Electric Fencing

Spend time on construction and buy quality electric fencing materials to save time, money, and grief on this simple and shockingly affordable fencing.

As a containment system for livestock, a well-made electric fence can be both highly effective and relatively low maintenance. I’m not opposed to other methods of fencing, such as barbed wire; I’m just opposed to paying for them. If you already have a barbed wire fence, good. If you don’t have fence and need to build one, the most economical way — by a wide margin — is to build an electric fence the right way.

Illustration by Steve Sanford

Unfortunately, the first permanent electric fence I built was neither effective nor low maintenance, because it wasn’t well-built. I struggled with escaped livestock, the constant need for repairs, and ceaseless calls from angry neighbors. (I’m lucky to have good neighbors, since cattle walking through their cornfield will test the patience of even the best of friends.)

I’ve made just about every possible construction mistake when building electric fences. Had I spent a little more time on construction, a little more money on the right materials, and a lot more time listening to advice from people with more experience, I would’ve saved a ton of time, money, and grief. Foremost among those mistakes: I used metal line posts and 14-gauge wire; I attached wires directly to live trees; I alternated hot wires and ground wires; and I alternated barbed wire with smooth. Learn from my mistakes as I explain why all those were poor choices, and then adopt the more effective methods I’ve learned along the way.


The wire or cable conducts the electricity and is thus called a “conductor,” which is a good place to start.

For my first fence, I used 14-gauge wire and barbed wire. Both are bad choices for an electric fence. That size of wire is simply too weak for permanent use, and it kinks and breaks easily. Once it begins to break, it’ll break over and over again. I suspect my fence broke every time a deer hit it, a cow brushed against it, or the wind blew.



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