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There has been a big interest in the selection and how-to's of fencing so we thought we'd do a page on it.  Right up front we'll ask you to understand this is not all inclusive nor does it tell you the "right" way to fence your property or animals.  These are simply some things  we have found that work for us and for others, some of whom taught us and some of whom learned from us.  Hopefully you'll find something here that will work for you, too.

We are primarily a goat farm and, therefore, our fencing is first and foremost goat fencing.  We have found that our dogs stay inside fences that will hold goats so we work on the worst case goat scenario and find that it works for our dogs.  That is not to say that some of our dogs haven't led the way in providing our fencing education, particularly Shadow who taught us about climbing fences.  In general, though, if it will hold goats of all kinds, it will hold dogs.

We strongly believe that the most secure perimeter fencing is a physical barrier type fence.  Ours is field fence, 46" high with 6" stays.  The top and bottom wires are 9 ga., which is heavier than usual and we run barb wire below it and about 4" above it.  About 8" inside the fence and about 12" to 18" above the ground we run a 12.5 ga high tensile electric wire and a 12.5 ga high tensile non-electric wire about 18" to 24" above the top barb.


Before we get into details, we need to tell you that we believe almost all fencing is psychological.  This means your animals have to believe you have effective fencing in order for them to stay inside of it.  A well stretched, tight fence will thwart most attempts to escape and will hold most animals.  

The best way we've found to insure the animals stay inside our fencing is to train them that the fencing presents an insurmountable barrier to them before they have the opportunity to find out that may not actually be the case.  This is especially important with electric fencing of any kind.  An animal that is not familiar with electric fence will usually surge through the fence the first time it's shocked.  Several years ago we had a litter of pigs that discovered this worked and we could never keep them inside electric again.  They would back up10' to20' and start running at the fence, screaming all the way, and wouldn't slow down or quiet down until they were through it.  We didn't harvest a garden that year because, among other frustrating events, the pigs cleaned it out.

If you make a solid barrier fenced pen and place electric around the inside, it makes an excellent training pen for any animal.  With goats we hang aluminum foil with peanut butter on the electric wire.  Drape it over the wire and use wooden clothespins to secure it.  For dogs we drape several half-length pieces of raw bacon over the wire.  Make absolutely sure you remember to turn off the fence before you try to put either of these items on the wire or you'll find out why electric fencing can be so effective!  The purpose of these goodies is to entice the animals to make their first contact with the wire in a way that will guarantee good contact and therefore teach them to avoid the wire at all costs.  A nose or tongue is both wet and uninsulated.  Goats and dogs both have hair that can insulate the animal from electric shock and that can be counter-productive when you're trying to prove your fence is an insurmountable barrier.

We have a neighbor who decided to get into goats on a large scale and hold them with electric fence.  After he got rid of all of his goats because he couldn't keep them in, we found out he never trained them to electric, he just threw them in the pasture and assumed the fence would hold them.  Training can and will make all the difference in how effective your electric fencing will be.  It can even make the difference between success with your animals and total failure.

The Materials

Barrier fencing

Physical barrier fencing comes in many different forms.  We chose ours for economy because, at the time we started fencing, we could get seconds on fencing and buy it by the pound, palleted, for a little less than half of what it cost at the local farm store.  You might look into the possibility of finding something like that where you live.  The big drawback with field fence like we have is that a horned goat can stick her head through it but often cannot figure out how to get their head back out.  This can kill a goat and is one of the big reasons we electrify the inside of our wire.

Manufacturers do make a "sheep and goat" wire that is essentially field fence with 12" stays.  Horned goats can retrieve their heads when they poke them through but kids and pups can walk through it until they're a pretty good size.  The trade-off is a personal choice but we're happy with our 6" stays.

Another alternative to field fence is to use 20' x 4' utility panels with 4"x4" squares.  It's very heavy and too expensive for our taste but if you get past the expense, it really is great fencing.  Horse panel, 20'x5' with 2"x4" squares is even more expensive but it is tighter and higher.  We don't recommend cattle panel, full 6"x6" squares, because kids and pups walk through that for too long also.  Hog panel is usually 32" high and we consider it too short to be effective.

We've used almost everything imaginable for posts but on the perimeter we like used railroad ties and steel posts.  Trees can work well for cross fencing if you're not rigid about straight lines.  We've never had good luck using cedar or post oak for ends and anchoring but they apparently worked well for years when ties weren't available.

Don't scrimp on staples.  We use 1 1/4" to 1 1/2" fence staples to ensure they stay put once we pound them in.  We also use at least 5 fence clips on the steel posts.

The barb wire we put below the fence is 12.5 ga. 4 point American barb.  The heavy duty wire doesn't rust through nearly as quickly as the lighter wire and running at ground level does cause it to rust.  We initially started putting barb on the bottom when we raised hogs for home consumption but we do think that it helps to stop almost any animal from crawling under the fence as long as the ground is level.  The barb we have run on top of the fence is also American wire but, were we to do it again, we'd use high tensile barb (14 ga. 2 point "gaucho" wire).  The major advantage is that when it's pulled tight, it doesn't sag and will help catch fallen trees which will save the main fencing.

We live in a wooded area.  In fact that's all there was when we moved here.  When trees fall on fences, they'll usually crush them so that's a big reason we run a non-electric 12.5 ga. high tensile wire above the fence.  High tensile doesn't bend easily and will return to its original position when stressed so it will catch most trees (ours has caught dead trees up to 10" diameter) and save you the job of replacing all the fencing that a tree that size would normally crush.  We've also found that if you flag this wire so it is visible to your animals, it will stop most goats and/or dogs from jumping.  We've never had either species jump a fence where we've had the top wire installed and flagged.

