Rachel worked as a farm manager for three years in PA and has her own farm in MN. She currently homesteads in MN.
What's an Electric Net Fence?
An electric net fence, sometimes called poultry, goat, or sheep netting, is an effective and affordable way to contain your farm animals. These fences come in heights ranging from 33 to 48 inches, lengths ranging from 80 to 165 feet, and can keep in livestock animals including poultry, small ruminants, and cattle.
The netting is comprised of both plastic lines and poly-wire, which carries the electricity through the fencing.
Let's get real for a second, though: As soon as I type the word "electricity," I have to remind myself that I know little about it. In fact, I probably understand as much or less than the average person does about how electricity travels, conducts, and even contains farm animals. But despite my general ignorance in the subject of electromagnetism, I figured out how to set up and use my electric net fence, and my goal here is to give you enough information to do it, too.
Setting up the Fence
The manufacturer of your electric net fence likely included specific instructions about how to untie, unroll, and/or otherwise unpack your fence from the package it came in. Follow these instructions carefully, and if they warn you to save the ties that originally bound the fence in its bundle, I suggest you do so! You might need them later.
These fences are so easy to use it actually blows my mind. Coming from a farm where I used to split fence rails out of logs for fence material (and I still would, if I had trees on my property suitable to rail splitting), this has been a big and welcome change for me. The netting of the fence comes already attached to the posts, and all one need do is point the post into the ground and step on the foot pedestal to drive the post into the earth. It's really that simple.
The length of your fence will determine how large a space you can fence in at one time. For instance, if you have a 164-foot fence, you might choose to create a square paddock that is 41 feet on each side; or, create a rectangular paddock that is 31 by 51; or, create a circular paddock.
You get the idea.
One of the most advantageous things about the electric net fence is that you can fence in just about any irregularly shaped area, bypass obstacles like trees and outbuildings, and not sacrifice much in the way of square footage for your animals.
Once you've planned out the area that you are going to fence in, you should mow down any tall weeds or grass that would press against your fence. Electric net fences generally work by sending electric pulses rather than a continuous charge, and are much more forgiving of tall grass and other impediments than traditional electric wire. That being said, anything pressing up against your fence can still ground it out and drain power from your power source.
My fencer of choice
Selecting an Appropriate Fencer (Energizer, Charger, or Transformer) for your Fence
I have heard and read the terms "fencer," "charger," "energizer," and "transformer," used interchangeably to describe the device that supplies the electric charge to your fence, and thereby enables the fence to shock livestock, predators, and people than come in contact with it. As far as I am aware, these terms are all correct and refer to basically the same items.
The manufacturer of your fence will specify how many joules are needed to correctly charge your fence. For instance, my fence requires only 1/4 of a joule (.25 joule). It's important to select a transformer that will deliver, minimally, the power that your fence requires. Or, you can make the mistake I did, in my blissful ignorance, ignore such information, and end up scurrying around trying to figure out why your fence won't get hot! This isn't fun, exactly, when you have sheep and goats that are in the process of dismantling your fence while you fiddle around with electricity.
There are a couple different ways that a transformer can deliver power to the electric net fence: AC or DC. An AC charger will plug directly into a power outlet and will likely need to be kept indoors and out of the elements. A DC charger might need to be connected to a 6 or 12 volt battery, and may also require indoor installation. The best type of charger, in this farmer's humble opinion, is a solar-powered charger. For obvious reasons, these fencers are designed to be used outdoors and withstand inclement weather. You don't need to worry about locations where power outlets are scarce. They work by using a small array of solar panels to charge a 6 or 12 volt battery, the power from which the transformer uses to make your fence nice and hot. Solar powered chargers are generally more expensive that others, but for those looking for self-sustainable farming and getting off the grid, they are an excellent investment. My charger can deliver up to 3/4 joules, so I could theoretically connect three net fences together to create a larger paddock and charge them all with my single charger.
A note on ground rods...
The Internet is rife with information on ground rods, and expensive products that you can purchase. I wasn't interested in driving an 8-foot long rod into the ground every time I had to move my fence, and I wasn't keen on spending $80 on such a thing either, so as with most things I used a little trial and error.
My ground rod is a simple piece of 3/4" copper water pipe left over from my bathroom renovation project. It's roughly three feet long and hasn't failed me yet. And it was free.
You could also experiment with using rebar, a metal t-stake, or any other metal rod-type object that you can drive into the earth with a simple sledgehammer. If one item doesn't work, try a longer one; if copper water line doesn't work, try something that isn't hollow.
Connecting the Fence to the Energizer and Making your Fence "Hot"
Here's where the Internet kind of failed me in my first attempt to use an electric net fence. So either this information is super-obvious common knowledge formerly unknown to me, or I'll be doing future livestock-keepers a great service by explaining the following process!
Three essential items are needed (besides the fence itself) to properly electrify your net fence: the previously discussed transformer, jumper cables for making connections, and the all-important ground or earth rod.
