers who follow my blog so hopefully this will put the legalese into English for them and serve as a reference for me later. For clarity, I am not a lawyer, nor have I ever played one on TV. This is my read of the new law and my opinions as a small farmer. My feeling overall is that laws of this sort are beneficial to farmers and I welcome them.

The format I’ll use here is to post a header from the law, then I’ll unpack the meaning of what is going on.

The first section is:


This is an air quality rule. It doesn’t make farmer facilities exempt forever, just until the rules are readopted by the controlling agency. I’m guessing the actual exemption or change in the law will be once they are readopted under clarification from the legislature.

Basically somebody with some voice with the legislature got cross with the air regulatory people. Rather than trying to change the law, the legislature directed that the rules be reevaluated and re-implemented per their already written laws, which probably already exempted the farmer in question. In other words, they overstepped their bounds and were told to go fix it, no law needed to be changed.


This is the big one in farming. Having farmer property tax rates on your farm is the difference between farming and not farming for most people. The changes here are that grazing fees, like I pay for our leased farm, are specifically allowed now by this law. Also bee keeping has been added as well. Basically some local authority must have tried to say to a farmer that grazing rent doesn’t count, where crop rent does. Stupid, but I’m guessing a regulator tried it. Good, this one helps.


This is a whole rewrite on abandoned livestock. I’m sure this is a problem, but not one I deal with. Basically it makes the farmer/owner responsible if they abandon the animals. Makes sense.


There is a whole big section on Forestry. Nothing in there is too big of a deal to me. Some authority to inspect to make sure forestry practices are being followed, some pay changes, etc. Nothing that I see affecting me or your average farmer.


This one is pretty big. The legislature continues to expand and clarify their intent that farmers and farm buildings are to be left along by local code authorities. When we built a barn when I was a kid I was exposed to this when we got our permit. The permit said, “No permit required. Exempt.” I asked the guy at the county office what to do if an inspector showed up anyway. He said the call the Sheriff and have him removed for trespassing. That was nearly 30 years ago, and it’s just gotten better for farmers since then.

A big question over the past few years has been what is agritourism. If you host a wedding, does that mean your barn is no longer a barn? What if you have a rodeo and charge admission? There have been people trying to claim that having a wedding does indeed mean your barn is no longer a barn and therefore you are no longer a farm.

This section continues the trend of defining pretty much whatever you do on your farm as farming or agritourism. It also defines that residences are exempt from code enforcement as well as farm buildings, whether that residence is for the owner, manager, or lessee. Doesn’t matter. That’s pretty powerful as it means as a farmer we can build the buildings we need to support our farm, up to and including our homes, without having to put up with the mother may Is from the city/county.

This probably isn’t as big of a change as it sounds like, since most farmers I know don’t ask and don’t tell already. You’re a mile off the road and nobody sees anyway, just build it and get on with farming. It’s not like we’re back here dealing with HOA rules. There is a provision that says you need to meet current code, so it’s not the wild West.

There is a provision in this section that also removes the provision of having a farm number from FSA as a qualifying condition for being declared a bona fide farm. For most people, this is no big deal as there are plenty of ways for a real farm to qualify. It also keeps the FSA folks from having to be the police. They are instead supposed to be supporters of farming. I know they had people applying for farm numbers just to get an exemption.

Being exempt from building code certainly invites people to commit fraud. This section adds a penalty for people who claim farm status, build a building, and then loose farm status. Certainly makes sense to me.

Ҥ 143-138. North Carolina State Building Code.

So residences are exempt from inspection, but must follow the building code. However non-residence farm buildings don’t need to follow code. If you think this through it makes sense. I built a smoke house on my farm. There is no reason I should have to put in handicap access, emergency egress, windows that are up to code, etc. It’s a smoke house. It’s a closet that almost catches on fire but doesn’t quite. Same for a storage shed, a horse stall, etc. These things are understandably shabby and make do. We build ours from lumber sawn on the farm, not code specified lumber from Lowes.

This section clarifies that farm buildings are indeed exempt if they are on a bona fide farm. It also continues additions to what is a farm building, bringing in therapeutic equine facilities, something that is added in various sections of this law.