Electric Fencing

Electric fencing is cheaper overall than physical barrier fencing and can work on its own with good installation and proper training for the animals.  We use it as a supplement.  Before we added electric fencing we had a buck that spread our fence like a spider web and walked through it, a dog that climbed the fence, a dog and a goat that jumped our fence, and dogs and goats that went under it.  Since we added electric fencing, our escapes have been through washouts and there haven't been very many of those.

Electric fencing has four major components: the wire, the insulators, the charger (also called a controller), and the ground. All are critical for good electric fencing.


Electric fence wire can be either high tensile or not high tensile.  After years of fighting with stretched and broken wires, we are great believers in high tensile electric.  We've found it in 14 ga. and 12.5 ga. and have used both but prefer the heavier size both because because it's stronger and will carry a better charge.  We have no time at all for the 17ga soft wire and still have several spools of it we recovered when we went to high tensile. It does make a pretty good replacement for the general purpose baling wire that we don't see too much of any more.  

High tensile wire does need real stretching, with good solid anchors and strong insulators so it is more trouble to install but the fence stays virtually maintenance free except for removing debris that may fall on it.  Do make sure you have no kinks in it as that is a sure way to cause a break.  We can buy the wire locally but did have to buy the reel via a catalogue.  You'll need the dispensing reel as a roll of high tensile 12.5 ga. is heavy and over a few hundred feet you can get it incredibly tangled if you don't use a reel.

On our next cross fence we plan to use high tensile barb as electric wire alternated with smooth 12.5 ga.  Although we finally trained every animal to our one cross fence that is five strands of smooth wire electric, we think electrified barb will make a more dependable fence with easier training.  We know it will be a bigger hassle to stretch it but hope it will be worth it.


Insulators are critical for keeping your fence working and effective.  There are so many different ones available we won't try to list all of them.  We recommend that you check several local stores because they may carry different varieties and you might consider checking on-line or catalogue suppliers for specialty items.  We have found that black plastic insulators seem to resist sunlight and UV deterioration better than the yellow ones.  You can tell when plastic starts to deteriorate because the color lightens up and the yellow becomes almost white.

If you use the light 17 ga soft wire, you'll need an insulator on every post.  If you use high tensile wire, you'll find that far fewer are necessary.  In rough terrain, we use insulators to change the direction of high tensile and hold it off the field wire. Because it's pulled so tight, we don't need to add others to keep it in place.  On a long straight  fence line, we use an insulator about every 30'-50' when it's with a field fence but in an electric only fence, about every 100' will do.  The high tensile acts like a rubber band, it gives with the animal pushing on it, shocking it all the while and snaps back into position when the stress is relieved.  The more insulators and tie offs you put in the fence, the less effective the high tensile becomes.

With high tensile, you cannot effectively use plastic insulators at end anchor positions or on sharp corners because the wire will cut through the plastic and short out.  We use a plastic tube with a metal insert as a wrap around anchor and slide the wire through it.  When that won't work, we buy 3/8" screw-ins, replace the plastic donut with a ceramic one and find that works pretty well.  In cases where we cannot use the existing end post for our electric fence end post, we've found that a "T" post set at a workable location and covered with a piece of 1 1/2" or 2" grey (white PVC pipe will degrade in UV light) PVC conduit will work as an insulated end post.  The top of the "T" post must be tied to a sturdy support so the post will not bend when we stretch the wire.

Chargers and Controllers

You'll want a controller that pulses electricity through the wire.  A constant charge can be deadly to people and stock as it is possible to stick to it while a pulsing charge gives the opportunity to escape.  You can get a charger that works off a 110v plug-in or a DC charger run off a battery that is kept charged with a solar panel.  Both can work well and the most important single thing we can tell you is to read the directions and learn all you can about the specific product you're considering before you purchase it.

There is only one hard and fast rule for your choice of a charger:  "Get one big enough"  We have forty acres and lots of cross fencing.  Our controller is a Stafix M6 rated at a 6 joule output and good for forty miles of fence.  We'll never have that much fence but the fence we do have carries 7000 volts and rutty bucks leave it alone.  It also carries an effective guarantee and it was replaced free when lightning fried it and we hadn't known to put lightning safety features in the circuit (this happened about two years after we bought it). Enough debris falling on the wires can short it out but we've never left it alone long enough for that to happen.  Debris and growth touching the bottom wire does reduce the charge but still leaves enough for a good bite. We check the output indicator on the charger daily and attend to the fence if it show any reduced output.  We also have a charge indicator showing the voltage in the fence at any point we want to test it.  This inexpensive tool is vital in locating what area of the fence is shorted and insuring that each section carries the full charge.  Our total shorts are usually because a limb has pushed the wire against the field fence or the wire has been knocked out of an insulator and is hitting the fence.  

Although you can find workable controllers at most farm stores, especially for small applications, we think it's most economical to find a company that will take the time to teach you, answer all your questions, and diagnose your problems.  People who will do this will usually sell quality products and save you money in the long run.  Some farm stores will meet this criteria while others won't.  An alternative is to find a vendor that has a catalogue and will spend the time with you on a phone with an 800 number.  They still make money and you get quality service.  We've been happy with LiveWire Products Inc. in Marysville, CA but they certainly can't be the only place available.


The single most important thing about grounding your fence is that you do it!  If you don't do it, and do it right, you will never have good results with your fence. There are two basic ways of grounding an electric fence: alternate a hot and a ground wire in the fence or use all hot wires in the fence and use multiple grounding rods.  You must know that if you are using electric as a supplement, your primary fence will not be dependable to use as a ground :).  How many rods, how long, and how deep into the ground are dependant upon your situation and you'll need expert advice or good book to tell you the details.  Once again, Stafix puts out a good manual but there are bound to be others available.


Dan & Paula Lane
Copyright 2005 [Bountiful Farm]. All rights reserved.

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