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.


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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