Wednesday, May 2, 2007

Mother Necessity

Necessity is not just the mother of invention. She is also the mother of courage.

That's what it took, at any rate, to deal with tonight's midnight surprise.

I thought all the evening tasks except one were done: feed the cat, feed the dog, feed and water the sheep that are isolated in small pens without big round bales (3 groups right now), fill the water tank for the barn pen sheep, inject two sheep with antibiotics, soak the infected foot, check to see if there are new lambs--yes, here's a nice big white ram lamb with a confused yearling mom, so they need to be penned which means kicking Taylor and her triplets out of their pen....

Now to gather eggs.

As I step out of the back door, I hear a sound that stopped me in my tracks: the solid crackling snap of a strong electrical arc, like when the electric fence shorts out to a T-post. But this is rapid and multiple, coming from all over the back yard and chicken area...and there is no electric fence even near the back yard. I'm over 200 feet from the nearest electric fence. So--is it the AC electric that powers everything on the farm? Would it snap like that? I realize I don't know the sound of 220 volt current leaking from a mangled extension cord onto wet grass. I don't think it would snap like that, but I don't KNOW. Then again, all the farm receptacles are protected by Ground Fault Interrupters, so they SHOULD just shut down if anything shorts. But SOMETHING is shorting out SOMEWHERE, that's for sure, and with that kind of intense leak, the critical sheep-containing electric fences won't do their job.

I'm not comfortable working with electricity, although I've taken classes and helped wire several houses. But this has to be dealt with tonight, before the sheep figure out the fence is down. And calling an electrician at midnight sounds expensive. Venturing into the charged unknown with no backup observer to dial 911 sounds risky...but who DO you call to "spot" you at midnight in the rain?

I step back into the house, calling Toss in and shutting her in the kitchen. I'm wearing rubber boots. She is not. Several years ago, I found out at her expense what good insulators rubber boots are. It had rained copiously, and the sheep pens were an inch deep in water. I sloshed through it, unconcerned. Toss followed me. Suddenly she started to yelp in fear and pain, and ran frantically this way and that. I couldn't figure it out for a couple minutes, until I saw the end of a broken electric fence wire laying in the puddle. My boots had prevented me from feeling what she was feeling. Since then she's been just a tad bit distrustful of puddles, and I've been very aware of this potential hazard for her, or for me if I don't wear rubber boots.

Next step: which of the unlabeled/mislabeled breakers goes to the farm electic supply? The electrical system was significantly re-routed several times in its history, and the labels didn't get updated at the time. Silly me. "Welder" is actually the kitchen range--I think. "Air conditioner" got transmogrified into a dryer hookup that's never been used. The farm portion of the system was wired with 220, split off into 110 at each of the receptacles. So that narrows it down to four possibilities, and I guess right on the first try: the snapping stops. Breaker on, it starts again. That could be the fence charger going on and off, or something else on the circuit. How handy that the breaker box is right next to the back door!

Breaker off.

It still takes courage to step onto the rain-wet grass. I unplug everything except the electric fence charger--don't see anything unusual except some ants living in one of the receptacles.

Breaker on. The snapping picks up right where it left off, randomly from all over the back yard. If fireflies made noise, a huge rising of them would sound like this. ???? OK, I KNOW no cords are plugged in except the one in the barn, so it SHOULD be safe to walk out there. I gingerly creep out to the barn area, my heart pounding about 3 times for every snap. It's even louder out here!

I see a bright flashing light, and investigate. Yes, a wire is shorting out through or around a wet insulator to the T-post. Now that I'm close, it's clear that the sound is richocheting off of the neighbor's shed, a board fence, and my sheds...each different distances from me and from the short....hence the illusion of coming from everywhere. Now that I know what it is, it's a lovely demonstration of the relatively slow speed at which sound travels.

It is a simple matter to disconnect that branch of the electric fence system. Fortunately, that portion of the system doesn't contain any sheep at present, so I can repair by daylight.

Fortunately, I don't have early appointments tomorrow, so I should be able to sleep in.

1 comment:

Catlady said...

Phew!!! Glad to hear it turned out well - electricity makes me nervous, too. And shorts can cause other problems -like fire - so it was good that you could catch it right away!!

I guess, referring to the broken rib, that I always thought of sheep as gentle animals. So it never occurred to me that they could do such damage to themselves. Thank you for teaching me so much!!

And energy from chocolate (with ginger, right? [smile]) and borders for role models - I can see that!!!