Electrifying Woven or Barbed Wire

Can I connect my fence charger up to barbed wire, or can I electrify my woven wire fence? Yes, I do know a few people that do electrify both barbed wire and woven wire fences.  I just did some research about the subject and what I found was “very little data.” What I did find is probably more in the “opinion” field rather than solid research or documented data.

So, my deduction is: it is a wide open topic – subject to opinion and experimentation. My first question would be WHY? And then – is there a benefit that would outweigh the possible negative aspects? My personal opinion is as follows.

We need to understand a few things about electricity flow on an electric fence and about the resistance to it before we can really talk about the pros and cons of the subject. Firstly, the electric pulse flows down the perimeter (surface) of the fence wire.  If this wire is smooth, then the pulse flows fast and pretty much unabated down each length of wire.  Every wire joint is a potential source of electrical resistance and therefore joints must be kept to a minimum. There are many joints in both barbed and woven wire.

Generally, the larger the diameter or gauge of the wire, the less resistance it will have. The smaller the diameter the more resistance it will have. For agricultural fence wire 12.5 gauge is normally the largest and most efficient.  When you drop down in diameter to 14, 15 or 17 gauge wires – you will have more resistance to the flow of electricity.

Another factor is rust. Rust definitely is resistance for electric fencing.  Class III, 12.5 gauge high tensile wire will generally not show any signs of rust until the 15 to 20 year range. Class I, low carbon 12.5 gauge wires may start showing signs of rust within just a few years.

Barbed wire: Personally, I just plain and simple do not see a need to electrify barbed wire. I always discourage people from doing this. I think that it is right down dangerous as well as unnecessary. I’m sure that most everyone involved in agriculture has had their fair share of “hang ups” on barbed wire. Many ripped jeans, torn jackets and bodily scars can be attributed to barbed wire. It’s simply a fact of the product. But, if you add an electrical pulse to this scenario that generates a quick escape response – entanglement can occur rather quickly to both humans and animals.

Think about this; what do you want to happen when you or an animal touches a hot wire and gets a shock? Typically, the intelligent reaction is to back off or move away from it – and to not touch it again. The last thing you should want to happen is to get entangled with that wire and not be able to get away or back off from it! Believe me, repeated shocks from an electric fence wire can be a pretty traumatic experience. Thus, a smooth joint-less wire provides for less resistance, is much less likely to entangle and easier to move away from.

Woven wire: There are many applications in which woven wire is your best choice for containment for a varied list of livestock types.  It is available in both low carbon soft wire class I finish or in high tensile class III finish. Both are also now available with additional painted coatings as well. Historically the biggest problem with traditional woven wire was in keeping it tight and without stretching or sagging. That problem was solved with high tensile woven wire.

Woven wire is basically a physical barrier and available in many different configurations for different species. It can vary from very open patterns to very tight patterns. Some have more or less horizontal and vertical wires (stays). Each one will be designed for different animal types.

Animals, especially sheep and goats, love to rub and scratch themselves on woven wire. Over time they can create stretching and sagging, adding maintenance problems for you. One simple solution is to add a hot wire in the form of an off-set bracket to keep them from rubbing.  I have found that a hot wire at about 16 to 18 inches off the ground with do the trick. You will get the benefit of a physical barrier as well as a physiological one.

Electrified woven wire: There may be times that an electrified woven wire fence could be beneficial. One reason would be from extreme predator or feral dog problems. Another might be as a close-in lambing or kidding area. Some considerations before you begin would be:

  • As mentioned above, every wire joint is a potential source of electrical resistance. Added resistance usually requires or dictates more power and a larger energizer. If you consider all the wire connections (joints) of woven wire there are literally thousands of them per quarter of a mile.
  • You will generally install woven wire close to the ground. By doing this you will probably have a lot of grass growing up in the fence.  Since you can’t disconnect this lower wire you will have a very heavy grass load on the fence. Again you will need a lot of power to compensate for that.
  • You may install woven wire onto PasturePro posts. An insulated post will be a big benefit in both installation and future maintenance.  If you use steel posts, you will use up a lot of insulators and eventually have a maintenance nightmare.
  • Finding shorts on electrified woven wire is very difficult as there is a maze of directional pulses flowing through it.

My overall recommendation is to use 12.5 gauge, class III, high tensile wire for all permanent electric fencing. Never electrify barbed wire. And, if you have a desire to electrify woven wire – you might consider installing a stand-off hot wire over it to keep the animals off of it. If predators are a problem, then a hot wire on the outside should be considered.

There are people that do electrify woven wire, but it is not overly widespread. If you want to try it, the first thing you should resolve yourself to; is putting a larger than normal fence charger on the system, to compensate for the added resistance and possible heavy grass loads. You will also have some limits on the distance or length of fence that you can run off of one energizer.

