Electric fences for beginners

Electric fences are a great way to keep animals enclosed on your homestead – and even to keep unwanted animals out!   They can be used for horses, pigs, chickens and more.  They can be permanent fences or temporary…their use is endless.

The trick with an electric fence is grounding!  More about that later….

Setting up electric fences

Setting up electric fences is really not that complex. You need a charger, a wire to carry the zap, posts and insulators to keep the wire from touching the ground and a few grounding rods to complete the loop.

Electric fences work like this.  The charger gives out a high voltage pulse every second or so that travels along the wire.  It is trying to become grounded.  If an animal or unsuspecting homesteader touches the wire, the pulse travels through them and into the ground and feels like a bee sting (or worse) when the fence is working well.  Trust me, you DON’T want to experience it again when you feel the first zap!

(Check out links below for where you can get equipment I use online)

Chargers for electric fences
These come in three forms.  Ones that work using a car battery (DC unit), ones that plug into the mains power (AC unit) and ones that have a solar panel.

We have experience with the mains and solar panels and both work extremely well.  All three types come in diferent sizes depending on the length of total fence you want to charge.  Of course that is the total length of the fence wires that you use – so if you have two strands over 1000 feet you have 2000 feet you need to charge.  Even the smallest chargers seem to cover many thousands of feet.

Be careful when shopping for chargers for electric fences.   The cheaper charges may say that they cover a huge distance, but the strength of the ZAP may not be enough to contain pigs or goats.   Most of the cheap ones have been developed for dogs or chickens.  Like most things in life, cheap is not good economic sense.  Buy for what you need now and room to expand!

Wires for electric fences
You need an electric fencing wire – these come in many styles and sizes. We like the tape variety.  It is a white tape through which strands of wire are woven.  The tape is easy to see for the animal making it a visual barrier as well as an electric one.   You can get it in different widths and we seem to be hooked on the 1 inch wide.  We also have some cable type – which is like a rope in which the wires are woven.  Both can give you a considerable electric zap when working well.

Poles and insulators (permanent and temporary fences) for electric fences
You also need some way to suspend the wires and keep them insulated from the posts and ground.  Depending on which type of post you use and which kind of wire you have will determine the type of insulator you will need.   There are insulators that clip onto T-posts and insulators you can screw or nail into wooden posts.  There are insulators that take the tapes and insulators that take the wire.

We have a mix of these types and styles.  Basically we have a permanent home ‘field’ that has wooden posts and T posts that has two strands of electric tape.   We also have some temporary areas fenced off using a mixture of fiberglass poles and insulators.   We discovered a pole that has insulators built-in which works great for us for temporary fencing.  We use an electric tape on the top that is energized and a electric wire on the bottom that we don’t connect.  The reason we don’t connect the bottom wire is because it often comes in contact with grass and therefore it will ground out making the whole fence uncharged and ineffective.  This works fine for our horses.  It may not be the solution for your animals.

We also use the old white fiberglass rods with a screw on insulator, but we find those rods weather badly making them almost impossible to pick up without getting fibers into your hand.  We hate those for that reason…but still use the originals we bought around the place.  We know that to touch them we need to wear thick gloves to avoid the glass fibers.

Grounding rods  – the real secret to make your fence work!
The system requires that the charger is well grounded to work, and so we use galvanized 8 foot long rods that we drive in the ground with a T-post pounder so only 6 inches remains above ground.  It then has a fitting bolted onto the top to which we connect the wire that goes back to the charger.

Most of the problems that we have had with electric fences is with the grounding rods.   Without a good ground the fence pulse will be very week indeed.  What we found is that one grounding rod is never enough.  You need to have two of three spaced six or so feet apart and all wired together to make an effective ground to drive the whole fence.

Troubleshooting tip
When your fence does not seem to be pulsing as it should  – we have a neat tester that we use to test the size of the pulse – the reason is almost always a grounding one.   Either you are not well grounded at the charger unit OR the fence wire is being grounded because it is touching a metal post or grass (or both).   Walk your fence line during the day and check that the grass/weeds have not grown up to touch the wire.  Just a few can effectively stop the pulse working well.   Walk the fence line at night and see if it is ‘sparking’ against any posts (we can here our ticking when it does this too).  Adjust the insulators and test again.

It all sounds complex for people just starting out – but if I could work it out, anyone can! So go try working with electric fences!