Ever hear that there is a lot of pork in politics. Here it is. Never doubt the pork industry has friends in NC. There are several sections in this law rolling back limits or requirements on the pork industry. I’m generally in favor of less government period so in that vein, I’m good with it. And I won’t use the words special interest here at all.


Now our inspectors have obvious cars and government plates. With this change they can sneak up on you. Doesn’t matter to me, we do everything the same regardless. Plus we have a good relationship with our inspector. He’s a good guy and tries to teach before he enforces which I appreciate. From what I hear they all are not that way though so your mileage may vary.

Skipping a bunch of stuff and then


This one affects us. We don’t get a normal inspection on our vehicles. They are inspected under DOT rules. However per those rules I’m supposed to put DOT numbers on the side like a class 8 truck. To be honest, I’ve just never done it and gotten away with it. I didn’t want numbers plastered all over the side of my trucks. Now, thankfully, I’m legal to do what I was already doing. This only applies if your vehicle stays in the state of NC. If you go out of state, then federal rules apply.


This goes along with the previous one. No numbers are needed, and farm trucks are exempt from the safety rules as well. I love sections like this. There is a long and winding list of all the things the state can do, you have to do, the penalties if you don’t do, the paperwork you have to complete you proved you did it, etc. Then at the end is a little section that says, “Oh, except for farmers. They are exempt.” I think the word exempt is my favorite word in the English language.


This one helps our blossoming wine and spirits industry. And with it our friends down at Adams Vineyards. I’m glad to see this one. This means revenue and opportunities for NC. Not just farmers, all people in NC. Regulation is what has held this back, I’m glad to see any reduction in regulation.

There is some stuff about the sales tax exemption. It’s yada yada.

AMEND G.S. 95-79 SECTION 20.5.(a)

Lastly, there is a provision basically making unions, or purchase contracts that require union labor, outlawed in NC for farmers as well. You can have a union, but you cannot bind the farmer nor can you force payments from wages directly to the union (how they get their money).

This is a big deal if you are a large commodity farmer selling into the open market. It’s common for large companies to be unionized, especially Northern and Mid-Western companies. Then the union requires that who they do business with is also union. This is a way of pushing unions into non-union areas. The seller cannot negotiate this away as both businesses are bound. However this law makes that provision illegal on its face. The farmer cannot be bound by the provision under NC law, so the two businesses can trade with one another and neither are in violation.

If a group wants to unionize and pay membership voluntarily, then they can by my read. However its my experience that unions don’t work unless membership and payments are compulsory so basically this means farms are not a place where unions can take root. I’ve seen some efforts here or there to unionize farm workers so I’m guessing this is a measure against that movement as well.

And that’s the end. All in all, a number of positive steps for farmers in NC.

New store hours and days coming

We had a series of surveys recently that many of you participated in. First, thank you for everyone who took the time to give us your feedback. It is invaluable.

Since conducting the surveys, we have hired a new person to work the store and had a good amount of internal dialogue about what we should do for 2018. After looking at all the results, and going through our own logistics, we’ve elected to implement the following.

Our new hours will be Monday, Wednesday, and Friday from 2-6pm. We will be open on Saturdays from 9am-5pm.

Now, for the thoughts behind the changes.

One.  Why not 12-7pm? Basically it’s logistical on our end. 2-6 allows us to still conduct our days as relatively normal. Dinner can still be with the family at the normal 6ish time frame. Lunch can still be with hubby/wifey/kids. If we open 12-7 it means that the days we are open are pretty much work only with no family life. We do take family life seriously.

Also, a good reason for the earlier or later time frame is to avoid the congestion on Old Stage at 5pm. However, Old Stage is beginning to still be congested even at 6:30. And our slowest part of the day is usually from 5:30-6 so there is a hesitation to open longer through the slower time. Yes, the thought is that folks would now come at 6:30, but the family time thing outweighed it, sorry.

Two. We have a good group of regular customers who come every week. When we do bump into them at the grocery store (yes it happens) the response is that they messed up their schedule and ran out of something before we were open again on Wednesday. Totally understandable. We feel that by being open basically every other day, we can make it easier for people, especially our regulars.

