As farmers we love….LOVE, to use what we have. We all have unique things in our “organized” junk piles. By organized, I mean you can find it but you cannot describe where it is to anyone else with success. And each one of us specializes in something a little different than the other. You use what you know about to make a quick fix. Someone handy with metal will just weld something up real quick. If you have an abundant supply of bale string, your whole farm is being held together by it. If you prefer to work with wood, every problem you have will be solved with a hammer and nail. And when none of those will suit, you reach for duct tape or a pallet.
We say things like:
- That ought to hold.
- That’s not coming down.
- It won’t blow off.
- If this breaks again, I quit.
- They won’t get out now.
One of the most common areas to cobble something together real quick is fence. The fence was never designed to have a pallet as a gate, or a bale string and a stick as a wire tensioner. Attaching the ground rod to a silo ring isn’t the answer either. We all cheat occasionally because we need a quick fix.
Here are the 20 most common places we fail with electric high tensile fence.
20. Failure to own a roll of polywire– Polywire is awesome. Every farm should have at least a roll. It is quick and easy to roll out and make a temporary lane or pasture. It is meant to be INSIDE an existing steel wire. It is not meant to be a boundary or permanent fence. My favorite use for every farm is a quick way to corral cattle that get out. Fasten one end to something solid (the gate) and roll as far as you need to make a wall to herd back the free spirits. Pasture people know this. You guys with your cows inside, your cows still get out. I have seen your cow pushers leave gates and doors open. It is a losing battle for one lonely soul to be whistling at 400 head while they are pouring out of a little doorway to freedom.
19. Do not buy fence supplies where they sell horse feed- It’s tempting, it’s easy. The garden store fence supplies are terrible. It might look the same but it is not. There is a reason the pros use kiwi fence, Obrien’s and Gallagher. Their lightweight stuff is better than anything you can find in chain feed stores.
18. Get away from the hedgerows- I am all for maximizing your land space and putting a fence right next to the hedgerow. The problem is that is where all of the tree limbs come down on your fence. It is also hard to mow around or maintain. If you own the hedgerow put the fence on the other side so the cows can have access to shade and clean up the hedgerow. If you do not own the hedgerow, stay back 4 feet. Mow this area or your hedgerow will grow to your fence.
17. No kinks or knots– You know the saying about the weakest link breaks the chain? Well the same applies to kinks and knots. A kink in the wire will be the first spot to break. A knot might have a charge on one side, but the fence may be dead on the other side of the knot. Tying multiple knots is not a solution to a better connection
16. Insulators can break– Ever hit a porcelain insulator with a hammer? No? The kid you sent to check the fence did. That popping noise you here on the fence when everything is quiet, is robbing your fence of a good shock. The sun can also do its damage, cracking and breaking plastic insulators over time. Just replace them as they wear out.
15. Lining up your strainers– In order to get a good, tight, straight wire you need inline strainers. Or wire tensioner, the ones that pinch your finger because you thought you could turn it without the tool are best. When installing strainers put them in the same area, but stagger them so they don’t catch each other in the wind and tangle
Stagger your wire strainers
14. How tight are your staples- The insulator should stay on the post but the wire should be free to move. Stapling the wire fast to the post creates pinch points where the wire can break. It becomes impossible to tighten and does not spring back when something comes in contact with the fence.
13. A fence too rigid– You are building a rubberband. The fenceline should spring back to form but not sag. You can run single wire fence on flat terrain with 100ft post spacing. None of this every 15ft stuff. You can also add springs to your wire tensioners.
12. Weeds are the enemy– Weeds can be any vegetation that comes in contact with the fence. Let them grow around your wire and they will rob the juice out of your fence. Low impedance fencers can shock through weeds but they need some help. Weedwhacking, mowing and spraying are the commone methods. I have heard of some organic dairies using a propane wand (fire) along the fencelines to retard weed growth. I have never used one myself
11. Using the gate to complete the circuit– If all of your juice is going through the gate to power the fence, what happens when the gate is open? The rest of the fence is dead and, in the rain, you are holding a small lightening rod, all the charge is in the gate. Use conduit and coated 12.5 gauge wire to bury under your gateways to complete the circuit. Dead end the gate handles so they are hot when closed but off when open. It is more work upfront but much nicer to work with once installed. The whole system will not fail if one gate is open.
