Electric Fencing Tips
An inexpensive solution to improve
the bottom line.
By Wayne Burleson
With an extensive 30-year
background of building and studying all kinds of
animal fencing, I still say that high-tensile,
smooth wire, electric fencing is the fastest and
most affordable fence that I know of.
Fencing technology has drastically improved over the
last 15 years, but breaking out of the old barbed
wire fencing mode - lots of posts, several wires,
and stretching the wire as tight as a fiddle string
- gets people in trouble right away.
The challenge is, with the right fence design and
constructed in the right location, coupled with good
pasture management principles, a well-built electric
fence will earn you money and not cost you money.
Increased pasture subdivisions can stockpile forage
for extended wintertime grazing, save forage for
early spring pastures, rest/rotate those hard hit
areas, change livestock distribution to graze
previously un-grazable areas, and stop animals from
second biting plant regrowth that depletes root
growth...and the list goes on.
Is it that much cheaper? A conventional barbed wire
fence can cost up to $1.50-per-foot-plus labor and
material. A two-wire, permanent, smooth-wire
electrical fence costs somewhere between 10 to 20
cents per foot depending on terrain.
That's a huge savings. I know
certain ranchers who hate electric fencing, but are
learning to live with it, because with today's
livestock prices they cannot afford to build
To successfully make the transition over to new
fencing technology, you need a very good
understanding of how effective electrical fencing
works. First off, this kind of fence works only on
the brain of the animal, that is, the remembering
power of the shock they receive.
Don't think of this fence as a barrier, but as a
In other words, you need to knock their socks off
(so-to-speak) the very first time they touch a
smooth wire. Then you have the reverse problem of
pushing a barbed-wire fence and shying away from any
Make gates really big for hot
fences -- like 30-feet-plus - because with narrow,
12-foot-gates a well-trained animal to a good
electric fence will be reluctant to even get near
the gate, much less walk right through it.
There are two ways an electric fence works. All
hot-wire system. When your soils are deep and
somewhat damp it produces a high conductive system
to shock animals through their feet. The electrons
must make a complete circuit to receive the maximum
shock. The electricity passes from the wire, though
the animal, out their feet, through the ground and
back to the ground rods. If anything is weak in the
circuit they will not get a controllable shock.
The advantage to having decent soils is you can
actually get away with a single strand of wire that
greatly reduces your fence-building cost. You run
into problems with very dry, hard soils, or even
frozen ground, as the electricity will not flow very
well with these types of soils and produces a weak
The second kind of electric
fence is a hot-ground system. A ground wire or
wires are strung along just under the hot wires.
Another great invention is the use of in-line fence
strainers that put tension on each wire. I like to
use the kind of in-line strainers that eliminate
cutting the wire. You just slip this wheel device
onto the slack fence wire and start winding up the
wire with this wench, using a special in-line
strainer tool. As you start to pull the wire up
tight, watch the wire's slack between the line post.
When the wire pulls level,
STOP, the wire tension is just right. What's the
matter with a tight fence? I once showed a rancher's
fencing crew how to build a one-post fence corner
and later I found out that the wood posts pulled out
of the ground. Why? Well, you see, each year, some
overenthusiastic, big-armed, tough cowboy, would
come by and tighten the in-line strainer so tight
that you could play "Home, Home on the Range" with
the fence wire. Over time, this would eventually
pull any strong post right out of the ground.
You want the electric fence to
act like a rubber band. When something runs into the
wire, you don't want to break all the insulators or
knock posts out of the ground. If the posts are
spread apart far enough - 80- to 100-feet-plus - the
wire will just bend to the ground and pop back up.
Labor tips: - I now use my
hydraulic post driver to drive in all line posts,
even the steel posts. It's fast, easy and saves me
I keep telling folks to try one wire, but boy is
that a hard sell. I usually recommend cheapening up
the fence by reducing the number of wires and let
the shocking power of the electric fence do all the
Knock their socks off - This
is where you don't go cheap, but buy the best, most
powerful electric fence energizer you can afford,
remembering that one day you may be shocking through
a lot of tall, wet vegetation.
These fences only work on the
shocking power to the animal's nervous system. It's
not the number of wires or how tight the fence, it's
the strong pain of shocking power that gives you
control over the animals.
"A wimpy fence charger gives
you a wimpy fence." Don't skimp here because this is
where most fences fail. Build a strong, simple fence
and hook it up to a great big fence charger.
Your fence charger should be low-impedance, come
from a dependable supplier, and have a warranty and
replaceable components. It's also handy to find
sales folks with an extra charger they can lend to
you while yours is being repaired. Expect some
breakdowns, especially from lightning. Certain fence
suppliers offer lightning protection with their
The number one problem with failed electrical fences
is improper grounding. Lots of fencers, including
myself, still think you can skimp when it comes to
adequate earth grounding. What we must all learn to
do, is install several ground rods, at least three,
that are 6 to 8 feet long, galvanized, and attached
with good ground clamps. The electricity must
complete a full circle back to the charger through
the ground. Poor grounding gives weak shocks. Think
of the ground rods as radio antennas - the more
reception, the better the shock.
The last fence job that I
completed, I was out of conventional ground rods, so
I looked in my junk pile, and pulled out a 3-inch,
galvanized, 9-feet long, heavy walled pipe. My post
driver reaches up nine feet, so I was able to drive
this whole pipe deep into the ground. This made an
excellent ground rod. Nifty, huh?
For the folks looking for the
cheapest ground rods, the cheapest that I know about
is to simply hook up the ground side of your fence
energizer to an existing barbed wire fence that has
steel posts in it. I know that Canada has a
shortage of steel "T' posts, but this grounding idea
sure works well in the States.
Electric fences require less
labor, are safer for wildlife, easier to build and
maintain and cost much less than conventional
fences. The weakest link in using this technology
is learning a different method of animal control.
These fences are psychological fences, they work on
the remembering power of the animal's brain and are
not barrier fences.
Your fence charger should be
low-impedance, come from a dependable supplier, and
have a warranty and replaceable components. Please
buy one that puts out lots of power. During a rainy
year, you may have lots of plant growth touching the
wires. That's when you will need extra power to
shock through the heavy, wet vegetation.
Don't be afraid to try
electric smooth wire fencing. Find a good fence
supplier and learn some of the tricks of the trade.
I know folks who hate electric fencing, but their
pocketbook is not big enough to build a conventional
fence, which may cost up to $1 per foot or more
while an electric fence costs less than one-half to
one-third of that.
The next time your animals get
in a fight with the neighbor's bull and tear down a
fence line, remember that most educated livestock
will not touch a wire, the second time, with 5,000
volts running through it.