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About Gary Duncan

Gary has been active in the fence business for over 15 years. He also raises Highland cattle in a management intensive grazing system and was the first person to market the PasturePro post back in 2005. He enjoys discussing all things grazing and is the main contributor to the blog.
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2 Responses to Electrifying Woven or Barbed Wire

  1. avatar Ryan says:

    Ahhh, my favorite topic. I have about 2000 feet of electrified woven wire around a 13 acre lambing field. This is where I lamb my ewes. It is Kencoves 36-24-7 woven wire with 4 HT wires spaced 6 inches apart above it and one just above the ground surface. The woven wire is raised about 4 inches from the ground, giving the fence a total height of 64 inches . The second and top HT wire is hot, the others are grounded. I have another HT wire as an offset about 15 inches from the ground and 12 inches from the woven wire. I power this fence with a dedicated energizer, a Taylor fence Cyclops boss 30. It has 30 output joules and easily keeps the voltage around 8,000 volts. I have the original powerflex posts aka pasture pro posts spaced every 15 feet with 6 inch red cedar posts every 30 feet. The hot wires and woven wire is attached to the cedar posts with claw type insulators and attached to the composite posts with cotter pins. the reason for the cedar posts so close together is the 6 foot pasture pro post is not tall enough for the top wires in this setup. I have the composite posts driven about 18 inches. I do spray under the woven wire with roundup in the spring.
    Lessons I have learned in the 2 years I have had this.
    - Nothing gets through it, over it or under it. I can see coyote tracks all the way around the exterior of the field but none within.
    - close spacing of posts is require for the sole reason of keeping the ground wires off the electrified wires. You are walking a fine line using hot and grounded wires so close together.
    - some websites say not to spray the grass, just let the energizer burn the grass. That may work for some, but I find the grass draws too much power right when I need that power, in the spring during lambing.
    - buy the biggest energizer you can get your hands on. you can never have too much.
    - Ground rods, ground rods and more ground rods. When you think you have enough, add more. I have 30 6 foot ground rods, and a metal 12 foot long 2 foot diameter metal culvert that passes under the laneway as my ground set up.
    - spend the time and build double H braces. pack the augered holes with gravel fillings, not concrete. This allows me to strain all the wires good and tight. As mentioned before, hot and grounded wire must not touch, even if pressure is applied to the wires.
    -The “trip” wire is there to insure a good ground should a predator try to pass through the fence when the clay soil is rock hard.
    - It does not work as well in winter as tall woven wire, as the electricity doesn’t conduct as well, and the snow makes the fence “shorter”

    There are some things I would like to see done by pasture pro. Longer posts, ie 96 inch posts for tall fences. Also, have you ever consisdered a 6 inch diameter post for “line bosses” or corners? How would the material hold up under strain? would it bend like the 1.5 inch ones? Not having to worry about insulators would be a wonderful thing.

    • avatar Gary Duncan says:

      Thanks Ryan for your detailed comments about a somewhat specilized subject. And for our readers information – I have enjoyed visiting with Ryan for several years now as his fencing system has evolved. He is located in Southern Ontario and he does have predator problems and extremes in weather to deal with. In his situation electrified woven wire is a serious and successful option for him.
      I guess I was probably responsible for steering Ryan into the Cyclops 30 joule charger. He realized the need for more power and was frothing at the bit to get a New Zealand made big boy, but just couldnt justify the price. The Cyclops energizers are a US made energizer, and they do put out the power. They have no bells or whistles, but they are about half the price of the New Zealand brands and they are easily serviced.
      Grounding was something that we went back and forth on via several emails and he kept adding rods (from my constant nagging) and improved his voltage substantially – but it was pretty hard for him to swallow at first — I’m glad he kept on improving in this aspect.
      Regarding PasturePro POST LENGTHS. We DO manufacture special lengths of posts. So, if you need 96″ posts we can easily provide them for you. Just let us know. For example, we send a lot of 84″ posts to Illinois, as that is what their cost share specification requires for perimeter fences. At present, our lead time on special run post sizes is around 3 weeks. No big deal for us and we will be happy to cut them any length you want.
      Regarding your question about a 6″ oriented composite corner post. Of course we would love to offer one, and lots of customers want one. Maybe sometime in the future we will have the capabilities. But, at this point in time it would not be cost effective for us – nor your pocket book.
      “You are correct, not having to worry about insulators would be, and is, a wonderful thing.”
      Thanks again Ryan, for your comments. You brought up some very good points! And, as I stated in the main article – electrified woven wire is possible, is an option and it does work – but you need to have lots of power that is well grounded and build a substantial fence to maintain your wire spacings.

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