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Land Lit: Great Books to Inspire the Landowner

Worthwhile Reads on Land Ownership

 

When you’re pondering a farm or ranch purchase, or making plans for a recently acquired piece of ground, land and its limitless possibilities dominate your thinking. As you contemplate all that land can represent – opportunity, individualism, escape – here’s a collection of great books that offer inspiration, and remind you of why you wanted to own land in the first place.

 

Hole in the Sky, by William Kittredge

Kittredge is one of the most acclaimed chroniclers of the modern American West. His memoir explores his upbringing in Oregon ranch country, and offers insight on the appeal of wide-open spaces, the value of land and its accompanying legacies, and the changing landscape of the contemporary frontier.

 

 

 

 

Heart Earthby Ivan Doig

Doig, who passed away in 2015, was a novelist and journalist who centered much of his work on his native Montana. In this memoir, Doig explores – in part, through a collection of wartime letters between his mother and uncle – the influence of the western landscape on his family, with settings ranging from remote stretches of Big Sky Country to the American Southwest.

 

 

 

 

A Thousand Deer, by Rick Bass

Subtitled Four Generations of Hunting and the Hill Country, this nonfiction work by Bass, also a novelist and writer of short stories, takes readers along for his family’s annual excursion to the “deer pasture,” the Texas Hill Country destination where the Basses have hunted for more than 75 years. The author shares insight on the lessons taught by hunting, and the value of maintaining connections to the wilderness.

 

 

The Meadowby James Galvin

This collection of vignettes by Galvin comprise a compelling narrative about a specific piece of the West: the ranchland along the Colorado-Wyoming state line. The author reaches back a century and tells the story of the area through its hardscrabble inhabitants. The landscapes and seasons serve as additional “characters,” bringing out the survival instincts required for life in the region.

 

 

 

Who Owns the West, by William Kittredge

In this short work Kittredge opines on the “second colonization” of the West, as it transitions from a mythical place of survival to a place often defined by tourism, recreation, and a modern interpretation of a love of the land and the hope for the future that it so often represents. Kittredge takes readers to locations as varied as Klamath Falls, Oregon, and his adopted home state of Montana, and populates his story with appearances by writers Raymond Carver and Richard Hugo, both of whom sought escape and reinvention in the American West.

 

 

 

Where Rivers Change Directionby Mark Spragg

A native of northwestern Wyoming, where he grew up on a guest ranch, Spragg shares the story of his childhood as part of a family dependent on the land and the mythology of the West for its livelihood. Spragg details winter solitude, an adolescence defined by physical labor, and the appeal of open spaces to an eclectic cross-section of urban tourists seeking a piece of a life that Westerners often take for granted.

 

 

 

 

A Quiet Place of Violenceby Allen Morris Jones

Subtitled Hunting and Ethics in the Missouri River Breaks, this work by Jones, a former editor of Big Sky Journal, offers a philosophical look at hunting, and explores the ways in which the sport brings humans closer to a rightful place in the natural order, to a place in which they become participants in the natural world, rather than mere observers.

 

 

 

 

In These Hillsby Ralph Beer

With contributions to magazines ranging from Big Sky Journal to Harper’s, Beer is perhaps the most under-acknowledged writer of non-fiction about the contemporary American West. In this collection of his finest magazine pieces, Beer draws heavily on his experiences working on his family’s Montana ranch, consistently illustrating the ways in which our identities can be defined by the land.

 

 

 

This House of Skyby Ivan Doig

In this memoir, Doig looks back on his childhood in 1940s Montana ranch country and delves into the ways in which ties to the land can shape one’s life. Through his story, Doig shares with readers the unique nature of family life on a ranch, and the nature of a childhood spent in wide open spaces.

 

 

 

 

Winter: Notes from Montanaby Rick Bass

In a book instantly comparable to Henry David Thoreau’s Walden, Bass’s journal chronicles a winter spent in Montana’s remote Yaak Valley, a destination with no electricity, few comforts, and even fewer residents. The author shares the challenges of acclimation and the necessary acquisition of frontier survival skills.

 

 

 

 

Owning it AllEssays, by William Kittredge

This collection of magazine pieces by Kittredge offers an education on the differences between the West’s mythology and its reality, and the ways in which the former has often overshadowed, if not outright harmed, the latter. Readers are left with an appreciation for a culture and landscape unburdened by the characteristics forced upon them by popular culture.

 

Rural Internet Options – The Cabin with WIFI Dream

Moving to a Rural Property Doesn’t Mean Giving Up 21st Century Connectivity

For many real estate buyers, the purchase of a rural property is motivated, at least in part, by a desire to create a retreat from the outside world. Whether a newly acquired property will serve as a second home – visited a few times a year – or as a permanent, year-round residence, part of the appeal of owning rural real estate is the potential to escape the more hectic nature of an in-town lifestyle, to live life at a somewhat slower pace.

