Wild Game Fence Construction and the Values of Naivety

One of our primary motivating factors for moving out of the City two years ago was to be able to produce, grow, harvest and consume our own food. Although we’d been “distracted” in the building the house (see previous 75 blog posts) for the past year and a half, with this now (relatively) complete, we could focus on the land and start to establish our garden and orchard.

We planned to get started with some of the orchard plantings this year, but before we did anything we would need a fence… And not just any fence but an Ungulate Fence! Also known as a Wild Game fence (although ungulate is much funner to say). This is no ordinary fence, mind you. This is a serious beast of a fence – at 8′ in height and made up of high gauge tension wire and heavy large posts, this fence will keep all large animals (deer, in particular, being the problem in our area) from decimating the garden, berry bushes, and fruit trees. You see, ungulates (deer and elk) can jump pretty darn high – up to 7′ straight up – and they like food, especially fresh tasty grade veggies and ripe berries. So, an 8′ fence is the minimum height to ensure your area will stay protected.

Last year we’d plotted out the site of the garden – between the shop and riverbank’s edge. And, well, it would be massive. Growing up, my parents had a large urban garden, which was about 50×75′. It was large enough to feed our family of four all year. My parents would freeze, blanche, and can fruits and vegetables in the autumn, which would last us until the following summer when the fresh produce would be ready again. I really had never tasted vegetables that were not grown in our own garden until I moved out of my parents house. “This is what people think vegetables taste like?”, was all I could think when I first shopped at the grocery store – blech!

So to some degree, it’s been the desire to get back to the land that has led us to this place.

Being that we had to build such a heavy-duty fence, I thought it would make the most sense to build the garden/orchard big. Like big big. My reasoning was that it would be a lot of work to build more fencing and prep the land again if we found we wanted it larger later. And in the back of my mind, the thoughts of a possible CSA food program, market garden, co-op garden, or U-pick orchard, is kind a long term potential but who knows.

Anyways, we plotted the garden/orchard out at just under a 1-acre area. That should do. I imagine it will eventually be likely 60% orchard and 40% garden vegetables.

The area though had never been planted with anything but pasture grass and all varieties of weeds were abundant. I’d tilled the area four or five times last summer in an effort to kill off as much as the weeds and quackgrass as possible. In the later part of the Fall, a friend of mine was able to bring in 25 yards of compost to help the soil.

And so the big project for the 2016 year was to build this mother of a fence and get some fruit trees and berry bushes in the ground.

We’d been able to purchase all of the game fencing used off of Kijiji last year from a farmer who’d raised buffalo (they can only jump 6′ high by the way).

And so in early June, on especially hot week, Darcie and I took a week of “holidays” to work on the fence.

I did find a very good article on how to build the wild game fence, which we read the day before starting. “We got this shit,” we said jokingly… We had no idea what we were about to get ourselves into… But you know what, sometimes a bit of naivety is a good thing when one lives out in the countryside.

The first three days were spent putting the posts in the ground. These are big awkward things – 12′ tall, 5-6″ in diameter and weighing about 40-lbs each. I used a post hole auger on the tractor to dig a 6″ hole which we then filled with water to allow the post to slide in. Darcie and I would then lift and drop it into the hole and get it level. From there, I’d stand on a ladder and using a 14-lbs post sledge hammer (I kid you not), I would pound the post into the hole to secure it as Darcie held it level. Um, it was a lot of work. And we did that 54 times for all of the perimeter posts. I didn’t even take any pictures of this work – mostly because I didn’t want to remember it.

The following day we convinced two of our good friends to come help us with the 12 cross beams that would need to secure the corners and gates.


We used a chain saw to cut the 12′ posts to the correct length and then drilled pilot holes into the standing posts. We then pounded 10″ spikes through the posts and into the beams.


The following day was easily the worst day of all though. And probably the one that from viewing you would not know we’d really done anything. At each section that a beam had been placed (12 in total) you need to string a diagonal tension wire to give added support and stability to the fence. This is a crucial part structurally and is terribly difficult. The wire is a 16-gauge high tension wire that comes wrapped on a spool. We needed about 90′ for each section to wrap it twice and secure it with a metal ratchet.


