Electric fence is a non-traditional way to enclose areas for livestock. There are multiple options available for use and many different scenarios where it is applicable. Let’s look at the pros and cons of using electric fencing and a few reasons you might choose to use electric fence.
What is an Electric Fence?
Electric fence is simply a wire that is run through insulators on fence posts instead of fencing staples. The wire is then hooked up to a fencer that applies an electric current to the fence line. As long as the fence is a complete circuit without being grounded out, the current will stay in just the wire. A ground out scenario is when the electric current is directed into the ground by a conducting material. This can be a stick connecting the wire to the ground, grass, or even weeds. It also applies to anything that touches the wire that is able to connect to the ground completely. The current can then conduct into the ground. If an animal or human touches the wire, the current can conduct through and the result is a solid shock.
Types of Electric Fence
There are also several different kinds of electric fence. It isn’t necessarily a one size fits all. There’s high tensile wire fence, there’s just regular wire, and there’s also something known as poly wire. Each of these types have different scenarios that are better fits than others.
For example, when we rented some pasture one year we came across a scenario where some water had gone over the previous fence line. But we still wanted to ensure that our cows were going to stay within their pasture. To combat the issue, we decided to put up a temporary electric fence around the outside perimeter of the water to not only keep the cows out of the water but to ensure that they didn’t go through the potentially broken down fence that was within the water.
Now, we did learn some things from the experience. We initially just put up one strand of wire. This ended up keeping our cows in quite well. But the calves were able to just walk underneath the one strand of electric wire. This potentially wouldn’t have been a huge problem except the cows were more likely to push through the fence to get to their calves. So, we ended up adding a poly wire that was not only more visible to the calves but was also at about their chest height. This resulted in the calves not pushing up against the electric fence anymore or crossing under.
Temporary VS Permanent
There’s also the concept of whether or not you want the fence to be temporary or permanent which I’ve already alluded a bit to in our pasture fiasco.
Electric is a great option for temporary fencing. It’s fairly easy to put up and take down. You can even use lighter weight step in posts compared to heavy weight steel t-posts. Temporary fencing is great for rotationally grazing a large pasture or even grazing grazing field crop residues in the fall. In temporary fencing scenarios, using a lighter weight wire or even poly wire are great options.
Poly wire has a lot of awesome benefits for temporary fencing. It’s more flexible than regular wire and is also lighter so it’s much easier to roll back up when you’re done using it.
If You’re looking at more of a permanent situation, you are probably going to want to lean towards stronger posts and heavier duty or higher tensile wire. Let’s say you have some barbed wire fencing that is getting older and in worse condition. Repairing the fence would probably best, but sometimes pending budget and stage of the fence, it doesn’t make sense to do so quite yet. Instead, to add an extra bit of resistance to the fence, you can add a strand of electric which will deter the cattle from applying excessive pressure to the fence and causing worse damage.
People have also fenced in larger areas with just high tensile wire. It’s definitely an option, but I would only really say this can be a helpful resource in larger lots in which you don’t intend to apply heavy cattle pressure against the fence line.
The pros of electric fence have been partially laid out. It’s much cheaper and more affordable than putting in a fence line of barbed wire. Depending on your goals, it can be a great resource. It works exceptionally well for temporary fencing and can be a great addition to marginal fence lines that need a bit of extra support to enforce the boundary line.
The cons of electric mainly revolve around the maintenance. With electric, you need to make sure that there is a strong enough fencer every year to keep the wire hot enough that the cattle will respect it. If you were to also have any incidences where the current flow gets damaged, say a branch falls on it, or it grounds out somewhere, the cattle will be more likely to get out. Therefore, you definitely need a reliable electric source strong enough to apply the needed amount of current.
An option worth considering
Electric fencing is definitely an option to be considered depending on your goals for a fence line. It provides a great barrier, but it does require extra care and maintenance. If you don’t have a reliable energy source, I would probably advise against using electric only unless you can check the fencing regularly.
Where have you seen electric fencing used? What are your favorite fencing materials?