10. Size matters- You are not going to impress anyone with that dinky 16 gauge wire. Sure it is easy to work with, you can bend it and make a knot out of it. You can break it with two hands and a rock if you need to. It just does not pack the same wallop that 12.5 gauge wire does. Flimsy farm store wire works as a patch on a Sunday morning but it is pretty worthless when building serious fences
9. Where is the sun, Jacob– This is for all of my Amish buddies that have to hide their iphones between bales of hay to read dairyhack. Your solar powered fence charger will not work if it cannot see the sun. Maxmize it’s exposure to the sun and keep an angle on it so debris (snow) doesn’t pile on it. Wipe it off now and then with your handkerchief.
8. All one fence- Who here has ever seen miles of fence on both sides of the road all powered by one charger? That is fine. What is not fine is having it all powered at once especially if you are not using the whole thing. Learn to love cut out switches. Having different zones helps you put the power where you need it. You can also put your bottom wire on its own switch in case the weeds creep up on you. Areas that flood can be a zone separate of the rest of the farm, just turn that section off at high tide
A cut out switch in the closed position completes the circuit. Flip the yellow handle up, and the fence is off.
7. Super sized- Who wants to read directions and endlessly search for the right sized fencer for the magic 25 acre farm with a flat field and a perfectly square pasture? Pick the fencer you think you need and then get a size bigger. The price difference is next to nothing and you have already committed to buying a fencer anyway
6. Inside or out- All fence chargers should be installed out of the building. It is a fire hazard inside from the possibility of lightning strikes. Mount it on a post away from the buildings but enclose the fence charger in a weatherproof box. If you are one of those “I need to see that it is on types,” touch it or install one of those Blinking fence alerts on the wire in a spot you walk by often.
5. A piece of dead grass is not a tester– I know the drill. Pull a long piece of timothy, lay it on the fence and see if it snaps. Might, might not. You get no snap so you grab the fence, guess what, fence is on. Get a volt meter already. this is the one thing you can get at the feed store. It will work and then you won’t be able to find it. A volt meter or fault finder makes quick work of finding shorts and figuring out which line is hot and which line is not
4. I have some copper wire and a galvanized ground rod– Why, Why, why does everyone do this? Mixing metals makes a chemical reaction called electrolysis. The connection corrodes and your fence doesn’t have any power. Make sure your ground wire and your ground rod are made of the same material.
3. Chasing or herding– Everyone thinks they are herding when gathering cattle, most of them are just chasing. No one makes quicker work of fencing mistakes than having a Border Collie. A good herd dog is just amazing to watch. They are better than people, they will be there everyday. Even an untrained Border Collie has more instinct than a person when it comes to handling cattle. Every farm needs a dog and every Border collie needs a job.
2. A cow follows her nose– Everyplace needs a spot and an age that they train cattle to learn what fence is. The perimeter should be solid, the floor should be dirt, and there should be a hot wire on the interior. A hot wire run diagonal in a small training paddock on a rainy day is perfect. Every animal needs to touch the wire with it’s nose to truly learn the fence. If the area is moist it will provide a good ground and a solid jolt.
1. We tied it off with some rebar- The absolute number one failure in all fencing systems is a poor ground bed. When the cow touches the fence she completes the circuit between the wire and the ground. This is why birds can sit on the wire and not be shocked. They are part of the wire and not completing the circuit. Your ground bed should be in an area that is moist (think roof run off), is out of the way of any tire of hoof traffic, and faces the majority of your pasture. You want the charge coming from the pasture right to the ground bed. You do not want other buildings or ground fields to impede your fence charge. The ground system is one half of your fence. Do not skimp on ground rods. Adding rods always improves the shock. “Installing a minimum of 3 – 6 foot long ground rods, 10 feet apart will insure maximum efficiency in the operation of your electric fence system.”–Kencove Fence. The accepted rule of thumb is 3ft of ground rod for every joule of fencer output. And you need to pound them all the way in the ground. Do not pound 5 ft of an 8ft ground rod and cut off the excess because you hit a rock. You cannot count any footage that is not in the ground.