Unfortunately when you try to unroll the wire off of the spool and cut it, it has so much tension that it would fire off of the spool like a tightly wrapped spring (which is pretty much what it is) and tangle itself into a terrible mess. The wire is crazy sharp too, so as I was cursing and swearing, trying to untangle it, it was cutting and slicing my arms and body. I looked like a whipping boy by the end of the day.

Then we had to hold the wires in place between the beams and ratchet them tight with the world’s worst tool (see above photo) to tighten the wire. There’s so much tension on the wire and it needs to be very tight that I completely buggered my wrist that day. It would be 3 weeks before it would be feeling better.


The next day, which according to the instructions was “the most difficult and tedious” part of the fence build (oh great), was to string the actual fencing.

We had two 440′ rolls of the fencing that we rolled over to the long side of the fence. We unrolled a hundred feet or so at a time and stood it up to the first fence post and hammered it in using the heavy-duty fencing staples. Then we went section by section, unrolling a length, standing it up and hammering it in. The trick is to leave some wiggle room when pounding in the staples so that the fence wire can move a little bit back and forth. Once we got halfway down or around the corner I used the tractor to tighten the wire. The instructions suggested using two 2x4s and bolting them together between the fence and the slowly snugging the wire, which really worked like a charm.


Once we had it snug we tightened up the staples in the corner and put 4 staples on each standing post (not too tight though). It went like this all around the fence. Honestly, of all of the fence building, this to be the easiest part. (Easy being a relative term of course).


In this photo you can see those cursed diagonal tension wires.

Once my wrist had recovered sufficiently a few weeks later, we were able to put up the gates.


And there you have it. A real-live DIY wild game fence.

Let’s never speak of this work again.

Land Topography

If we couldn’t put our whole house on one level then could we do a walk-out basement instead? If you have a nice natural hillside then a walk-out basement is entirely possible and can look quite nice as the house appears tucked into the hill and protected by the slope. I started to realize that the walk-out basements I really didn’t like were the ones that I tended to see in the City, where really there are no natural hills. In the City, and primarily in upper-class suburbia, they man-make the hills and sit houses in them. They look pretty stupid and have led to my general despise of them. That being said, a proper natural site for a walk-out is kind of appealing.

On our land, there is the river valley itself that is steep, however I would feel very uneasy trying to place our house just so on the edge of the river’s slope, even if the geotechnical survey that we have (provided by the former owners) says it could be done. Still, our land has a nice slope to the edge with some natural ups and downs to the land. Perhaps a walk-out could fit in there. But how the heck is one to know?

Well, a topography guy can tell you apparently!

The only way to really be certain is to have someone come to your land and perform a topographical survey. It’s pretty neat (and fucking expensive). They walk around the site taking GPS readings every 10 feet. This allows them to put all of the points into a crazy 3D map showing all of the elevations of the land. They use the same program (ArchCAD) as our house designer, so once the topographical study is done and placed on the program, the designer can then simply drag and drop the house on various spots on the site and see what looks best. Fancy stuff. The future, I tell you.

So, which spot did a walk-out look best on our land? You ask.

Well, none. No spot worked. Not even close. They all sucked.

At best it would’ve looked forced (a la suburbia). At worst it would have looked even more ridiculous. We would have had to excavate so much dirt away and landscape and grade that we would have to completely destroy our build site to make it even remotely possible.

Unfortunately we had to spend $900 to find out it wouldn’t work. But I guess now we could let it go and not question it or something. I dunno.

Anyway, so we’d now come to the conclusion that a single level slab was not practical and a walk-out basement was not possible. That left us with the third and final option: a basement.

Opening Doors

While the design of the house with Crystal was moving forward and we’d decided to work with the EcoSmart Team, we were also finishing up the Yurt build. Things were such a whirlwind around that time and we were excited to be finished the Yurt so that we could “relax” and enjoy the rest of the summer, spend time in the yurt, and focus on the design of the house. Though for us fate had another idea.


