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Extension > Food > Small Farms > Small Farms > Electric Fencing for Livestock

Electric Fencing for Livestock

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By Laura Kieser
Extension Educator, Carver and Scott Counties

There are many fencing options for livestock. One of the most economical choices is electric fencing. Electric fencing may have lower financial and labor investment compared to other fencing alternatives. Here are some pointers to keep in mind when designing your electric fence.

Layout: Decide where your fence is going to go and what type of livestock it will be used for. It is often helpful to draw a picture of what you want the fence to look like when it's completed. This will help you determine where gates, water and laneways should be. It will also help to plan where different types of posts will be located. When sketched on paper it is easy to make changes to your plan.

Materials: It is important to have a properly sized charger for the length of fence that you are constructing. The fence also needs to be properly grounded. A good rule of thumb for determining the length of ground rod needed is three feet of ground rod per Joule of charge on the charger. When building the fence you will need to consider how many wires to attach, what type and how many posts to install. Usually you want to have three or more lines of wire on perimeter fencing. Up to five lines may be needed on perimeter fencing for smaller livestock. The strength of the wire used will also vary depending on the type of livestock being contained. Higher gauge wire will have a longer life, but is stiffer to work with. Posts will vary in size. Wire should be galvanized or coted to prevent rust. Corner posts should be built from heavy, treated wood as they are supporting the fence. Posts along the fence can be steel, fiberglass or wood. These will maintain wire spacing around the fence line. When considering insulators to secure the wire to the posts, invest in porcelain polyethylene or wrap around insulators. Although these options may be slightly more expensive, they will pay for themselves in the long run.

Tools: You will need to purchase a few tools to make constructing your fence a manageable project. You can find wire strainers/ratchets that can adjust the tension on the fence. The strainer needs to be stronger than the wire you use. Tensions springs will help to tighten shorter stretches of the fence. A posthole digger and post driver will help with setting corner posts. A wire spinner will help you to layout lines of wire efficiently. A crimp tool used with crimp sleeves helps to connect wires while maintaining strength. Other useful tools that can be used, but are not specific to fence building include: pliers, hammers, and shovels.

When you start to build your fence, be sure of the legal boundary of your property. You wouldn't want to build a section of your fence on your neighbor's property. Remember that electric fencing is a "psychological barrier" so it is critical that livestock can see the fence. Be sure to limit temptations outside of the fence line. If your fence line is next to a wooded area, goats for example would be tempted to browse through the fence. Clearing a path around the fence takes the temptation away as well as making the fence easier to maintain.

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