The type of fence you build for your animals will be most effective if you’ve first considered the nature of your animals and the size of area to be fenced. The size and location of the enclosure determine the pressure the fence will receive from animals. Consider, too, the labor and skill available for installation.
For many applications, electric fencing, in particular, offers flexibility of design and construction. Properly designed electric fencing can effectively restrain many types of animal – from bison to geese and rabbits. While not a good choice for deer and elk, electric fencing works well for pigs, cattle, and horses. With effective design and animal training, electric fencing can even work for sheep and goats.
After animals are trained, electric fencing presents a psychological barrier rather than a physical one. While deciding whether the area to be fenced requires fixed materials or lends itself to electric construction, determine how the size and use of the enclosure will affect animal behavior.
For instance, sheep grazing good pasture in a large acreage may be restrained by electric fencing because they behave differently from sheep confined in a small area where they are fed hay.
“Sheep, in particular, tend to walk a fence looking for a way out, and if there’s a dip in the ground, for instance, creating a 10- to 12-inch gap between the ground and the fence, they’ll slip beneath the wire there,” says David Lautt of Lautt’s Feed and Supply, a livestock fencing and supply outlet in Harvey, North Dakota. His retail business formerly offered a contract fencing service for all classes of livestock.
Sheep confined to a relatively small area might best be contained by physical-barrier fencing. Sorting alleys or small enclosures, too, are high-pressure areas also best suited to physical-barrier fencing.
Fencing that creates a physical barrier is constructed of fixed materials such as wooden planks, metal livestock panels, sucker rod, welded wire, or high-tensile mesh wire well supported with line posts set in the ground.
If you choose to install an electric fence, first consider that its effectiveness will be influenced by two aspects of animal behavior.
1. Imprinting. When animals learn respect for a fence at a very young age, they tend to carry this obedience into adulthood. For instance, even a minimal electric fence built from two well-energized polywires can imprint baby goats so effectively that, even as adults, they will respect two-wire electric fencing systems. Effective first lessons are the key and depend on proper wire height relative to the baby goat and a powerful energizer.
2. Escaping. Any weakness in the fence that permits or encourages animals to escape trains an escaping behavior into the animal. Once an animal finds a way out of an enclosure, it tends to repeatedly return to the weak spot, seeking a way out.
Some individuals within any group of animals tend to persistently find ways to get outside of the fence, particularly in the case of electric fences. These troublemakers lure other animals outside the fence, and that trains the whole group in the art of escaping.
“The only way to solve that problem is to get rid of those individuals or to confine them in a fence constructed of materials creating a physical barrier,” says Lautt.
When designing electric fencing, consider that multiple wires and line posts set at a relatively close spacing strengthen an animal’s perception that the electric fence, indeed, presents something of a physical barrier.
When multiple wires are used, Lautt suggests first setting the bottom wire at a level that discourages an animal from going underneath. Next, set the top wire at the face level of the target species to be contained. Set the middle wires at spacings relative to the size of the animal.
“On a five-wire sheep fence that’s 3 feet high, space the wires 6 inches apart,” he says. “For rabbits and poultry, you might space the wires 2 to 3 inches apart.”
1. High-tensile wire. This wire’s relatively thick 12.5-gauge dimension conducts electricity effectively. It also offers strength, making it a good choice for perimeter fencing because it resists breaking. On the downside, the thickness of the wire can make it hard to handle.
High-tensile wire requires strong corner and end bracing. The bracing is best built in an H design using 6-inch-diameter wooden 8-foot posts set 3½ feet in the ground.
Line posts for high-tensile electric fencing should also be of strong construction, such as steel T-posts or wood posts of 3 inches to 5 inches in diameter.
Cost: High-tensile wire costs 2½¢ a foot; treated wood line posts, $4 to $10 each; 5½-foot steel posts, $5.30 each; treated corner posts, $16.50 each.
2. Galvanized 14-gauge wire. This lighter wire is relatively easy to work with and can be hand-stretched from single corner posts. Wood posts or steel T-posts can serve as corner braces. For relatively short fence spans, 1-inch or larger plastic pound-in posts can also serve as corners or end posts. This wire will break or stretch if larger animals, such as cattle or horses, hit it with speed.
Light step-in line posts of diverse designs can work with 14-gauge wire. Plastic posts require no insulators. Metal-rod step-in posts are particularly durable, and the screw-on insulators offer infinite adjustments in wire height.
3. Polywire. While conducting electricity is slightly less effective than metal wire, light and flexible single-strand polywire offers ease of installation for temporary fencing for domesticated livestock. Wider and more visible polytape is an alternative choice for horses. Handheld reels permit ease of unrolling and rolling up the wire. Any type of step-in, insulated line posts will support the polywire.
Cost: Varies by brand, diameter, and electrical conductivity; 2¢ to 5¢ a foot for ⅛-inch polywire, up to 14¢ a foot for ¼-inch polywire.
4. Polywire netting. This portable mesh fencing suits all classes of livestock, particularly sheep and goats. Mesh squares range from 3½ to 7 inches. Netting comes in rolls with built-in step-in posts. Height varies from 28 inches to 48 inches.
Cost: $1.50 a foot for 48-inch-tall netting with 3½-inch spacings; $1.20 a foot for 48-inch-tall netting with 7-inch openings.
5. Energizers. These are available in plug-in, battery-powered, and solar models. A fencing supplier can help you match energizer size to the design of your fencing system.
Purchasing an energizer of more-than-sufficient power helps ensure conductivity even under less-than-ideal conditions such as tall grass or weeds, which impede electrical current when touching the wire. Install with one or more ground rods.
Cost: Varies by manufacturer and joule output. Plug-in 110-volt energizers providing .30 joules and sized for a 20-acre system may cost $85; a plug-in model providing .50 joules and sized for a 50-acre system may cost $115. Solar energizers sized for smaller systems may cost from $100 to $200.
6. Voltage meters. Handheld digital voltage meters tell you the strength of the electrical current in the wires. Low readings indicate electrical shorts or poorly performing design components in the fence.
“For cattle, I like to see a reading of 3 kilovolts or higher,” says Lautt. “A reading of 3.5 to 4 kilovolts is better for sheep, for instance.”
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