One morning, I called up my good friend, Benjamin, and asked him if I could take some cindercrete blocks from his retaining wall he was demolishing. I hadn’t talked with him for awhile and naturally he asked what I needed them for. “Well, it’s a long story,” I hadn’t told him about our recent life transformation, “we bought some land south of town on the river, and we’re going to build a house, but I need the blocks to build a foundation for our chicken coop when we move it out.”

“No way!” He replied, “Where?”

I started to describe the directions to him, but midway through he interrupted, “You didn’t by the place with the awesome outhouse, did you?”


Sure, enough he knew the spot dead on. Turns out his wife’s parents own a tree farm just up the road from us. It had been for sale for a couple years, but they’d recently taken it off of the market. I knew that her parents lived somewhere south of Saskatoon, but south covers a lot of area. “We’ve been coming down there for years and swimming off your sandbars and playing with our dogs out there,” he said.

I knew I should have put those no trespassing signs up earlier!

A couple days later – in fact, the day before we planned to build and finish the yurt – his in-laws, Doug and Linda, rode down the gravel road on their bikes to introduce themselves and invite us for coffee. Absolutely, we wanted to visit their farm. We’d actually looked at it on MLS while it was for sale when we were looking at property. It had two houses on the site, one theirs and the other a modern little guest house that I thought was pretty cool.

Three days later, exhausted from building the yurt, we were tired and wanted to go home, but thought, let’s go for coffee and check out their place. If we didn’t go today, who knows when we’d have another chance?

Doug and Linda fed us coffee and we brought cupcakes. They gave us a tour of the house and grounds, but I was really excited to see the little guest house that they called “The Cottage.”

Linda told us that they’d lived in the Cottage for three years while renovating the main house. “It’s a shame no one is living in it now. We tried to get a student in horticulture to come rent, but it’s tough to get a renter this far out.”

Frick, I thought. We would have rented this place! But we had just slaved away building a yurt for the purpose of it being where we would live next summer. “Out of curiosity, how much would you have charged?”

On the drive home I got thinking though. I said to Darcie, “What if we rented that place… Like now? Like if we sold our house and lived here for the winter and then in the yurt next summer?”

This whole process of finding and purchasing the land, beginning the design process of the house, and meeting the neighbours had seemed so fateful – so many chance encounters, coincidental meetings, amazing timing – here was just another one. We’ve compared this whole experience to opening doors. A new door comes up in front of you. Do you open it up and go through? Or are you worried about what might be on the other side? Are you willing to see where this next door might take you? We’d already come this far, so why not walk through another door?

By the time we got back to town, we’d made our decision. We were going through the door.

I called Linda and told her, “Yea, so we were talking and I think we’d like to rent your place. When could you have it ready for us?”

Well, so much for the rest of our “relaxing” summer. We were moving to the country.


The Big Coop Move

When we purchased the land, one of our first thoughts after the excitement of closing the deal was… “Crap, what are we going to do with our chicken coop/shed.” I’d spent a ton of time on it, too much money, and plus it was just way too awesome to leave behind.


I started to look into our options. I made a few phone calls to some moving companies and eventually found one that was willing to come by and take a look at it for us. My original thought was to hire a picker truck and flat bed trailer. I was told the cost would be $350/hour. Ouch. But if that’s what it took, then so be it.

They had their operator come by and take a look at it for me. “Ha, not a chance, buddy,” were his first words to me. I felt deflated. With the power lines overhead he would not be able to lift it and to get a truck and winch in there simply wasn’t enough clearance in the back lane to drag the coop out and onto the truck bed. Double crap.

“Ok, is there anything else we can do?” I begged him. “What is this thing anyway?” He asked. “Uh, it’s a shed and uh, a chicken coop.” (At this time we had not been publicizing our illegal activity). “You have chickens in the city?? Right on, man!” He told me that he raised free-range organic chickens just outside city. I didn’t even have to ask him where his farm was, I had an overwhelming sense that I just knew. “It’s just near Pike Lake,” he said. Ha, I knew it! “That’s where we are too!” I said. I explained our location and he was familiar with it. From that point on he was way more motivated to help us out. “Ok, let’s figure this out,” he pondered.