Except, of course, when it comes to internet access.

 

Rural Internet Wifi - Working on the porch.

As the World Wide Web and its utility have grown, so has our dependence on the internet for basic communications, news, entertainment, and everyday business needs. All but the most anti-tech property buyers now regard reliable internet access as a vital utility, even in rural locations.

 

Fortunately, there’s a growing list of internet service options to stay connected – no matter where you live.

 

Land-line

Familiar land-line service from mainstream internet service providers is often available throughout farm and ranch country. A given area, though, might have no more than one land-line internet provider, potentially working with an infrastructure that hasn’t yet caught up to in-town service capacities. Rural property owners newly transplanted from areas boasting lightning-fast download speeds might have to adjust expectations for service speeds but, in general, should be able to use the internet just as they would in other locations.

 

Satellite

When the concept of satellite internet was introduced, it seemed like a connectivity miracle: regardless of your location, if you had a clear view of the southern sky, you could connect to the internet via a satellite dish. Reality, though, left something to be desired, as consumers reported satellite service as being slow and unreliable, with service at the mercy of weather conditions. Satellite services have worked to improve connectivity, but typical download speeds still might not hit 15 Mbps, with upload speeds in the 1-2 Mbps range.

 

Microwave

Something of a cutting-edge approach to online connectivity, microwave internet service (often referred to as “fixed wireless”) builds upon radio-transmission technology that predates the concepts of broadband and WiFi. Signal transmissions are sent wirelessly point-to-point, so there are no land lines or satellites involved. Line-of-sight links (via relay towers, if necessary) are needed between the service provider’s on-the-ground transmission tower and a consumer’s antenna. Advocates say microwave service can be faster and more reliable than satellite options and, because of the way in which microwave data is transmitted (using narrow beams), it can be safer than cable service, in terms of protecting data from being intercepted.

 

Rural Internet Expansion

A key theme of late in lawmakers’ discussions regarding nationwide infrastructure improvement. Legislation passed in the U.S. Senate would speed permit approvals for wireless expansion, and facilitate “dig once” strategies, in which broadband infrastructure would be put in place concurrent with highway construction projects or other below-ground improvements. The Federal Communications Commission has introduced a plan to offer tax incentives for private-sector broadband investment in low-income (including rural) areas. Such initiatives, paired with the ever-increasing demand for quality, high-speed internet access among rural property owners, should help ensure a future in which online connectivity is a given at any property, regardless of its location.

Covenants: Good or Bad for My Property’s Value?

With rural properties – restrictive covenants needn’t be a dealbreaker as covenants can help maintain a property’s value.

 

During the course of a property search, land buyers – particularly those looking at acreage that’s been subdivided – will almost certainly encounter the concept of restrictive covenants.

 

Covenants, Conditions and Restrictions

CCRs – for short, are usage requirements (and limitations) placed on a property by a subdivider or developer. Layered atop any municipal zoning regulations, these rules further govern what a property owner can and can’t do with the property. Created to protect property values and owners’ abilities to enjoy their properties, covenants might prohibit certain activities, or set standards for home construction or other improvements.

Understandably, many buyers bristle at the concept of being told how a property can or can’t be used after it’s purchased. Experiences with suburban CCRs might only add to a buyer’s hesitation. In some in-town locales, covenants can be both stringent and wide-ranging; they might require vehicles to be garaged at all times, or have strictly enforced rules regarding yard-maintenance standards, or even the color palette available to a homeowner when painting a house. For many buyers, the concept of purchasing land carries with it a sense of individualism; an overabundance of rules and regulations in the form of covenants can tend to erase a buyer’s enthusiasm.

 

Are Covenants Still Relevant if I Live in The Countryside?

When it comes to purchasing rural property, though, covenants needn’t be a dealbreaker. Specific provisions can vary greatly, of course, but, in general, covenants applied to rural properties don’t tend to be as restrictive as CCRs one might encounter in a suburban neighborhood. Developers subdividing rural acreage tend to write covenants with the realities of “country” life in mind; they know that rural landowners use their properties in a variety of ways – keeping horses or other livestock, growing crops, constructing various types of outbuildings – and that marketability of land will depend heavily on preserving a buyer’s rights and options.

Alpaca FarmAs a result, covenants on a rural parcel might amount to little more than a short set of regulations that could easily align with a buyer’s intentions. It’s common to find prohibitions on manufactured homes, hog farms, and commercial marijuana cultivation (in locations where it’s otherwise legal at the state level). Often, rural covenants will specify that campers can be used only for short-term recreational purposes, and not as permanent residences. There might be minimum square footage requirements for homes, and home exteriors may need to fall within a broad color category, such as “earth tone.” Properties that are genuinely in ranch country – rather than in exurban locations – will generally have horse/livestock-friendly covenants, and accommodate numerous types of outbuildings.