Three. Saturdays have been moved back to 9am opening instead of 8am. This request was from SWMBO. She, um, HATES mornings. More than pretty much everything else on the planet. Since I spring out of bed like a hyperactive child mainlining powdered sugar at 5am, it’s quite surprising we are still married. The kids are, as you would expect, a mixed bag in between. The cookies that we have not been making this winter have been because nobody wants to get up in the morning and make them. I’m bumping us back an hour so that the cookies can come back and so that there is less whining in the morning. The high pitch is hurting my ears.

Four, the hours are starting in March, rather than now. January and February are our slowest times of the year. It’s cold, everyone is broke from Christmas credit cards, etc. No sense adding on additional hours and additional payroll right when we are doing the least amount of business. So we’ll start these new hours/days on March 1st, except for the Saturday hours. We’ll start them next week.

Five, we’ll keep our tour times starting at 8am. That way when a summer time tour starts at 8 (makes sense when it’s hot as blazes) it will finish just as the store opens at 9am. The boy, who gives the tours on Saturdays, isn’t one of my problem children for getting up in the morning so no big deal for him to start at 8am.

We’ll announce this again as we get closer, and of course update the website, Yelp, Google, etc with all of our new hours. Till then, dream of chocolate chip cookies and warmer weather.


A boring shop project, making a wire wheel grinder

Sometimes I have really cool projects that I’m working on. For instance the golf ball cannon we made for Christmas, along with the brass monkey shot holder was about as cool as it gets. Or the hydraulic lift/drop trailer that we made for moving pigs around the farm. Those are fun and exciting projects.

But sometimes you just need to knock something out to get it off the list.

Old original GE motor
Old original GE motor

I had this really old GE motor hanging around the shop. I don’t recall what it came off of, but I think it was from my dad’s time. Based on the name plate, and the condition and type of cable attached to it, it’s really old. Like 60s or 70s.

Step 1 was to find out if I’d been keeping this motor around for all these years and it didn’t even work. Luckily I had a cable in the shop already so a quick rewire and test.

It works!

For all the grinding stuff I have in the shop, the one thing I don’t have is a wire wheel. Wire wheels are great for cleaning up rusty metal, or cleaning up uneven surfaces. They don’t remove metal, just polish it, which is perfect for when you are welding something made from scraps and cut offs. Something we do all the time here.

piece of metal with rust on it
Metal in its natural state after hanging around the shop.

The above is a good example of what we deal with. This is a cutoff from a previous project. It’s perfectly good metal, once all the surface rust is taken off. Normally we’d use a hand held grinder to clean this up for welding. However with a wire wheel, and about 20 seconds of work, it can look like this.

Metal cleaned up with a wire wheel.
After about 20 seconds on the wire wheel.

This is really handy when you are putting together quick projects. But despite having two belt grinders, and a bench grinder, I didn’t have a wire wheel grinder. But I did have an old motor that ran 1750 RPMs on 110 volts.

Step 2, after figuring out that the motor worked, was to make a shaft that would extend the short stub from the motor out about 8″ so there is room to work around the wire wheel. That is important when you are trying to clean up all sides of something oddly shaped.

Shaft and collar for wire wheel.
Shaft and collar for wire wheel

This was a fun little lathe project. A few pieces of scrap metal and some lathe work and we go from scraps to something useful. First I turned down the larger coupling you see on the left. Once I had it the correct size, I broached a keyway so that it could mate to the key on the motor. Then a different piece of metal is turned down to the extension. That’s the shiny bit. Then I TIG welded the two together and turned the extension to final size, truing it up on the lathe in the process.

Wire wheel with keyway
Wire wheel with keyway

This end of the shaft had a keyway cut on the mill. That’s the slot you see cut into the end of the shaft on the top. I hand filed a keyway into the wire wheel, attached two locking collars purchased from Agri Supply, and fired it up.

Wire wheel grinder
The finished project, ready to go to work

The intent of this project was to get it knocked out quickly. With that in mind, I purchased a stand from Amazon.com. Of course I ended up having to fix the machining mistakes on the stupid thing, plus deal with the fact it was too short (missed that in the description). I also had to redrill the holes in the “universal” mounting plate, because of course they didn’t line up. I could have built a better stand in the time I spent fixing this one but oh well, it’s done now.

I already had a switched outlet at this location so it’s simply walk up, put on safety glasses (wire wheels are scary), and flick the switch for a quick clean up. Easy. Total direct cost, about $15.00 and about 4 hours of labor. Everything else was scrounged around the shop.