Managing Poultry on Pasture with Electric Net Fencing: Part Three

Maintaining the Charge in the Net

If you maintain a good hot “spark” in the net, it will stop anything on the ground with a nervous system. A friend has seen it turn back a bear on two separate occasions. On my own place, I have seen it stop a large dog powerful enough to break a corner post into three pieces, after it got tangled in the stinging net.

Theoretically, digging animals, or ones large enough to jump it, could bypass either over or under the net, and animals with thick fur are insulated against the fence’s charge. In practice, however, almost all curiosity seekers lead with the nose, and once that sensitive probe hits the fence, it’s nothing but “Adios!” (In an electronet system, the flock is still at risk from aerial predators. With one exception, my own losses from the air have been at most an acceptable two or three per season. Your mileage may vary.)

As the grass and weeds grow over the bottom charged horizontal in the net, its charge begins to ground out, until there is not enough “spark” in the system to stop a predator. Unless it is time to rotate the net to new ground anyway, it is easy to move the posts so the fence is standing—and confining the birds—but inside the existing perimeter. Now I can mow the perimeter line with the bagging mower, then again set up a tight fence over closely mowed sod.

It’s a good idea to walk the perimeter every day or so to make sure nothing has fallen on it—a green branch, for example—or accumulated on it to short out the system. I once had a flock enclosed on a piece of ground to be converted to blueberry bed. Because of a slight slope to the ground, the birds kept scratching uprooted grass, dirt, and other debris over the bottom of the net. I saw what was happening, and each day reminded myself, “Hey, boy, better get that stuff pulled off the net.” And then one morning went out to service that flock, only to be confronted with several splashes of feathers outside the net. I grabbed the top of the net—not a whisper of charge. Mr. Raccoon had dined well off my procrastination. Since that time, I’ve always been careful to keep my fence lines clean, and keep ’em hot.

How hot? Get yourself a good fence tester, and use it often. I always test every roll of net in the system following a new installation, and routinely monitor every couple of days thereafter, always remembering that the fence is only as effective as the spark in it. It’s a good idea to spend the extra bucks for a good tester. My first tester had a series of five tiny lights, some or all of which would light, depending on the amount of charge in the fence. But it was almost impossible to see which lights came on in strong daylight. The tester I use now has a console with a clearly visible digital readout of voltage in the fence.

The highest voltage I ever read in one of my nets (a single roll, freshly mowed, on the AC charger) was 9700 volts. Yes, reader, that was nine thousand seven hundred! That’s enough voltage to wake you up, even wearing boots with rubber soles. And if you hit the fence with a knee on the ground, it will rattle your teeth. “Negative stimulus” defined. But even though the voltage is high (with a whiplash of a sting), the amperage is very low, so the potential for actual injury is correspondingly low.

Hazards of the Net

The current in any electric fence is not without its hazards, and it is essential to be constantly on guard against them. Warning signs on your fence are a good idea, and in some areas are required by law. Despite what I said above about the low danger of a “jolt,” it is believed that a shock from the fence to head or spinal cord has greater potential for injury. It is therefore especially important to avoid contact with the fence when working close to the ground next to it. And please remember, it is extremely important to make sure infants are not permitted to crawl into any electric fence. There is one case on record of a baby who did indeed get tangled in a fence. While a single jolt would not have been injurious, repeated pulses of current to the trapped child resulted in its death.

I have occasionally had fatalities, wild and domestic, on electric fencing. I once had a low single-strand electric wire at the bottom of a goat fence. A dip in the ground allowed first a ’possum, then later a box turtle, to get under the strand without contact. When the animal climbed up the slope of the dip, it became jammed between earth and wire, unable to retreat from the repeated pulses of current. Both animals died as a result. Now I try to avoid dips, or hold the bottom (uncharged) string close to the ground in a dip using a screw-on plastic insulator set low on a fibreglass rod. I no longer have such fatalities. Once or twice black snakes have tried crawling through the fence—once they settled the body over the bottom charged wire, they received repeated shocks and died as well. I do not know a solution to this problem, but as said, it has only occurred once or twice.

Finally, there can be problems specific to young birds. If inside older nets, young chicks will sometimes scoot right through the netting without getting a shock, leaving them vulnerable on the outside of the fence. I don’t know that I ever had any losses as a result, but that’s certainly a possibility. Once they manage to get “zapped” by the fence, they no longer scoot through it. I have had a few losses of young waterfowl —ducklings and goslings—whose body conformation is more “front-loaded” in a way that makes it difficult to reverse and get out of a net, once they’ve pushed head and breast into the mesh trying to get through. Once tangled in the net, they are almost certain to die from the shocks unless I happen to come along pretty soon and release them.

I noticed last year that I had none of the latter two problems—escapes of young chicks, entanglements of young waterfowl—after I took care to use the newer nets exclusively (with the lower horizontals set much closer together than in the older versions) for the young fowl. I think that having the young birds with mother hens also helps with these problems—they tend to stay with Mama, rather than wander off through the net.


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