He explained that he could perhaps get a big forklift, slide it under the back, wrap the coop/shed in chains, drag it out, then come around to the front, lift it up with the forklift, turn 90°, drive down the alley, and place it onto a flatbed trailer. All of this sounded terrifying and dangerous. But we had no other options. “It’ll definitely be one of my toughest moves,” he said, “But I’m 90% sure it’ll work.” Also it was a lot cheaper that $350/hour.

We set a date for two weeks from then.

During that time, Darcie and I found a spot and laid down cindercrete blocks that I salvaged from my buddy’s retaining wall that he was tearing down. The next weekend, we slaved like prisoner’s on hard labour (perhaps paying penance for our illegal city chickens?), breaking the ground and laying and levelling the bricks.

D-Day finally came. 9am Saturday he would be there. At 9:20 I heard some heavy machinery rolling up the alley. It’s go time.

We’d had a friend come by and take apart the fence (as I was still lamed up because of having my face jackhammered in surgery the week before). He brought the forklift around and gently slid it under the back of the coop/shed. It went, really, just like he explained, only smoother. I was so impressed. I had totally expected the coop to just disintegrate or at the least to break in two as he lifted and dragged it, but it held together and in the end there was not a nick or scratch on it.




We drove out to the property with him following us. It was so exciting to see the coop being hauled down the road like that.

When we arrived at the land, he got out and exclaimed, “How did you score a place like this!?” He was impressed, to say the least, with our view of the river. He also offered to take me hunting if I wanted because, he explained, this was a prime spot for deer trails along the lower river valley. “You could sit here in your lawn chair and hunt.”

Then it was onto the easy part. He lifted the coop/shed off and placed it gently on the foundation we’d made. Done. OMG, that was awesome.




(Originally posted August 28, 2014)

The Inaugural Shower(s)

The day came to setup the irrigation pump (for real this time). We had a clear plan and were eager to see this thing work. We had the picture in hand and Kent’s notes. Due to the weight of all the necessary equipment, we loaded everything into the back of the truck and drove it to the top of the hill (that led to the river). All the hoses went down first, then it was time to lift the beast down, which surprisingly felt lighter then It had previously (we chalked it up to the fact that in the last 14 days we had lifted heavier things and were therefore stronger than we once were). We set up everything as per the instructions and we were ready to plug this thing in. I was wearing shorts, a tank top and my straw hat – not exactly the best outfit for doing chores on the Land but I was just setting up a water pump… no big deal.  So Kent plugs it in and the pump starts flowing out the top valve (big time) and because I was closest to it Kent started yelling, “Quick turn it off! Close it!” So I reached over to grab the red handle and as I did the water turned a brown/black sludge and was showering over me. Just as I had started this inaugural shower, Kent unplugged the power. We stared at each other for a minute…….Kent smirking and me thinking, “What the f#@k.” The water was the stinkiest water I’d ever smelt and it was all over me. All I wanted to do was get rinsed off, but I wasn’t exactly allowed to just up and leave, because we still needed to get the stupid pump working. So I stayed down by the water as more of an advisor and watched Kent try again.

During this time he got a bit of the brown sludge on his hand and said to me, “Woah that stinks!” To which my response was, “Yup, tell me about it!” So we got the pump working and I headed for my next inaugural shower, which was first shower either of us had in the shop.  Even though the water was cold and slid under the curtain and onto the floor, at least I could wash off some of the stink, however I must say, that it lingered a bit… yucky yuck.


(Originally posted August 10, 2014)

Filling the Storage Tank

We decided it was time to get water into the water tank in the shop so we could utilize the bathroom and utility sink. We had gotten out there late and so thought we would have it run through the night. The well is approximately 350-450’ from the shop so we had to connect many hoses to get the water from the well to the tank. Kent starts opening up the brand new hoses that were left behind from the previous owners and we start connecting them together, getting closer each time. Great! This is the first time we figured out something on our first try!…so the hose slipped easily into the tank and water was pouring in.

