Ranch people in the Southwest who happen to be in arroyo country must deal with water gaps. To keep the cattle in the correct pastures (bulls in the bull pasture after breeding season, neighbor’s bulls not visiting our cows, etc.), fences often must go across arroyos.
Therein lies a problem.
Mostly the arroyos are dry, requiring fencing, but if it happens to rain they suddenly become rivers. I’ve seen boulders lodged in mesquite bushes and uprooted tree stumps carried miles downstream. The old saying, “Never underestimate Mother Nature’s power” is definitely true in these cases.
The water level goes down almost as fast as it rises, and my theory is cattle have a special sense that tells them when a gap has washed out. They feel compelled to stomp through the mud and escape into the next pasture — the old “grass is greener over there” idea.
So the ranch hands must try to get the gaps rebuilt or repaired before the cattle get there.
Usually, the gap is built of barbed wire stretched across the arroyo and weighted down with big rocks to hold it in place. Most of them are at least 20 yards across.
Many cowboys have spent jillions of hours with pencil and grid paper trying to figure a way to build a water gap that would rise up, open up, float, SOMETHING and then return to its place after the water stops running.
My brother tried everything from wooden boards that supposedly would float upward and then back down (didn’t work) to metal jugs filled with sand tied to the wire (didn’t work) to sharp stakes driven into the arroyo bottom (carried downstream) to a fence designed to swing open and then back shut from the center (washed away) before he gave up and resigned himself to re-doing and patching.
The worst problem with all this is our water gaps washed away when it rained on our neighbors uphill from us. Most of the time we got zero rain, or maybe one hundredth of an inch, but WE had water gaps demolished.
I find myself thinking about water gap unfairness when listening to our country’s financial bailout discussions. What if the ones upstream, who got the rain, were responsible for repairing the washed-out gaps?
We unfortunate ones who got no rain at least wouldn’t have to rebuild the fences to keep the upstream neighbor’s scruffy cattle out of our pasture.
Glenda Price has been a contributing editor to New Mexico Stockman magazine since 1982. Contact her at: firstname.lastname@example.org