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Why Your Electric Sheep Fence Failed

A Checklist Of Most Usual Causes

Dean Oswald – Animal Systems Educator
University of Illinois | oswaldddd@illinois.edu

ChecklistElectric fencing is critical to profitable sheep production. Fences are needed for controlling sheep, reducing pre­dation, and necessary to make managed grazing work.

A good place to start is a seven-wire, hi-tensile, 12.5 gauge perimeter fence around your farm. Wires should be alternately hot (+) and ground (-) starting six inches off the ground to 50 or 52 inches high. Spac­ing, in inches, would be: 6-6-6-8-8-8-10.

Interior subdivision fences can use two wires (braided cable, poly-wire or tape). Hi-tensile fences can be more economical than woven wire or barbed wire fences due to wire cost and wider post spacing.

Animals Not Trained To Fence?

Electric fencing is a “psychological bar­rier.” When sheep receive a weak shock they will go through the fence. A strong shock will be remembered and maintain control.

Higher voltage is required for goats and sheep than other livestock. Use a volt meter to know how much voltage is in the fence. Train sheep in a small lot with an electric fence inside the perimeter. Make sure they can’t get through. Give them time and opportunity to adjust to the fence. Feed buckets or hay outside the fence will speed up the process.

Once animals are trained to that fence give them a larger area that has a least three or four wires with plenty of power. Make sure the fence is easily seen and has the necessary power. Properly trained sheep can be controlled with two wires for paddock subdivisions.

Do not sort newly trained sheep or lambs to opposite sides of an electric fence.

Skimping On The Power Source?

Electric fence controllers are expensive and are not all created equal.

  • Minimum species voltage for animal control:
  • Cattle: 4,000 to 5,000 volts
  • Sheep or Goats: 7,000 to 9,000 volts
  • Horses: 3,000 to 5,000 volts
  • Predators: 5,000 volts
  • Pets: 3,000 volts
  • Garden Pests: 4,000 volts

Wet vegetation or snow load will reduce power.

Size and purchase a low impedance charger for your operation from a reputable supplier.

Poor Grounding?

Chargers should have a minimum of three ground rods placed 10 feet apart.

Mixing metals (steel and copper) causes corrosion and weak shocks.

Don’t install ground rods within 50 ft. of grounded electric service.

Additional ground rods are needed throughout the system.

Figure A: Lightning choke.
Figure A: Lightning choke.

Surge & Lightning Protection?

Install a surge protector at the power source to protect expensive chargers. Seventy-five percent of problems come from the power company.

Figure B: Lightning diverter and ground rod.
Figure B: Lightning diverter and ground rod.

Lightning protection is also necessary to protect the charger from high voltage strikes. A lightning choke (Figure A), diverter and four ground rods (Figure B) are needed a minimum of 65 ft. away from the charger.

Wires Too Tight To Posts?

Don’t drive staples all the way in: Wires need to expand and contract past the posts with changes in temperature.

Figure C: Cut-Off Switch
Figure C: Cut-Off Switch

Vegetation Or SnowCovering Bottom Wire?

Install a cut-off switch to reduce load. (Figure C)

Poor Quality Insulators?

Buy quality products that have UV light protection.

No Voltmeter?

Without a voltmeter you are just guessing, so buy one.

Kinks In Wire?

Kinked wire will always break, it’s just a matter of time.

Inline strainers or wires too close together:

Off-set strainers and don’t space wires less than six inches apart to prevent grounding out.

Changes In Wire Size

Larger diameter wires carry more elec­tricity. Don’t power a fence with poly-wire or small conductor. When you power a 12.5 gauge fence, use a 12.5 gauge coated wire from the charger to the fence.

Over-Tensioning Hi-Tensile Wire

Use notched tension springs that indicate wire tension to maintain 150 to 200 psi needed.


  • Not all posts and electric fence supplies are created equal. There are many differences in quality, durability, and cost.
  • Plan your fence carefully.
  • Make a detailed supply list.
  • Shop around!
  • Compare supplier prices and quality.

Negotiate prices on carton, case, or pal­let lots.

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