We slept in the tent that night…which I never get a restful sleep in.  Not sure if it’s the darkness, the rain, the coyotes howling, or maybe just how uncomfortable I am in a sleeping bag that our French Bulldog insists on sharing with me..but I didn’t sleep very well this particular night either because I kept wondering if the water tank was going to overflow.  This was a very unlikely thing, but when you are in and out of your REM cycle, you start to convince yourself that water is pouring all over inside your garage.

It was 2 am when I woke Kent up to accompany me to the garage to check on the water (and get ear plugs)….he actually agreed to come with me…and so we were able to clearly see that the water tank was only 1/4 full and would in no way overflow within the next 4 hours.

And so the tank was half full in the morning, and we were pretty darn happy with ourselves.  The only thing I questioned, was Kent’s decision to open up brand new hoses, when there was a very long hose on a wheeling cart that would have been really nice and easy to use instead…he claimed he didn’t see it there…..well….that’s just the way things roll around here….creating our own path, which isn’t always the easiest, so once again we are reminded that we are amateurs…..city dwellers, trying to make it in the country:)…but loving every minute of it.


(Originally posted August 10, 2014)

Searching for a farm truck


If you own land you have to own a truck. There’s really no way around it. I think it is mandatory in Saskatchewan that if you want to be considered part of the rural community you simply must own a truck. Plus we only owned one small city vehicle, which I had already destroyed on one previous trip out to the land.

…..Ok so I was a little excited to go out to the land and might have been driving a bit too fast for a gravel road with some low spots in it. Sue me. I hit a particularly soft spot in the road and tore the underside of our bumper off… Although I didn’t realize it until after I’d gotten back onto the highway and heard a loud crash. I’d thought I’d blown a tire but in fact my bumper was just dragging on the pavement.  Anyways bottom line was we needed a truck. Our credibility as farmers depended on it.

Kijiji seemed like the most logical direction. Initially I was looking to spend no more than $1500. But pretty much all there was were a bunch of rusted, multi colored trucks with 400,000 kms on them. After talking to real live farmer (my wife’s cousin) he told us that we needed to be serious and get a decent truck, a Chevy or GMC, from the late 1990s or early 2000s. Yessir.

Prices were between $4000 and $5500. We probably looked at a dozen trucks- most were terrible. It’s hilarious how people write about their junk on kijiji. We thought we’d found the perfect truck: black, Chevy silverado 2003, reasonable mileage, loaded. The ad pretty much made it sound like a rare gem. When we went to look it, the seat was torn open with foam hanging out, the tires were totally bald, none of the dashboard lights were operational and you had to find the “sweet spot” by jiggling the keys like a madman to get it to start. But other than that it was perfect.

We found another one out in Warman that was actually real nice. Good shape, good mileage and appeared to be well taken care of. The seller’s cousin met us and let us take it for a test drive. Drove good. $4900 seemed reasonable. We called the seller and told him we’d take it. Darcie said for $4500. She drives a hard bargain – “first one to say something loses” is her bartering motto.

Guy said “ok I guess.”

Sweet we’ll meet you there tomorrow to pick it up. Darcie called me the next day and said that she called the guy to get his name for a bank draft and all he would consider taking was cash…… Umm do you understand what a bank draft is? It is cash.  Guaranteed to you. Nope not good enough for this guy. So Darcie and I made a last minute dash for the cash, and came up with the money in time to meet the guy at 6:30 like he had asked. Oh and he said we had to be there by 6:30 because he had someone else interested in the truck and was going to meet hime at 7:00 with cash in hand…. Bastard!

I arrived in Warman at 6:20 ready to make the transaction and drive away with our truck, however buddy was nowhere to be found. Darcie texted him and he said “sorry I’m stuck in traffic. I’ll be there in a few minutes.” Well a few minutes came and went. I’m not sure what kind or “traffic” jams they get in small town Warman but this was certainly the worst in Saskatchewan’s history. After 30 minutes of waiting I was getting pretty frustrated. But thought I might as well wait because he had someone else apparently coming at 7:00. I was standing beside the truck anyway.

