Oh, the woes of woven wire…

By Sandra L. Brown

January 26, 2017 12:00 AM

The Barr Colonists left the overcrowding of England behind in 1903 and journeyed to Canada with promises of wide open spaces echoing in their ears. 
Eventually spreading out over two western provinces, the settlement innocently created a paradox as the provincial border wasn’t the only boundary in Lloydminster’s early days. 
With varying opinions, they wrangled with the question of how to prevent cattle from eating the farmers’ thriving crops. 
Should the stock be restrained by means of traditional herding (herd law) and the owners would ensure the animals don’t go where they shouldn’t? 
Or should the crops be fenced in (fence law) placing the burden on the grain farmers?
Marginal at best, even these definitions were puzzling. 
Voted upon at a town meeting, herd law was passed with some opposition circa 1908, although this matter was far from being settled. 
The strongest evidence brought forward was against free range where images of cowboys singing softly to the cattle while keeping an eye out for predators, both human and animal, come to mind.
In the trailing years, many felt that fence law only meant mixed farming which led to the cheap production of beef under range conditions.
Written in favour of herd law (August 1909) a letter stated that even though he understood that fence law would benefit the dealers in fence wire, he failed to understand what the homesteader would gain by having the herd law repealed. “…except the privilege of growing crops and providing grazing for cattle of his wealthier neighbours, who can afford to fence in their own lands and who will turn out their stock to hustle for their living on their poorer neighbor’s crops?” 
On the contrary, “As each year passes by, the injustices of the present day herd law becomes more manifest. 
Men who have been trying patiently to breed up a small bunch of cattle are giving up the job in despair and are going in entirely for raising grain.” 
This writer felt that growing wheat at the present high prices was appealing to local farmers, but felt that depending upon wheat alone was a risky business. 
“In many cases, as the law is at present, the poor neighbor referred to is to be very glad to have his grain eaten off, as by the pounding of any stray stock, he gets more than the worth of his grain without the trouble of harvesting.” 
Some thought that herd law would restrict the availability of hay for cutting; however, cattle can get into places that the mower could not access. 
The rancher coming in with large herds would be chased out by grain farmers as they could not live cooperatively side by side (June 1910).
Even so, those raising cattle were encouraged not to give up.
There was a demand for good “gentle” cattle compared to the wild range cattle.  It was suggested that the difference in price between a range beast and a gentle beast will more than pay for the cost of herding. This cost was $1 per head per year. 
The prairie range was considered ideal for the growing of grasses, clover, grain and stock of all types – a perfect fit for mixed farming.
An innovative idea was brought forward in November 1912, ``…I beg to say that I am not really opposed to fence law, but something should be done by the provincial governments on both sides of the meridian line to finance those who cannot afford to fence their land, when I am certain that opposition to the fence law would be dropped, as every farmer would want a share of grazing privileges outside his own fence, and if the governments` would either finance those who have few or no cattle to go in for dairying this would make things better still and you would see great prosperity in this district, as within a radius of about ten miles the presence of willow scrub makes mixed farming a necessity…”.
Nevertheless, no matter which side of the fence you were on, these settlers realized that agriculture was at Lloydminster’s inner core. 
Raising cattle, growing crops and pursuing mixed farming was crucial to Lloydminster’s early development.

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