How to Use an Electric Net Fence for Livestock
What's an Electric Net Fence?
An electric net fence, sometimes called poultry, goat, or sheep netting, is an effective and affordable way to contain your farm animals. These fences come in heights ranging from 33 to 48 inches, lengths ranging from 80 to 165 feet, and can keep in livestock animals including poultry, small ruminants, and cattle.
The netting is comprised of both plastic lines and poly-wire, which carries the electricity through the fencing.
Let's get real for a second, though: As soon as I type the word "electricity," I have to remind myself that I know little about it. In fact, I probably understand as much or less than the average person does about how electricity travels, conducts, and even contains farm animals. But despite my general ignorance in the subject of electromagnetism, I figured out how to set up and use my electric net fence, and my goal here is to give you enough information to do it, too.
Setting up the Fence
The manufacturer of your electric net fence likely included specific instructions about how to untie, unroll, and/or otherwise unpack your fence from the package it came in. Follow these instructions carefully, and if they warn you to save the ties that originally bound the fence in its bundle, I suggest you do so! You might need them later.
These fences are so easy to use it actually blows my mind. Coming from a farm where I used to split fence rails out of logs for fence material (and I still would, if I had trees on my property suitable to rail splitting), this has been a big and welcome change for me. The netting of the fence comes already attached to the posts, and all one need do is point the post into the ground and step on the foot pedestal to drive the post into the earth. It's really that simple.
The length of your fence will determine how large a space you can fence in at one time. For instance, if you have a 164-foot fence, you might choose to create a square paddock that is 41 feet on each side; or, create a rectangular paddock that is 31 by 51; or, create a circular paddock.
You get the idea.
One of the most advantageous things about the electric net fence is that you can fence in just about any irregularly shaped area, bypass obstacles like trees and outbuildings, and not sacrifice much in the way of square footage for your animals.
Once you've planned out the area that you are going to fence in, you should mow down any tall weeds or grass that would press against your fence. Electric net fences generally work by sending electric pulses rather than a continuous charge, and are much more forgiving of tall grass and other impediments than traditional electric wire. That being said, anything pressing up against your fence can still ground it out and drain power from your power source.
My fencer of choice
Selecting an Appropriate Fencer (Energizer, Charger, or Transformer) for your Fence
I have heard and read the terms "fencer," "charger," "energizer," and "transformer," used interchangeably to describe the device that supplies the electric charge to your fence, and thereby enables the fence to shock livestock, predators, and people than come in contact with it. As far as I am aware, these terms are all correct and refer to basically the same items.
The manufacturer of your fence will specify how many joules are needed to correctly charge your fence. For instance, my fence requires only 1/4 of a joule (.25 joule). It's important to select a transformer that will deliver, minimally, the power that your fence requires. Or, you can make the mistake I did, in my blissful ignorance, ignore such information, and end up scurrying around trying to figure out why your fence won't get hot! This isn't fun, exactly, when you have sheep and goats that are in the process of dismantling your fence while you fiddle around with electricity.
There are a couple different ways that a transformer can deliver power to the electric net fence: AC or DC. An AC charger will plug directly into a power outlet and will likely need to be kept indoors and out of the elements. A DC charger might need to be connected to a 6 or 12 volt battery, and may also require indoor installation. The best type of charger, in this farmer's humble opinion, is a solar-powered charger. For obvious reasons, these fencers are designed to be used outdoors and withstand inclement weather. You don't need to worry about locations where power outlets are scarce. They work by using a small array of solar panels to charge a 6 or 12 volt battery, the power from which the transformer uses to make your fence nice and hot. Solar powered chargers are generally more expensive that others, but for those looking for self-sustainable farming and getting off the grid, they are an excellent investment. My charger can deliver up to 3/4 joules, so I could theoretically connect three net fences together to create a larger paddock and charge them all with my single charger.
A note on ground rods...
The Internet is rife with information on ground rods, and expensive products that you can purchase. I wasn't interested in driving an 8-foot long rod into the ground every time I had to move my fence, and I wasn't keen on spending $80 on such a thing either, so as with most things I used a little trial and error.
My ground rod is a simple piece of 3/4" copper water pipe left over from my bathroom renovation project. It's roughly three feet long and hasn't failed me yet. And it was free.
You could also experiment with using rebar, a metal t-stake, or any other metal rod-type object that you can drive into the earth with a simple sledgehammer. If one item doesn't work, try a longer one; if copper water line doesn't work, try something that isn't hollow.
Connecting the Fence to the Energizer and Making your Fence "Hot"
Here's where the Internet kind of failed me in my first attempt to use an electric net fence. So either this information is super-obvious common knowledge formerly unknown to me, or I'll be doing future livestock-keepers a great service by explaining the following process!
Three essential items are needed (besides the fence itself) to properly electrify your net fence: the previously discussed transformer, jumper cables for making connections, and the all-important ground or earth rod.
As with the energizer, I've heard and read the terms ground rod and earth rod used interchangeably, and again, as far as I can tell they refer to the same thing. The ground rod is simply a long piece of conductive metal, such as copper, driven into the ground. The negative end of the jumper cable (usually the black one) is connected to the ground rod, as well as to the fence energizer.
Here are simple, novice-friendly instructions for connecting your energizer to your net fence:
1. If your energizer has an on/off switch, make sure it is off.
2. Connect either positive end of your jumper cable to the positive terminal on your energizer.
3. Connect either negative end of your jumper cable to the negative terminal on your charger.
4. Connect the other negative end of your jumper cable to your ground rod. Make sure metal is touching metal.
5. Connect the other positive end of your jumper cable to the metal clips that hang off the two end posts of your fence. These clips are probably designed to clip together.
6. If your energizer has an on/off switch, turn it on.
You should hear a ticking or crackling noise as your fence energizes, especially coming from the charger itself.
Safety Precaution: NEVER grab the terminals on your charger with your hands while your charger is on! You will create and complete the circuit and could be injured!
Testing the Fence
Before you can trust that your electric net fence will properly contain your animals and protect them from predators, you need to know that it is hot.
There are products that you can purchase, called fence testers, that will tell you exactly what kind of charge your fence is giving. This is, admittedly, probably the safest route to go. However, if you've read any of my other hubs, you're probably aware that I don't like to spend money. So to test my fence, I touch it myself. I do this because I firmly believe that it will not kill me, because even though I don't understand much about electricity, I know that the energizer I purchased is meant to contain livestock animals, and the name of the game is to discourage them from trying to escape from the fence, not to kill them.
If your fence is properly charged, touching it should deliver to you a small, uncomfortable shock. "Painful" isn't a word I'd use to describe the sensation, but "discouraging" sounds pretty accurate.
If you are fencing in animals that are not used to electric fences, it would behoove you to spend some time observing them when they are first put into the charged fence. I currently house a modest number of sheep and goats, and have watched every one of them experiment with touching the fence. For most of the animals, once was enough; for a couple brave souls, they needed a second opinion.
Two of my goats are smart enough to realize that when we start moving the fence around (grabbing the posts and repositioning them so that we can relocate the grazing paddock - another hub for another time) the fence is no longer going to shock them. Now, every time we move the fence, these two does will push right through it, knowing it won't hurt, to get out. Our solution so far is to simply let them go. We're lucky in that both animals are sweethearts, and when the time comes they will allow us to catch and lead them back into the fence. Good luck to you if your skittish animals also turn out to be the smart ones!