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17 Mistakes to Avoid With Electric Fencing

By   /  April 20, 2015  /  7 Comments

Wayne wrote this article back in 1998, and even though some of the technology has changed, the mistakes we make haven’t. While this is geared toward high tensile fences, most of the tips will serve you just as well for your temporary, polywire fences.

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20125237884a8e4a687d3ffb97a71df3With 30 years of experience building hundreds of miles of smooth-wire electric fence, I’ve seen just about every fencing mistake possible. And I continue to see folks make many of the same common mistakes. I still make mistakes myself, because I’m constantly challenging myself to make fencing easier, faster, stronger, and safer.

High-tensile, smooth wire, electric fencing is the fastest and most affordable fence that I know about, and its technology has drastically improved over the past 10 years. But many folks are hesitant to use it because they remember old failures — wires breaking, chargers starting fires, wet vegetation shorting out the fence and other troubles.

With a little commitment and a modest investment in time to learn how to use this new technology, you can save thousands of dollars and hours of maintenance time by making electric fencing work for you. So you won’t have to learn the hard way, here are 17 common mistakes that you should avoid:

1. Poor earth grounding

Lots of folks (including me) still think you can skimp when it comes to adequate earth grounding. What we must all learn to do, is install several ground rods — at least three that are 6 to 8 feet long, galvanized, and attached with good ground clamps. The electricity must complete a full circle back to the charger through the ground. Poor grounding gives weak shocks.

2. Using different types of metals.

Don’t do it. When you hook up steel wire to copper something call electrolysis happens and the metal becomes corroded, making a poor contact and weakening shocking power.

Claghorn-and-Hunt-0073. Inadequate animal training.

Each and every animal must learn that the fence hurts. So please build a handy training fence, preferably on heavy wet soil. Flag the fence for visibility, and force the animal to try and cross the fence.

4. Fenceposts too close together.

Well-intended government agencies recommend lots of fenceposts in their fencing specifications. Fifty-foot spacing on flat land is just too close. You want the fence to act like a rubber band. When something runs into the wire, you don’t want to break all the insulators or knock posts out of the ground. If the posts are spread apart far enough — say 80 to 100 feet — the wire will just bend to the ground and pop back up.

5. Too many wire tie-offs.

Again, fencing specifications may call for braces every quarter mile wire to tie the wire off. But I have found that even 5,000 feet is OK, and actually adds more elasticity in the fence wire. This reduces the chance of wires breaking.

6. Wires tied tight to each fencepost.

To maintain elasticity (the rubber band effect), wires must float past each line fencepost.

7. Building new fences near old existing fences.

Old fence wires seem to be always moving somewhere and coming in contact with the new electrified wires. This almost always causes a complete short in the fence, and away the animals go.

Overgrown_fnc8. Bottom wire in contact with heavy, wet vegetation.

Wet grass will suck lots of juice out of any fence charger. Hook up the lower wires separate from the other wires, and install a switch for the lower wires that you can turn them off when the grass is tall.

9. Poor-quality insulators.

Be careful here. Sunlight deteriorates plastic. So buy good-quality, long-lasting insulators. Usually black ones are treated to resist degradation by ultraviolet light. I have found that poor quality insulators turn white or clear after a few years in direct sunlight.

10. Staples driven in all the way.

When using plastic tubing as an insulator, don’t staple it too tight. I once spent several hours trying to find a short in a gate. Finally, I discovered a staple had damaged the tubing next to a ground wire, causing a hidden short.

11. Solar panels not directly facing the sun.

This seems almost too obvious to be a problem. But a solar panel won’t function at its potential if not properly installed. Please read the instructions. Don’t just guess if you have done it right.

12. Kinks in high-tensile wire.

A small kink in stiff wire will always break. Also avoid hitting this kind of wire with a hammer, as this will easily damage the wire causing a break. Always cut out a damaged section of high tensile wire and splice it. Incidentally, I have found that a hand-tied square knot makes the strongest splice.

13. Installing in-line strainers close together.

Wires will flip together once in awhile. If in-line strainers are installed one above the other, they will sometimes hook up. Separate in-line strainers by a fencepost and they will never catch on each other.

14. Wires too close to each other.

Keep them at least 5 inches apart.

electric-fence-testers15. No voltmeter.

Without a voltage meter to check how hot a fence is, you’re just guessing.

16. Wire too small.

The larger the wire, the more electricity it will carry. Don’t skimp.

