The easy way to keep your livestock in and predators out is to protect livestock with electric fencing.
PHOTO: GEORGE DEVAULT
Learn how you can protect livestock with electric fencing.
Japhy, a pup from the city, didn't know what a chicken was
when he first moved to the farm, but he thought our Silver
Laced Wyandottes looked interesting, so he ran right over
to play with them.
He never got close to the birds. The instant his big,
black, wet nose touched the electrified netting that
surrounds the laying hens' pen, Japhy let out a terrified
yelp. He jumped, spun clear around in mid-air and took off
running in the other direction, squealing in protest and
Relax, dog lovers. Mr. Japhy wasn't injured one little bit.
Yes, a quick electric shock hurts. Getting hit with a few
thousand volts, for even 1/3,000th of a second, does cause
a bit of pain. But that's the whole idea: The shock
inflicts no physical damage, but it does leave a lasting
Japhy learned his lesson. He hasn't gone anywhere near the
chickens again — except on a leash, to pose for his
In recent years, electric fencing innovations have
revolutionized some forms of livestock grazing and
protection, and garden crop protection, too.
You can protect livestock with electric fencing easily nowadays. There are effective and relatively inexpensive temporary
electric fencing available to protect everything from
small animals such as chickens in the barnyard or in
pastured poultry programs to larger animals such as riding
hones out for weekend trail rides or involved in strip
Although some electric fences are considered permanent,
much like a traditionally built fence, other styles are
intended for semi-permanent or temporary applications,
giving users more flexibility and economy in meeting such
fencing needs titian they've ever had in the past. Modern
temporary styles of electric fencing include the familiar
rope lines, some tape-like styles and various sizes of mesh
netting; all can be set up or taken down in a matter of
Pennsylvania farmer Brian Moyer pastures 1,400 broilers
annually, using 42-inch-high electric netting with 3
1/2-inch-square openings and plastic post. Moyer says he
especially likes the heavy-plastic, step-in posts, which he
just pushes into the ground with his foot (or in dry times,
hammers in with a rubber mallet.)
The portability of temporary electric fencing means it can
he moved about according to pre-planned grazing patterns.
The practice allows more intensive use of pasturelands than
is possible with permanent fencing of larger areas. Aaron
Silverman raises about 15,000 broilers a year in a small
valley in Oregon. "Our fields are bordered by riparian
zones — a river or a creek where there are nesting
marsh hawks and red-tailed hawks, bobcat runs and coyote
"When we started with traditional pastured poultry zones,
we confined the birds to the portable enclosures at all
times and moved the enclosures once, maybe twice a day. We
noticed that whenever we were close to a riparian zone, we
would lose birds to raccoons, 'possums and skunks, which
were able to sneak under the fencing."
To establish secure outdoor pens for the birds, Silverman
tested electric sheep netting, with mesh small enough to
stop coyotes, but not weasels, "so we were still losing
birds." Next, he tried electric poultry netting with
2-by-3-inch openings and thin, rigid-plastic verticals that
keep the fence upright without corner tension braces.
"That pretty much took care of it," he says. The netted
fence keeps out predators as small as rats — as long
as it's moved regularly. When left in place for several
weeks, such as around a greenhouse-turned-brooder house,
rats eventually tunnel underneath to get at the chickens.
"In the field," he says, "where we are moving the fence on
a continual basis, they (the rats) respect it."
How Electric Fencing Works
Electric fencing runs on a charger, which converts a
typical 110-volt, 15-amp branch circuit, such as those you
might find in a house, into a pulsed, high-voltage,
low-current output. Although the potential involved may be
on the order of 2,500 to 9,000 volts, the current is
limited to a safe level and the actual pulse lasts only
According to David Hart of Underwriters Laboratories, a
minimal one-second duration is mandatory between pulses to
allow people who inadvertently grab onto a "hot" wire the
time to let go and avoid injury. Continuous current causes
the muscles to contract, making letting go difficult and
potentially interfering with the function of the heart.
The fence wire is connected to a ground rod, usually just a
galvanized pipe that has been driven deep into the ground.
