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Teaching Livestock to Respect Electric Fences

By   /  May 6, 2019  /  2 Comments

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Electric fencing is fine. It makes it possible to be more flexible and versatile with our management and I recommend it without reservation. As one of the ads by one of the companies that sell power fencing products states, it will maximize grazing and increase profits, and without question, that’s what all of us who use or plan to use electric fences are hoping to do. But, as with most things that we do there is a process, a step-by-step method, that makes all of this work as it should work.

Electric Fences Require Us To Work With Animal Psychology

Now we all can recognize that a 4 or 5 strand hard wire electric fence with proper post spacing is without question a physical barrier. But what about that one strand of poly wire that will divide the pasture on a temporary basis and is moved periodically? Cattle can push it down, run thru it or jump over it. Sheep and goats can push against it and go under it or over it as well. (Now I’m guessing here about the sheep and goats I really don’t know about them.)

I have never attended a pasture walk or workshop that included fencing instruction that did not emphasize the fact that electric fencing, especially poly-wire, is a psychological barrier not a physical one. Yet, the mistake I have seen some folks make, and they pay for it over and over again, is simply failing to train the livestock to respect the electric fence. Their animals don’t understand the idea of a psychological barrier. This can lead to frustration, wasted time, and in some cases a complete collapse of the whole operation.

So Start With Training

Here’s how we have trained hundreds of stocker calves to the electric fence and I have been told that this works for sheep and goats as well. These are sale barn calves not home raised calves so it is fair to say that some of them have not been treated very well. The calves are unloaded into a catch pen with water and hay and are kept there for 24 hours.

The day that they are turned out of these pens they are released into what we call a trap. This is a gathering pen that funnels into the working pens. The calves are not driven out of the pens that they have spent the last 24 hours in. We just open the gate, walk away, and leave the calves on their own.

The trap has two rolls of hay, one at each end, and a water trough at the end farthest from the gate leaving the catch pen. We run a single poly wire across the trap, except for an opening on one side about 15 feet wide. Animals must be travel through this gap to get from one end of the trap to the other and with the water trough only on one end it becomes necessary to make this trip. The rolls of hay are placed close to the hard wire perimeter to cut down on fence walking.

The part of this whole process that makes it work is the fact that the cattle are allowed to move from the catch pens into the trap on their own. This cuts down on a lot of running and gives them the opportunity to explore their surroundings without being harassed. The fact that they are satisfying their curiosity will cause them to discover the poly wire across the trap and come in contact with it on their own. Without question this will be a shocking experience, and it is seldom that a calf will try it more than a couple of times and then it will learn to walk to the end of the poly wire. There will be from time to time when a calf will jump into the poly wire and take it down then it is just a simple task to put it back up, no real damage. After a day or two the calves have learned that every fence plus the poly wire will shock so they learn to avoid all fences.

This isn’t at Don’s place, but it gives you the idea of what’s happening.

Now it is time to turn the calves into the paddocks. We have learned that it works best to not make the first paddock any larger than it needs to be to allow for one days grazing. This cuts down on walking and still gives the calves what they need. We want and need the calves to follow us so it will take some time for them to learn to come to call but the fact that they are going to fresh grass will, after a few days, make this an easy chore.

If there is a secret to this it is allowing the cattle time to learn about the electric fence from their  experience.

I hope this helps you get a good start. Let me know what training methods you use.

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About the author

My name is Don Ashford and my wife is Betty and we live in Ethel, LA. It would be impossible for me to write a bio about myself without including Betty in it. We have been together since high school. I was in the senior class of 1955 and she was in the class of 1957. Do the math. We have raised cattle since 1959 except for a little time that I spent with Uncle Sam. We have grazed stockers, owned several cow- calf herds and custom grazed cattle for other folks. I worked as a pipefitter for more than 25 years. Until we went into the dairy business in 1977 we were as most people down here part-timers or week-end ranchers. Later after we had learned enough about MIG to talk about it so that it would be understood by others we put together a pasture-walk group to introduce it to our friends and neighbors. We belong to more farm groups then we probably should but we get great joy working with other people. What makes us most proud are our son and daughter, our 5 grandkids and our 7 great-grand kids. It has been a hell of a trip so far, but we are not done yet.


  1. Ken says:

    a sketch would be helpful in understanding the trap setup, I think I get it but a drawing would sure help.

  2. Mr. Ashford’s comments are spot on for training Livestock to recognize a pain learned deterrent “fence” as an obstacle to avoid it’s future contact. I would further add this “training” goes beyond just Domestic Livestock and should also include Wildlife. This article does also show a photo with “flagging tape” and one of the biggest complaints we have heard over many years on this product is that it is not slip resistant tied onto smooth barrier fencing and as the photo shows will eventually end up at the posts. For VISIBILITY, especially in darkness, we need to have the barrier detectable, as animals in flight and legs rarely impact the posts, but rather the barrier between them. Yes, Flagging Tape is VISIBLE but only due to MOTION detection. Most Wildlife and all Ungulate “hoofed” Domestic Livestock cannot detect the color RED, and will be invisible for detection to most in darkness. As the photo shows, this product will eventually slide down to posts, when tied onto smooth wire or cordage. The reader will find another suggestion for “training Livestock to recognize and forbid trespass of DC Energized wire or cordage barriers” at http://WWW.FENCEFLAGWOLFTRAINING.COM, and will further explain what we and others can or cannot SEE. DJK

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