 

Alpaca Farms can generate big income, but are they a Nuisance to neighbors?

pig farmCovenants will generally include language prohibiting “nuisances”, but might not specifically define what constitutes a nuisance. This leaves the premise open to interpretation, and brings common sense into play. If an activity – an afternoon of target shooting, a bonfire, fireworks – infringes on your neighbors’ enjoyment of their property, including their peace and quiet, it could be defined as a nuisance and become the subject of a complaint to an owners’ association. For many buyers, though, that open-ended “no nuisances” language is a positive, helping set expectations for community norms before property purchases are made.

 

Are Some Nuisance Neighbors Good for Our Ag Economy?

By contrast, properties without covenants – and bordering other properties without covenants – offer much more freedom to prospective buyers; usage limitations are largely limited to local zoning regulations. However, that freedom comes with obvious risks, particularly when it comes to neighbors’ potential behaviors and their standards for property maintenance. If a neighbor engages in “nuisance” behavior – collecting junked vehicles, erecting shoddy outbuildings, engaging in loud or even dangerous activities – even the most independently minded landowner may suddenly adopt an appreciation for the concept of covenants.

Your Best Fencing Options

That ideal parcel is unfenced. What are a new owner’s options?

 

You have big plans for that undeveloped property you’ve just purchased, and fencing is early on your to-do list. Building a fence, especially on a sizable parcel, is never a small job, but taking on such an effort carries with it the opportunity to make sure the job gets done to your specs. And, depending on your needs, options and costs vary widely.

In evaluating a fencing strategy, a property owner should first think about his or her goals. First: Do you even need fencing? Will you have livestock on the property? Do you anticipate issues with trespassers? Are your parcel’s boundaries unclear? If the answers to such questions are “no,” it might be worth contemplating the zero-dollar-budget option of leaving the property unfenced, maintaining an open environment that can help maintain the land’s natural aesthetic.

If a fence is in order, though, think about the function that fence will need to serve. Will the fence simply mark the property line, or will you count on it to contain horses or cattle? When it comes to selecting fencing material, do you value aesthetics, or are you concerned only with function?

Before making any decisions about fencing, confirm your available options with respect to protective covenants or other applicable regulations. Some rural property owners’ associations specify the types of fencing materials that can be used.

 

With all of the above in mind, let’s review some of the most common fencing strategies.

 

Priefert Corral FenceCorral Panels

In terms of labor and time, steel corral panels are perhaps the ideal fencing solution. Panels go up quickly and connect with just a couple of pins. There’s no wire to stretch. And postholes might not even be necessary. The downside: because of their cost (a 12-foot panel can easily run $100 or more), steel panels aren’t generally practical for fencing a pasture or a property’s perimeter, and are instead better suited for a smaller area, like a corral or an outdoor riding arena. Where panels are a realistic option, it is usually worthwhile to set fence posts at regular intervals along each fenceline to provide better stability. A well known brand of corral fencing sold nationwide is called Priefert, and most ranchers will tell you they’re the best.

Priefert Corral Fence offers strength and versatility for corrals. 

 

Continuous Steel Rail

Compared to interconnected steel panels, this option is better suited for containing larger areas – a pasture or an entire property – since fence segments aren’t “hinged” as they would be with corral panels. With continuous steel rail, wooden posts are set to support panels; the steel rails of each panel then connect to the rails of the next panel, forming a seamless fenceline. Costs for continuous steel-rail fencing, though, can rival figures for traditional corral panels.

 

Traditional Wood Rail

While offering a classic look, wooden rail fencing is both costly and labor-intensive. And, a wood-rail fence requires maintenance – painting/treating and, on a regular basis, re-painting/re-treating – to keep them looking attractive. Many landowners who opt for wood rails grow to regret the choice, as ongoing upkeep becomes an issue.

 

Vinyl Rail

This option offers the look of a traditional rail fence, but without the need to paint or treat rails. Vinyl-rail fencing isn’t quite maintenance-free, though, and has limited uses. Some of the most common options are designed more for aesthetics than for utility. Rails insert into posts and often just rest in place, without much securing them. Horse owners report that such fences can be next to useless, as one bump from a horse can knock rails out of place.

 

Flex Rail

A great alternative to solid vinyl rail options, flexible rails can be solidly attached to fence posts, and offer some “give,” making them a good option for horse owners. The polymer rails are close to maintenance-free, and are attractive; at first glance, they can be taken for a traditional wood-rail fence.

