Electric Fencing Basics

With livestock, adding a slight shock with electric fencing might be the best way to go.

| May/June 2009

Good fences make good neighbors, especially when those fences keep your prized Hereford bull from paying a visit to your neighbor’s registered Jersey cows. But farm fencing isn’t only about controlling the perimeter. Here on our rural homestead, I see a landscape of diverse animals and terrain. I sometimes feel overwhelmed with the thought of having to keep it all organized, safe and healthy. There are hardly any tasks as daunting or as essential to the vitality of a farm, be it just a few horses or an intense multi-animal operation, as having a trustworthy fencing system.

One might argue that it is possible to physically contain animals within a fence, but the fact of the matter is that physical barriers are difficult and expensive to create. And even the best wire fences only provide physical containment for a while … usually long enough to become a psychological barrier. An animal thwarted by a wire fence will eventually quit testing the fence … until the grass looks so green on the other side that the pressure builds to the point of fence failure. Without a memorable psychological reminder that messing with the fence is unpleasant, virtually any farm animal will test, push, root, rub and eventually break or find a way through, under or over the barrier.

One the most effective and humane forms of fencing uses an unpleasant electrical shock to remind animals that they want to stay away from that fence. Electric fencing is effective as a stand-alone barrier or as part of virtually any other kind of fence. Most folks will use a combination of electric and some physical barrier, as both methods have pros and cons. I prefer electric fencing for larger areas because it affords flexibility as well as being easy to install at a reasonable price.

Installing an electric fence can be intimidating for those new to the process. In reality, an electric fence is one of the most reliable, safe, least expensive methods of animal containment available.

There are many ways in which to design an electric containment system, but the core principles are relatively universal. First you need something that produces the electricity, somewhere for it to go (conductor) and finally, a way for it to return (ground). 


To produce the charge needed to power an electric fence you will need an energizer (also known as a fencer or charger). Energizers exist that can be powered with either AC (plugs into an outlet) or DC (uses a battery, solar panel, or both) electrical current. Most farm-fence energizers use that electricity to deliver a short pulse of very high voltage and low amperage current to the fence. Most of these so-called short-shock chargers deliver a powerful burst of electricity in a concentrated voltage for a fraction of a second every two seconds. Many emit a steady "tick tick tick" along with the pulse to let you know that it is doing its job. This burst quickly dissuades the curious animal from further exploring its escape route and ensures that they do not receive too much of a shock.

5/15/2018 9:45:45 PM

I used the plans at WWW.EASYWOODWORK.ORG to build my own – I highly recommend you visit that website and check their plans out too. They are detailed and super easy to read and understand unlike several others I found online. The amount of plans there is mind-boggling… there’s like 16,000 plans or something like that for tons of different projects. Definitely enough to keep me busy with projects for many more years to come haha Go to WWW.EASYWOODWORK.ORG if you want some additional plans :)

1/10/2016 9:10:15 AM

We are updating a guide on biodiversity conservation for organic farmers and would like to use the first photo in this article with the sheep enclosed in the electric fence. We would of course give the proper credit. Thanks for considering this request. Jo Ann wildfarms@earthlink.net www.wildfarmalliance.org

1/20/2015 4:31:03 AM

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