17. Inadequate charger.

A wimpy fence charger gives you a wimpy fence. Don’t skimp here because animals will think a smooth wire fence is a joke without a strong bite, and they’ll walk right through it.

Your fence charger should be low-impedance, come from a dependable supplier, and have a warranty and replaceable components. Please buy one that puts out lots of power. During a rainy year, you may have lots of plant growth touching the wires. That’s when you will need extra power to shock through the heavy, wet vegetation. It’s also handy to find folks with an extra charger they can loan to you while yours is being repaired. Expect some breakdowns, especially from lightning. Certain fence suppliers offer lightning protection with their warranties. You can also install lightening protectors.

Don’t be afraid to try electric smooth wire fencing. Find a good fence suppler and learn some of the tricks of the trade. I know folks who hate electric fencing. But their pocketbook is not big enough to build a conventional fence, which may cost up to $1 per foot.

The next time your bulls get in a fight with the neighbors bulls and tear down all the fence, remember that most animals will learn not to touch a wire with 5,000 volts running thorough it.

Raise the On Pasture Barn

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7 Comments

  1. Sharon says:

    Hi Wayne,

    Thanks for answering questions here. And confirming my thought that the fence itself makes a good grounding system.

    My question is about having the ground for 2 different systems close together. We have frequent falling trees and teenage bulls pushing other bulls into fences causing shorts. (Most hotwires are on extended insulators on regular field fencing to protect fencing.) Where I have a Parmak rangemaster, which has plenty of power unless a problem occurs, I am thinking of dividing the system. There is only one set of electricial outlets in the area.

    If I use a second system plugged into the same pumphouse, I have a Parmak Mark 5 bought, do I need to have a big seperation between the ground rods? I think there is already a PG&E transformer ground there.

    What about putting a ground rod in a little creek?

    • This is my two cents on your question, by the way I’m a different Wayne, but I enjoy being where I can.

      In most books and diagrams about electric fence it will talk about locations of ground systems. On any electric fence ground system you should install it about 30 – 40 feet from any other ground system, be it another fence chargers ground or the electric company.

      If you install a new ground system too close to the existing chargers ground, say 10′ away or less, here’s the biggest thing I hear happens: The chargers will start to compete over the ground systems, and the most important thing to the whole system is your ground. If your ground isn’t adequate, then the shock on the fence won’t be as strong to the animals.

      If your electric company’s ground is close by, you’ll want to make sure your charger’s ground is also 30 – 40 feet away. What sometimes happens is there’s a signal or magnetic field coming from the charger’s ground, same with the electric company’s ground. If the charger’s ground signal bleeds over into the electric company’s ground, you can get the ticking sounds to feedback and start hearing in your home where you don’t want to or your neighbors will hear it. It could come through your phone speakers, tv speakers, computer speakers, mess with your modem internet signal. I’ve seen and heard a few horror stories of aggravation.

      Also if you get a lightning strike or a static surge from a storm traveling down the fence, it’s got to go to ground eventually. If it goes to your charger’s ground, it could possibly jump into the electric company’s ground and cause trouble there.

      So it’s best to just put the ground systems about 30 – 40 feet away or more from any other ground system so you don’t start pulling out your hair with frustration. These things may never happen, but they can and have plenty of times.

      Hopefully this helps you out some from the bit I know. I’m a repair guy on fence charger units, but been around and heard enough of these issues from people, so I’m trying to pass it along.

      Wayne Fencer Fixer

  2. becky waegell says:

    For grounding can you bury a long length of galvanized wire (1×7, 7/16 diameter)? I prefer having something flexible coming out of the ground. Plus I seem to have accumulated a bunch of galvanized guy wire and I would like to use it.

    • Hello Becky,

      Should work, however, the galvanized wire will ruts in a few years.
      I would use all kinds of grounding, like ground rods spaced 10 feet apart in wet soil and also hook the same wire to existing steel post fencing as each post becomes a ground rod. More the better.
      Wayne the compost guy

  3. Gene says:

    When installing ground rods, should the be installed in a row, tied together, near the charger or at different locations around the fence.

    Thanks

    • Hi Gene,

      I install like three ground rods in a row spaced 10 feet apart and pick a low damp place if handy. Also hook the same ground wire to an standard barbed wire fence with steel post as each post becomes a ground rod. Again if handy.
      Wayne the compost guy

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