We have been in the livestock business for some 20 years. Prior to this, I spent much time on my grandparents' dairy farm. In both cases,
livestock fencing has been an integral part of the farming operation. Though I am not a fence expert by trade, I have years of knowledge and
experience from actually working with cattle fencing.
My grandfather was frugal and used electric fence extensively. His dairy operation was a free range operation. Milk cows were brought to the
barn twice a day from the field. Granted, dairy cattle are more accustomed to handling and their general disposition does not present fence
containment issues. When he retired, he converted to a beef operation and continued to use electric fence.
In the following, we will discuss our general insight into fencing methods and how we do electric fence.
Cattle Fencing Methods
The best method for fencing cattle is woven wire. It would be our recommendation that all property line fences be constructed of woven wire.
Almost all of our property line fences are woven wire. On new property line fence we have installed, we used 39” high tensile class 3
galvanized woven wire with a barbed wire on both top and bottom. We would also recommend woven wire for fields or lots that will be used for
weaning calves or bringing in new cattle.
The next best fencing method is barbed wire. A barb will turn cattle where a smooth wire will not. A barbed wire fence will do everything a
smooth high tensile fence will do and more. The cost of both should be similar. The only downside others have mentioned for barbed wire
fencing is that it can create defects in hides used for leather products. Keeping in mind the majority of cattle are not fighting fences, marring of
hides will not be an issue.
The last barbed wire fence we built was on another property where we run cattle. Instead of the typical 5 strand, we ran 6 strands of 15 ½
gauge high tensile 4 point barbed wire. Corners and ends were typical wood post with a brace and brace post. For line posts, we used wood
post every 96 feet or so and steel tee post every 8 feet.
High Tensile Smooth Wire
High tensile smooth wire fence is a choice for permanent fence but in our view, it is only slightly more advantageous than 2 strands of electric.
Though we do not use high tensile fencing as a stand alone permanent fence on our operation, we have several neighboring operations that
have used it. In these cases, the success of livestock containment has only been accomplished by electrifying the fence.
For high tensile fence to function as good containment without electric, the wires and posts must be close together so livestock cannot force
their body between two strands of wire. A high tensile fence built to this type of standard loses much of its economic savings value.
If high tensile fence is constructed with a lower strand count and wide post spacing, it is essentially an expensive electric fence installation and
little more than a stopping device for cattle unaware of the fence. Lower count high tensile fence installation may have one advantage over a 1
or 2 strand electric fence installation and that is it may stop a running calf or cow before they go through the fence. Bringing home new calves
or cows and turning them out into an unknown field, they are likely to run across the field until something slows them down. This is where the
high tensile may have the advantage over 1 or 2 strands of electric.
Electric fence provides an economical installation, ease of installation, moving or removal and adequate livestock containment. We use 1 or 2
strands of electric fence extensively for our interior fences. Our cattle rarely get out of electric fenced fields. Most cases of our cattle getting out
had to do with secondary causes such as a limb falling on the wire, the fence charger being unplugged, a broken gate handle or a gate left
If your fencing budget is limited, spend the money on woven wire for the property line fences and save money by using electric fences for the
Cattle Behavior and Fences
Cattle normally do not challenge fences unless they are hungry or scared. We have seen more times than we should, cattle on other farms
going through fences because there was simply nothing for them to eat. In most of these cases, high tensile fence was being used. Scared
cattle can be a challenge for all but the most rugged fence. It is not economical to fence a complete farm to deal with scared cattle.
If cattle have plenty to eat, fences are normally not a big issue. My grandfather would say that cattle sometimes get wandering fever. Plenty to
eat and still not satisfied. A hot electric fence always seemed to keep this fever in check.
A majority of the time, an electric fence will turn cattle if it is energized and they know it is there. When we have moved an interior electric
fence, we sometimes walk ahead of the cattle to keep them from going through the fence at the new location. The cattle’s intention is not to go
through the fence, they simply do not know it is there and walk over or through the fence before they know it. We have also cut a swath with the
brush hog parallel with the new fence location. Our cattle have a tendency to stop to investigate the mowed area which allows them time to
see the fence at the new location.
Turning new cattle into a field with existing cattle can slow the run of the new cattle to the other side of the field. It would also be best to let only
one or two new ones out at a time.
If you have calves penned up for whatever reason, when you turn them back out, turn them into a field they are familiar with. They will still
probably run around but they at least know where the electric fences are.
