Electric livestock fencing generally requires minimal maintenance — it doesn’t require checking for loose cross-boards or hazardous nails, and does not need to be repainted with a protective coating every year. However, they do still require basic maintenance to ensure they keep functioning effectively, especially in preparation for winter, which is the season when electric fences are most likely to give problems. In order to confirm that your fence is effective and doing its job you will have to walk along the length of the fence, checking the voltage at various intervals with a voltage meter to ensure that there is sufficient voltage passing down the entire fence line. Should you discover that your fence is dropping power it could be due to a number of reasons, as outlined below.
Worn/Damaged Conducting Wires
Check all fences regularly for damages that could allow livestock to escape or cause injury. Make sure electric fences are working properly; check for damaged fence wire or worn sections of tape, and if necessary carry out an electric fence repair to replace worn sections of your fence so that it will withstand the force of strong winds and/or the weight of snow.
In winter, your livestock will grow thick winter coats that offer insulation and protection from inclement weather. This extra fluffy layer not only insulates them from the cold, but also offers better protection from the electric current pulsating through your electric fence. Consequently, you many need to raise the voltage to increase the amount of current flowing along your electric fence over the winter months to ensure that the electric pulses your livestock receive are sufficiently strong enough to keep them where you want them.
Any grass or bushes that touch the conducting wires of your fence will cause a short circuit, which at best will reduce the power traveling along fence, and at worst render it completely useless. It is therefore imperative that you regularly check the entire fence line for vegetation growth and trim back grass, bushes and overhanging branches as needed. As winter approaches dead branches may drop onto the conducting wires which will drain power and reduce the amount of current flowing along the fence unless removed.
During the cold winter season soils may freeze and become drier due to the lower moisture content within the soil. As moist soil is a better conductor than dry soil, this may negatively affect the electric pulses emitted from your electric fence, which may even stop working altogether. Because the moisture within the soil is reduced, so too is the ability of the charge to travel underground to reach the grounding rods reduced. If the circuit is not completed the livestock won’t receive a shock when they make contact with the fence. Should the soil moisture content drop during cold winter spells or dry summer months, you may need to run a ground-wire return circuit back to the conductors (hot wires) on your electric fence to improve the grounding and solve this problem. To do this you can install one or two extra wires to your electric fence that do not receive current from the charger. Install one near the bottom and one near the top of your fence, then connect them to the grounding system of the fence’s electric circuit. Now, when your animals touch both the charged and uncharged wires simultaneously they will receive a shock, as these uncharged wires replace soil moisture as the conductor to complete the circuit.
During winter, heavy snowfalls can also cause problems with electric fencing. Snow drifts can accumulate and build up on the ground below your fence, eventually touching the bottom conducting wires. This can cause power to be drained from the fence in the same way that vegetation touching wires does, causing your fence to be less effective. If you live in an area that experiences heavy snowfalls in winter you can prevent this by installing a cut-off switch that will enable you to disconnect the bottom wires during periods of heavy snow. By cutting power to the lower wires, the power will not be drained from the fence and the wires further up the fence will continue to emit electric pulses to keep your animals safe and secure in their field.
Solar chargers (energizers) need to receive an adequate supply of sunlight to keep the fence charged. In winter you need to make sure that solar panels feeding the charger are kept free of snow, leaves and any other debris that may reduce their effectiveness. If you are not able to check solar panels when the weather turns bad then you may need to opt for an alternative backup power source, such as a portable battery-powered energizer to ensure the fence remains powered while you are snowed under.
By conducting regular checks and basic fence maintenance to ensure your fence is adequately grounded; that conducting wires are not being undermined by snow drifts, vegetation or fallen branches; and that your fence is receiving sufficient power along its entire length, you can hunker down by the fire with the peace of mind that your animals are safe and secure.
Featured Image by Brian Yap, [CC BY-NC 2.0] via Flickr