Growing up, we were the very first people I knew whom electric-fenced. I distinctly remember as a kid our farm being considered “the odd guys” with our electric fence and I also distinctly remember the results. They were phenomenal. Since then fencing technology has come a long way, but the rewards are still just as real.
Over the last few years we’ve built multiple miles of electric fence, and as our grass keeps getting better we just keep planning more. We are also getting smarter and faster at fencing. There are a few things we have learned that may help some newbies out there, or foster discussion with more experienced fencers so we can further refine our technique at home.
The first and most important thing about electric fencing is that if you think it doesn’t work, you are right. If you think it works, you are also right. The second most important thing is the nonelectric part of the fence is the most important. Nothing makes a fence works better than ensuring you have a good grounding system in place. Basically, an electric fencer sends a pulsing charge down the wire. When a cow (or farmer) touches the wire, they are the proverbial kid with their finger in the light socket. The current goes through the cow and returns to the fencer through the ground to complete the circuit.
We have found grounding each section of fence greatly enhances the ability of the fence to produce electroshock therapy for cows. This is particularly important in winter grazing applications where the cow-to-ground contact is reduced. The other thing we learned the hard way is to use a bench or angle grinder to point the end of any ground rods before you start pounding them in. You can almost never have too many ground rods, but take heart, they are easy to add to the system in dry weather if needed (not so easy in winter).
The fencer is the engine of the system. I have personal preferences on brands and suppliers, but basically the key important point is toalwaysbuy a bigger fencer than you think you need. There are some very cool fencers out there nowadays. My personal favourites are the remote fencers. We purchased our first one last summer. These allow you to stop at any point on the fence, put your tester on the wire and turn the fencer off, even from a mile away. You don’t need to go back to the fencer if you find a problem that needs fixing. This brings me to the next thing we have learned.
The $200 for a fence tester may seem expensive, until you start testing fences. We carry one in each farm truck. Basically the tester is placed on the wire and tells you how much power the fence is kicking out. It beats the heck out of the handhold test. A good fence tester can also do another miraculous job. They have arrows that point in the direction of any problems. In other words, it is a GPS for fence fixers. The ability to narrow five miles of fence down to five feet in the span of five minutes is well worth the investment. Remote-control fencers will usually come with a remote that serves the double function of tester.
There are lots of diagrams and teaching tools for building electric fences. Perhaps the biggest thought-pattern change for us has been the elimination of braces and tight fences. Now we use 1.5″ x 7″ (or 6′) posts on the corners and small posts in the middle. Admittedly our clay-based soils definitely help us in this regard. One person alone can build roughly of a mile of fence in a day this way, as long as there are not too many gates. We have moved totally away from ratchet type tighteners and now use the inline ones. They look like little wheels and simply slip over the wire, twist and pin. They are the same cost as the others, but take roughly 10 per cent of the time to install.
We also use a single white ” tape and rubber handles to make our gates. The cows seem to really see and recognize these and we have never had a problem with calves going under the gates.
One of the best practical applications I ever learned from reading came fromManagement Intensive Grazingby Jim Gerrish. The “L” technique has been a large time and money saver for us. You can tie off and join wires by simply taking the short tail of the wire, bending it into an “L” and then using it as a handle to wrap the wire back around itself. Using this technique you can eliminate the need for wire connectors (a big PITA) and have joins that look like the twists on commercial paige wire. (see photos).
These are a few of the things we have learned, and we are still learning and getting more creative as we go. If you are wondering if electric fencing is for you, remember the point of fencing in the first place. The best analogy I can give is that of haying. Very few people would take their first cut of hay June 1 and then go back on the 7 and do a second cut. Even fewer would repeat this all summer long. It is possible/likely you could even kill your stand of hay. Fencing is designed to prevent cows from doing exactly the same thing.
But does it work? This summer as we were moving cows out, I watched a very special cow (best left unnamed) walk through a paige wire fence with three barbed wires on top of it like it was not even there. Then she got to a two wire electric fence (one hot, one ground), stopped dead a foot away, turned and went back out through the page wire fence.