Any conductive material, such as a critter's nose or ears,
that touches the wire after it has been electrified
completes the circuit and — ZAP! The critter
gets a short but unpleasant shock.
But gone are the days when you had to drive big metal or
wooden posts into hard, rocky ground and wrestle with heavy
reels of stiff wire that always wanted to go anywhere but
where you wanted them to go. Permanent high-tensile
electric fencing still has its place for perimeter fences,
corrals and other applications where the fence is meant to
last, but the new temporary styles are gaining popularity
quickly on many farms and homesteads.
Most of the temporary equipment fits together easily with
just a rubber mallet, screwdriver, pocketknife and a pair
of pliers. And you can buy it at just about any farm supply
center or from a variety of specialty companies, which
often offer application and installation tips on their Web
The Electric Fence Power Supply
You'll need an adequate charger to control the electricity
flowing to whatever type of fencing you choose. Chargers
running on 110-volt AC (household) current provide maximum
shocking power, so many people run an AC supply wire from
their house or barn into their fields, and then connect
their temporary fencing onto it wherever needed. Chargers
range in price from $60 to $400.
In remote locations, battery-powered chargers are almost as
effective. Batteries range in size from flashlight to
deep-cycle marine, and optional solar panels will recharge
them even on cloudy days, which can double a battery's
life. Prices for batteries with solar chargers range from
$180 to $280.
To really boost shocking power, especially on dry ground or
snow, use "Pos/Neg" fencing, now available in a variety of
Traditional electric fencing has a positive charge in each
electrified wire. It relies on the animal making good
contact with the soil in order to ground the charge and
receive a shock. That doesn't always happen when soils are
sandy, rocky, dry or covered with snow. Having both
positive and negative (grounded) wires manufactured right
in the fence increases the chance of an animal receiving a
Weeds also can complete the circuit when they touch the
wires, sometimes shorting out the fence so it can't shock
anything. Today s fence chargers can carry what the
catalogs call a "heavy weed load," but don't expect to just
setup an electric fence and forget it. The more you keep
grass and weeds in check, the better your fence will work.
Keep all electric fences free of branches, grass, weeds and
debris that can short out the whole fence.
Electrified netting requires the most maintenance. When
left around vegetable beds for the season, it needs to be
moved periodically and the grass mowed or weed-whacked. Or
place cardboard, carpet or flat stones under it to prevent
weeds from growing up and touching the wire.
Tricks of the Electric Fencing Trade
Regardless of what you add to your system in the way of end
posts, line posts, insulators, switches (very useful when
searching for a short) and other gizmos, a few basic rules
apply to all electric fencing.
First, electric fences really do their job, but only if
they're turned on — all of the time. That's why
vegetable growers, pastured poultry producers and other
users equip their fences with blinking lights or alarms to
signal operational problems.
Want a good night's sleep? There is nothing more reassuring
just before slipping between the sheets than glancing out a
bedroom window, seeing that little twinkle of light pulsing
in the far field and knowing that your defense shields are
activated. of course, if the field is totally dark, there
is nothing more exasperating than stomping outside through
the wet grass in your bare feet to find that you've merely
forgotten to plug the fence charger back in. Like the wild
and domestic animals learn to avoid the fence, you soon
will learn to turn it back on after you've consciously shut
it down for whatever reason.
Second, making good contact with a charged fence wire is
the only way animals will develop a healthy respect for the
fence. Many people set a pan of feed just outside the fence
to train young livestock to stay away. Baiting the fence
with peanut butter or other lures also assures that
predators get the message to keep out. (See "Electric Fencing for Garden Pest Control,".)
Third, electric fence is primarily a psychological
deterrent, not a physical barrier. Any animal that is
hungry, scared or being chased can and probably will run
right through or leap over an energized electric fence. But
that can happen with traditional fencing, too.
Whatever you decide to install, get a voltage tester so you
can make sure your fence is well-grounded, and pinpoint the
problem when it shorts out. Mr. Japhy might agree that's a
lot better than relying on your pets to tell you whether
your fence is working properly.
Electric Fencing Folks
Gallagher Power Fence
Gallagher Power Fence
Ferris Fencing (Canada)