 

Stock Panels

Simple in their construction, these mesh panels are built from heavy-duty welded rods, and are generally a low-cost option – a 16-foot cattle panel might cost as little as $30 – for the consumer who values utility over aesthetics, and is determined to avoid handling wire. Mounting these panels to wooden posts can make for a stout fenceline. However, since stock panels tend to have a “flop factor,” bending and curving if not solidly secured, fence posts might need to be set as close together as every eight feet. A vital point: select stock panels based on the size of the gaps between rods; panels with wider gaps are unsuitable for horses.

SASCO Horse fenceHorse Fencing

This woven-wire option is designed with a tight mesh so that a horse’s hooves are less likely to get caught in a fence. A relatively affordable option, horse fencing unrolls so it can then be attached to fence posts. Quality products are key to durability, and fencing companies like SASCO have years of experience making high end fencing products. Stretching woven wire evenly is an art form, as it’s easy to pull the wire out of shape. Woven horse fencing, especially when paired with wooden posts, can make an attractive fence, with security on par with that of higher-cost strategies. Other woven-wire options exist, including game fencing to contain deer and elk; as with stock panels, pay attention to the size of the gaps in the fence, as large openings in a woven-wire fence almost inevitably lead to livestock injuries.

Horse fence and other game and wildlife fencing must be strong and durable. Don’t skimp on lesser quality products to save a buck! 

 

Cable

When it comes to wire fencing, cable options (to the extent that cable is “wire”) offer the advantages of strength and flexibility. Livestock making contact with a cable fence won’t encounter solid rails; instead, cable will offer some give. Cable can be paired with steel posts to create a high-end version of a wire fence, but with greater durability and better eye appeal than ordinary wire options.

 

Coated Wire

A good alternative to cable fencing, coated wire is constructed from electric fence wire that’s been wrapped in a polymer coating. As a fencing material, coated wire offers the simplicity and utility of a wire fence, but with greater strength and, with a white polymer coating, better visibility. Depending on the variety purchased, coated wire can be electrified.

 

Smooth Wire

With this option, we’re venturing into budget-conscious choices that are likely more realistic, and certainly more common, for large acreages. Smooth wire is, essentially, barbed wire without the barbs. Constructing a smooth-wire fence is a labor intensive option, as each strand of wire will need to be unrolled and stretched individually. (Although the same is true with cable and coated-wire fencing.) Heavy brace posts will be critical at each corner and, intermittently, along longer fencelines. Between brace posts, smooth wire is most often paired with steel t-posts, which need to be driven into the ground; doing this by hand, with a t-post driver, is incredibly labor-intensive, but produces the best results. While an infinitely better and safer choice than barbed wire, smooth wire still isn’t the ideal choice for horse owners, but is commonly used as a low-cost choice for pasture fencing.

 

Barbed Wire

This low-cost, labor-intensive option is best suited for cattle. You’ll often see horses pastured inside a barbed-wire fence, but that combination, sooner or later, will lead to serious injuries. Fence-construction strategies are akin to those used with smooth wire, but complicated by barbs, which snag on just about everything they touch; plan on wearing durable gloves for this fencing job, and plan on those gloves having plenty of holes in them by the time a barbed-wire fence is complete. With both barbed- and smooth-wire fences, expect strands to loosen and require re-tightening.

Barbed wire cattle fence

Barbed wire is found on most cattle ranches across the country. It’s cheap, durable and always in a rancher’s truck.

 

Electric Wire and Tape

 Electric fencing was once regarded – and most often used as – a temporary option in lieu of a permanent, more substantial fence, or as a supplemental strategy to pair with a “real” fence. For some consumers, though, an electric fence’s low cost and ease of construction made it an appealing option for permanent fences. Electric fencing, though, tends to be fragile (easy to put up, easy to tear down), and traditional electric-fencing wire generally has low visibility due to its small diameter and its metallic color. Wider electric tape can be much easier for livestock (and humans) to see, but offers little advantage in terms of strength. Moderate winds can force a strand of electric tape to essentially saw itself in half against an insulator. Despite the convenience offered by electric fencing, it’s still best suited to temporary uses, and requires constant vigilance to be sure it’s both in place and functioning.

 

When it comes to gates, property owners need to be diligent – militant, even. Convey, through signs, if necessary, that gates are to be left as they’re found.

 

Legible Signs

Made of durable materials are your way of communicating to neighbors, passersby and potential trespassers – a sign with your address number placed at the head of the driveway will be a vital landmark for the UPS driver. And, especially if a property was previously unfenced, “no trespassing” signs indicate that, as a new owner, you have your own expectations. When contemplating signage – whether it’s needed, and how it should be worded – think about preexisting behaviors that may have been created by a property’s prior owner. (Maybe the neighbors have been in the habit of hunting or riding on what is now your property.) And, think about the “clueless wanderer,” the hiker or hunter who may not see a fence line as a boundary.