View Blocks: Saving your fence from Soay-bashing in breeding season

Perhaps the greatest initial investment a Soay keeper needs make is decent fencing to keep the little darlings home and safe.  Alas, the aesthetics of a run of taught, newly-installed wire fence fastened neatly to precisely aligned, precisely vertical fence posts is of no concern to the rams, especially during rut.  They bash away without shame when they are trying to court the ladies on the other side of the fence.  Let it be said, in fairness to the rams, that ewes also engage in this most unattractive behavior, with more persistence if less power.  Ordinarily they do not actually broach the fence, but clips come loose, unsightly bulges develop, and the bottom of the fence raises up to the point that stupid lambs will get their necks caught reaching underneath.  All most annoying to an otherwise agreeable shepherd.

Consider the options.  You can sell the sheep and take up some other hobby.  Or you can always just eat them.  Less drastic, if expensive and back-breaking, you can replace the trashed fence entirely with a stout board fence of 2-by-8’s bolted to railroad sleepers.  Better yet, make use of the fact that a sheep will not bash what he, or she, cannot see.  That is, provide a View Block.

A View Block is just that – something, anything that keeps a sheep on one side of your fence from seeing, and trying to get at, what is on the other.  There are any number of strategies.  A friend of ours came by a great stack of used plywood sheets some years ago.  Every autumn she lugs the whole lot to the fences separating her various breeding groups and ties the pieces together end on end with scraps of baling twine from last year’s hay bales.  Economical to be sure, but only if you have a source of free plywood and a strong back you are willing to sacrifice to the cause. 

Last year about this time, just as the rams were gearing up for their annual testosterone-driven display of head-butting, we stumbled on a less strenuous and for us more practical alternative.  Steve was out one day laying black landscape cloth along one of our fences to keep grass and weeds from shorting out the electric “scare” wire.  A gust of wind blew a loose flap of the cloth up against the fence, blocking our view.  Eureka!  If it blocked our view, it also would block the animals’ view. 

For readers not familiar with this stuff called “landscape cloth,” here is a modest description.  It is generally black, somewhat the texture of thin felt except made from a woven synthetic fabric, water permeable, UV-resistant so it lasts a long time, and mechanically strong so it does not stretch – all desirable characteristics.  At our farm store it comes in 3, 4, 6, and 12-foot widths, the 4-foot size being just right for our fences.  It is sold in 100 or 200 meter rolls (go figure).  Landscape cloth usually goes under a gravel lane or walkway to keep weeds from growing up through the rocks, or under the mulch layers of flower beds much tidier than the ones found on our farm.  (We like to think of its new use as keeping our ram or ewe “weeds” from getting through the cloth to the other pasture.).

Steve folds the cloth over the top of the fence, leaving a 4-inch flap (somewhat akin to a selvage if you’re a tailor or seamstress) on the other side, and secures it with cable ties, the doodads electricians use for bundling wires.   Here’s a picture of one of our View Blocks with the flap folded over and held down by cable ties. 


Any scraps of wire or twine also will do to secure the cloth.  Using a 10-penny nail to poke a hole through the main sheet of cloth and the flap, as close to the top wire as possible to provide a snug closure, we zip up a cable tie every 2 feet or so across the top length of fence.  The goal is to keep the cloth flat against the fence and tightened down so the wind cannot allow any flapping or billowing pieces to get started and eventually tear off.  Here’s a closeup of the cable tie securely anchored.

Our first fence outfitted this way was equipped with a stout flat board – a batter board actually – about 15 inches above the ground that we originally installed against the actions of a particularly determined ram.  After securing the top edge of the cloth with cable ties, Steve simply nailed the bottom edge of the cloth to the board with wide-headed roofing nails.  Although we fretted the winds would pull the cloth through the nails, we got through breeding season last year with no mangled fences and nary an attempt at bashing through the cloth. It has been nearly a year and so far the View Blocks are intact and ready for another rut, which is fast upon us.   Here is the full expanse of our most needed View Block from last year.  It kept Warwick, who had been favored with over 20 ewes in his own pasture, from bashing through to get at the additional ten or so ewes who were being courted by Jerry on the other side of the fence.  Good grief.


In the Soay world at least, good fences do indeed make good neighbors.  Warwick and Jerry finished their appointed tasks without a single dustup, and who knows whether the splendid bunch of really good-looking lambs that ensued was thanks in part to the fact that their daddies were not distracted by the possibilities just beyond the fence.      

The other method we tried came about when Steve noticed a pair of ornery ewes, known troublemakers, deep into an extended dispute back and forth along a 150-foot fence, making a mess of the whole length of it.  Indifferent to the source or explanation of such unappealing female behavior, Steve quickly threw up a cloth View Block.  This fence was not fitted with battering boards, so he used cable ties both top and bottom.  It worked for awhile, until the ewes were moved to another location.  But over the winter, the bottom edge of the cloth tore loose, creating an undulating but ineffective length of fluttering black cloth still attached at the fence top.  Here it is in all its useless glory.


The Engineering Department is at work on a solution.

As for our friend the plywood queen, we are pleased to report she has become a landscape cloth convert.  She reports that poultry wire clips also work quite nicely to hold the cloth to the fence.

Here’s [not] looking at you, kid.

For now …

1 Enlightened Reply

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  1. Hendo says:

    I use lots of “Hog Rings” for such things that have to do with fences. Attaching tarps, patching holes and so on. I have used bailing twine, vertically, one end tied through the hog ring the other to the bottom of the fence, or, if there is a wood batton, I use “Fender Washers” and deck screws, to stop the billowing, they come off easier than nails when its time to take things down and can be used again.

    By the way, my wife and I are thinking about Soay sheep for our little 4 acres which we just bought last summer. Three acres of irrigate pasture that need some new fence and other work.