Most cattle that have experienced electric fence do not like the experience. If cattle know what electric fence is, they normally will not even
challenge the fence. We have found this to be particularly true for bulls. Many times we have lifted an electric fence up to allow the cattle into
another field. The bull will be the last to go under the fence and it could be half a day later before he does. Along neighbors that have bulls, we
run electric to keep our bull from riding the woven wire. This works well regardless of how much the neighbor’s bull bellows and snorts. Never
trust any electric fence to keep a bull away.
From time to time a cow will simply ignore the electric fence. Our solution for this problem is normally the sale barn.
Electric Fence Construction
In our area we have a high deer population. Long ago we gave up using 17 gauge wire for electric fence because of the deer. A deer would
hit the 17 gauge wire, break it and drag it over half of the farm. We use the standard 12 ½ gauge high tensile wire for our electric fence. In
addition, the life of 17 gauge wire is relatively short compared to the high tensile. Using 12 ½ gauge high tensile should end any problem with
deer breaking the wire.
On some electric fences that we deem as permanent locations, we have used two strands of 15 ½ gauge barbed wire.
We run 1 or 2 strands of electric fence. The top strand is at a waist height, 38 inches +/-. The bottom strand at knee height, 19 inches +/-. The
lower strand is used to keep in smaller calves. If it is not an issue for a small calf to wander under the fence, the bottom strand does not need
to be installed. The bottom strand is closer to the ground putting it closer to tall grass and weeds which could lead to shorts.
For corners or stress points; we use either a steel tee post with steel tee post braces or a single wood post. In the past, we used 48” small
fiberglass tee posts for some intermediate line posts. We have since switched to all steel tee post for line posts. Steel tee posts are more
rigid and will stand more abuse such as mowing around. We use 6 foot steel tee posts since they have uses in other types of fences. The post
spacing really depends on the lay of the land and the amount of wire sag between posts. About 15 walking strides or around 45 feet is
possible on a flat run and with a tight wire.
We normally use a ratchet tightener in combination with a tension spring to tension the wire. The spring is not an absolute but it provides a
little extra give if the fence is hit, keeps the wire tension up and provides a gauge for how much tension is on the wire.
The insulators we use are either the western style with two side-by-side hooks or a pin type. The pin type is stronger and allows easy removal
of the wire for raising or lowering but are more expensive than western style. We use a combination of both pin and western style. All
insulators are not created equal. Through trial and error, the insulators we use today are what work for us and provide the best value for us (not
always the least expensive).
We normally use insulators that keep the wire close to the post. Insulators without an extension are stronger and allow for closer mowing to the
fence post.. The only time we use an extension insulator is if we run electric out front of an old woven wire fence.
The donut type insulator is our preferred corner or end terminating insulator. For connection to a steel post, wire is used for the connection. On
wood post, a lag bolt is normally used. We make our own corner bolts by welding a 3/8” bolt at 90 degrees onto the side of a wood lag bolt.
This bolt arrangement has the advantage of a hex head for turning during installation and the hex head is a flat surface for hammering to start.
Gate handles are minor electric fence items but no less a necessity. For a long time, we used gate handles with an extension spring. An
extension spring becomes longer the more it is pulled. As mentioned earlier, we have deer. Gate locations seem to be good deer crossing
points. From deer hits, age or fatigue, the extension spring gate handle spring retainer would fail allowing the spring to over extend. Several
years ago we found a gate handle that uses a compression spring. Pulling on this gate handle compresses the spring making it short not
longer. It can never be over extended like an extension spring. The compression spring gate handle spring is the same design concept as is
used on high tensile fence springs.
One of the most important components of an electric fence is the fence charger. I can't remember the brands of fence chargers my
grandfather used. I do remember that checking the charge of the fence required either a fence tester or deciphering the glow of a light on the
Though there are many fence chargers available, we started out with Parker McCrory (Parmak) and still use them today. One of the things that
first attracted us to the Parmak charger was the fence voltage meter. The voltage meter appeared to be a better method to indicate fence
charge than a light or a fence tester. Several models of Parker McCrory had the voltage meter and we decided to try one. We were skeptical
at first but the meter is very good for determining the condition of the fence and when something needs done. After all these years of having
fence chargers with a voltage meter, we would feel lost without the meter.
Review our fence pictures with captions for additional information on how we do electric fence. We are sure opinions will vary on the best
fencing and methods but the way we do fence works for us.