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Electric Fencing | Fall 2013 Out Here Magazine

Man installing electric fence - Tractor Supply Co.
A fence is electrified by a controller, which produces pulses of electricity on a fence wire so that animals touching the fence receive an intense shock.

Power up to keep livestock in and predators out

By Carol Davis

Photography by Tractor Supply Co.

If you have experienced the frustration of chasing down runaway cattle or horses, then you know that good fencing is essential to keeping livestock.

Electric fencing might be one option. It's a reliable, cost-effective way to keep your animals in and predators out.

Because electric fencing's shock value works partly as a psychological barrier, rather than solely as a strong physical barrier, it can be made of lighter materials than a non-electrified fence. This makes electric fences less expensive and easier to install and maintain.

Furthermore, livestock never push or rub up against an electric fence as they try to scratch an itch, so electric fences last longer.
A fence is electrified by a controller, which produces pulses of electricity on a fence wire so that animals touching the fence receive an intense shock.

Because the pulse duration is so short — it lasts only microseconds — the shock is safe for humans and animals of all sizes. However, animals inside and outside the enclosure quickly learn to avoid the fence.

Controllers produce electrical pulses on the fence about once every second. In between, there is a one-second period in which there is no electrical energy on the fence. This is called the "off time" or "recovery time." Off time allows the animal to recover from the shock and get away from the fence.

Fence controllers come in two types:

Low-impedance, which can increase their energy output as fence load increases. They have a large reserve of current and are able to charge very long fences or fences that are overgrown by green growth. So as weeds touch the fence and draw voltage and amperage to earth, a low-impedance fence produces higher amounts of energy to overcome the voltage and current loss. That allows the fence to maintain the energy levels needed to control animals.

High-impedance, also known as solid state, do not have the capability of increasing their output energy as fence load increases, so they "short out" when too many weeds touch the fence.

Purchase the largest, most powerful controller you can afford. Otherwise, as you expand, introduce hard-to-control animals, or face weedy fence conditions, you may find yourself with a fence that's not doing the job.

Other considerations:

Fence wire. High-tensile fences require a low-impedance controller. As a rule of thumb, the larger the diameter of the wire, the easier electricity will flow over and through it.

Your livestock. Easy-control animals — horses, pigs, shorthaired livestock — will do fine with high-impedance fencing. Long-haired animals, sheep, goats, bulls, deer, and predators, such as coyotes and wolves, require intense shocks, like those delivered by a low-impedance controller, to truly fear the fence.

Vegetation along the fence. Weeds zap energy from the fence and if yours grow up and touch the fence, you need low-impedance. With no weed growth, either high- or low-impedance controllers can easily energize conventional steel and aluminum fences.

Fence condition. Rusty fence wire impedes the flow of electricity. New, shiny wire is much easier to energize.

Carol Davis, editor of Out Here, has experienced firsthand the frustration of chasing down escaped cattle and horses.