Well 7:00 came and went too. Then 7:15. Guy texted and said “sorry traffic is really bad. I’m on my way.” Sure. You know if you don’t want to sell us the truck that’s fine, just don’t waste my time. After an hour of getting more and more angry I left. I’m not sure if this guy was playing us for fools or what, but the next morning the guy texted and said he would bring the truck in for us and that he was really sorry…..surprise surprise, that never happened either.  We just got screwed by Kijiji.

Fortunately a couple days later this Burgundy beaut came up…..burgundy with brown rust colored highlights around the rear wheel wells, decent mileage but a bit over priced, but whatevs let’s go check it out. We drove the beast and everything looked good. The seller was not a moron either. Just a nice middle aged man named Neal.

I told him we liked it, but the price was a bit high. I told him I had $4500 in my pocket.


Now we are getting legit!


(Originally posted July 10, 2014)


This ridiculously sweet outhouse overlooks the river. There’s a peep-hole to enjoy the view while sitting on the pot. We noticed several scrawls from canoers who stopped for a proper potty break and left their names inside.


(Originally posted July 10, 2014)


We took possession of the land on June 20, 2014. A couple of weekends before I met with the sellers, Harald and Val, out at the land to go over a few things and also purchase some extras that we would need: a John Deere 48” riding mower, gas powered weed whacker, farm-grade Round-up (I feel slightly guilty about this), backpack sprayer for said Round-up, and a trailer to haul crap (although we did not yet have a truck – a story for another post).

Harald also went through setting up the irrigation pump for the trees and the pump/water heater for the shop bathroom as well as miscellaneous good-to-know information for the land.

I took 6-7 pages of notes. The irrigation pump setup is incredibly complex. There’d be no way we would have figured it out on our own. Fortunately he also gave us a handy photo of the pump set-up for us to cross-check. Funny thing is we actually tried to set-up the pump a couple weeks prior… we hauled the 100+lbs beast several hundred feet from the shop to the river’s edge, plus all of the hoses that we thought it needed. After two hours of trying to get it working, we settled on admitting our failure and pathetically we hauled it all back up the hill – sweating and cursing – and into the shop. After Harald told me how to set it up, I had to laugh – we weren’t even close.




We sat down the next day with Ron Learned, the realtor selling the 13 acre lot. When we looked up the property on MLS, I recognized the name. I used to work at Ultimo Euromoda clothing store in University and would regularly sell clothes to Ron. He’s a great guy and I knew we could trust him.

When Ron came to the door of our house he looked around our house and said. “I’ve been in this house before. Did a Dutch guy sell it to you?”

Joel Van der Schaaf (as Dutch a name as there ever was) sold us the house. Joel and Nicolette had lived in the house for 3 years and renovated it extensively. The sale was private and we became good friends afterward. Joel and Nicolette, coincidentally had sold the house to purchase 160 acres of organic farmland that they hoped to build a net zero home… Which also happened to be riverfront.

“I sold Joel that land,” Ron said.

When we sat down to make the offer on the 13 acre lot Ron told us, “you know guys, I have another lot for sale nearby. My sign had blown off so you might not have seen it. It’s a bigger lot, more money, but boy if I could’ve bought it I would have. It’s a 25 acre lot with the gates at the front.”

“The one with the heron on the front?!?”

“Ya, it might be a heron.”

We looked it up on MLS with him. Sure enough, it was the lot that we had driven into and drooled over the location, the view, and the trees. No way. OMG.

“It’s been on the market for over a year. They just dropped the price about 30% too.”

Not only that but it had a 2400 sqft shop with a bathroom, two power boxes (one to the shop and the other to the building site), a well, septic tank, a road, a trees in building site with geotechnical survey done, and it was nearly twice the size as the other lot! And it had over 1/3 mile of river frontage!!

Darcie and I looked at each other.  We’ll take that one:)

We put in our offer and two days later the sellers accepted it without a counter.

The next 8 days was a whirlwind. We hadn’t been approved to purchase land so we had to get financing, land appraisals, and house appraisal on our own house done in warp speed. Incredibly it could not have gone any smoother. We removed conditions with two days to spare.

Sold.  We were land owners.


(Originally posted July 10, 2014)