Electric fencing is an incredibly useful fencing system for many farmers and is capable of handling many different tasks. It can make an excellent fencing choice for horses, cattle, sheep, goats and chickens, plus it can be a safe fencing solution while still being relatively easy—and inexpensive—to set up. Properly functioning electric fencing can be effective in deterring predators and can even be a tool for keeping critters out of your garden. Additionally, a strand or two of electric fence wire can always be used increase the effectiveness of other types of fencing.
Electric fencing comes in a variety of styles and installation setups to fulfill these varying tasks, but no matter what kind of electric fencing you use, proper maintenance is key to keeping your fence functioning properly and keeping your animals (or plants) safe. Let’s look at a few things you need to know to keep a well-maintained electric fence.
Electric Fence Basics
It’s important to be familiar with the basics of how an electric fence operates. It’s essentially just a simple circuit. One terminal of the fence charger—the “fence” or “positive” terminal—is connected to the fencing, whether it be wire, rope or netting, etc. The other terminal—the “ground” or “negative” terminal—is connected to metal grounding rods that are placed deep into the soil, giving all of the ground in the fence’s vicinity a negative charge.
At this point, the circuit is not completed because the fence wires and the ground are not touching each other. To complete the circuit and receive the intended electric shock, it’s necessary for an animal to be touching both the ground and the fence at the same time. (This is why birds can sit on electric fence wires without receiving a shock—they aren’t touching the ground and, therefore, aren’t completing the circuit.) This is the basic principle behind all electric fences, and most of the maintenance that a fence requires has to do with this idea.
Periodic Volt Checks
The best thing you can do to keep your fence running properly, especially if the animals have seemed to have lost respect for the fence, is walk around it periodically and check various points and lines with your voltage tester. Are you getting a good charge in all locations? Is each line functioning? If not, you’ll need to investigate why. Is the fence being shorted out somehow, perhaps from a broken insulator or wire? Inspect the fence until you discover the reason. Do you get good voltage close to the charger, but less at the far end of the pasture? If so, you may need to install additional grounding rods. Occasional checks like this can save you time and problems later.
Excess vegetation growing alongside your electric fence can cause big problems. When vegetation, which is full of water and therefore fairly conductive of electricity, grows up and touches a fence, it can cause a short, robbing the fence of valuable power and wasting electricity. Ideally, fence owners should keep their fence lines trimmed and free of weeds. However, this isn’t always easy, especially with large pastures, so you may also want to invest in a charger that’s strong enough to keep the fence powered even through vegetation, while still doing your best to maintain weed control.
For areas that receive snow, winter can be a challenging time to keep your electric fence running properly. First off, your grounding will become weaker. This is caused by two reasons: one, because frozen ground is not nearly as effective at conducting electricity as warmer ground that contains liquid water. The other reason is that snow buildup on the ground—especially in animal paddocks where the snow may get packed down and become deep and firm—acts as a layer of insulation between the animal’s feet and the ground, causing a loss of conductivity.
To remedy this, you might need to turn one of your fence wires into a “ground line.” With this technique, you attach one strand of electric fencing, usually near the middle of the fence, to the ground terminal instead of the fence terminal, effectively switching it from a positive line to a negative line. The idea here is that if an animal attempts to lean on or push through a fence, they will likely touch both a positive and negative line at the same time and receive a shock this way, regardless of how well the fence is grounded.
Another issue you can face in winter is sagging fence lines brought down by the weight of snow or ice that sticks to the wires. Keep an eye on your fence and tighten as necessary.
If you use a solar panel to supply your fence with electricity, it’s critical to make sure that it receives as much sunlight as possible. Keep the panel free of snow or dust, and tilt it toward the sun as the seasons progress—point it higher towards the sky in the summer, lower towards the south in the winter. And if you discover your solar setup just isn’t strong enough for the size of your pasture, consider switching to a plug-in charger.