As with the energizer, I've heard and read the terms ground rod and earth rod used interchangeably, and again, as far as I can tell they refer to the same thing. The ground rod is simply a long piece of conductive metal, such as copper, driven into the ground. The negative end of the jumper cable (usually the black one) is connected to the ground rod, as well as to the fence energizer.
Here are simple, novice-friendly instructions for connecting your energizer to your net fence:
1. If your energizer has an on/off switch, make sure it is off.
2. Connect either positive end of your jumper cable to the positive terminal on your energizer.
3. Connect either negative end of your jumper cable to the negative terminal on your charger.
4. Connect the other negative end of your jumper cable to your ground rod. Make sure metal is touching metal.
5. Connect the other positive end of your jumper cable to the metal clips that hang off the two end posts of your fence. These clips are probably designed to clip together.
6. If your energizer has an on/off switch, turn it on.
You should hear a ticking or crackling noise as your fence energizes, especially coming from the charger itself.
Safety Precaution: NEVER grab the terminals on your charger with your hands while your charger is on! You will create and complete the circuit and could be injured!
Testing the Fence
Before you can trust that your electric net fence will properly contain your animals and protect them from predators, you need to know that it is hot.
There are products that you can purchase, called fence testers, that will tell you exactly what kind of charge your fence is giving. This is, admittedly, probably the safest route to go. However, if you've read any of my other hubs, you're probably aware that I don't like to spend money. So to test my fence, I touch it myself. I do this because I firmly believe that it will not kill me, because even though I don't understand much about electricity, I know that the energizer I purchased is meant to contain livestock animals, and the name of the game is to discourage them from trying to escape from the fence, not to kill them.
If your fence is properly charged, touching it should deliver to you a small, uncomfortable shock. "Painful" isn't a word I'd use to describe the sensation, but "discouraging" sounds pretty accurate.
If you are fencing in animals that are not used to electric fences, it would behoove you to spend some time observing them when they are first put into the charged fence. I currently house a modest number of sheep and goats, and have watched every one of them experiment with touching the fence. For most of the animals, once was enough; for a couple brave souls, they needed a second opinion.
Two of my goats are smart enough to realize that when we start moving the fence around (grabbing the posts and repositioning them so that we can relocate the grazing paddock - another hub for another time) the fence is no longer going to shock them. Now, every time we move the fence, these two does will push right through it, knowing it won't hurt, to get out. Our solution so far is to simply let them go. We're lucky in that both animals are sweethearts, and when the time comes they will allow us to catch and lead them back into the fence. Good luck to you if your skittish animals also turn out to be the smart ones!
Rachel Koski Nielsen (author) from PA, now homesteading in MN on March 05, 2016:
Thanks very much!
Randy Godwin from Southern Georgia on February 12, 2016:
Although I've spent lots of time putting up and maintaining electric fences for cattle and swine I've never used an electric net fence before. I'm considering an electrified net fence for some goats to clear a section of woodland a section at a time before moving it to a new spot.
I already have several chargers both solar powered and 110 volt AC so I simply need to buy some net fencing and some goats.
This is a very good hub for those not familiar with any type of electric fencing. Enjoyed the read, Rachel! :)
Kristen Howe from Northeast Ohio on May 19, 2015:
Great hub, Rachel, on how to keep your livestock safe from harm on the farm. Great tips on the fencing decisions. Voted up for useful!
Rachel Koski Nielsen (author) from PA, now homesteading in MN on July 27, 2014:
Ann - Goats are so tricky, aren't they? PVC would make a good solid fence, interesting idea. Thanks for the comment :)
Marie - These fences are very useful, even if they lack something in the aesthetics department. I wouldn't trade in my post hole digger just yet ;) Thanks for reading and commenting!
Marie Flint from Jacksonville, FL USA on July 27, 2014:
This hub title brings back a few memories. The young heifers and steers often would break loose in the spring to exhibit their "spring fever" joy. I don't remember when our farm got an electric fence, but we had one. Before that, it was page-wire fence. I still have the small scar at the base of my left index finger proving I had helped my father to dig fence posts. A portable electric fence makes sense as an alternative to manual post-hole diggers and horseshoe nails.
Ann1Az2 from Orange, Texas on July 23, 2014:
Yes, I wish they were around when I had goats! lol I had some neighbors that built a really solid fence out of PVC pipe - they had Brahmas and it kept them in quite nicely.
Rachel Koski Nielsen (author) from PA, now homesteading in MN on July 22, 2014:
Ann - Glad you enjoyed it and found the instructions up to par! I love the look of wood fencing but I gotta say, these net fences are pretty awesome.
Ann1Az2 from Orange, Texas on July 22, 2014:
I didn't even know this kind of fence existed! What a great idea and much simpler than as you say, building one, which I have also done. It's hard work! Thanks for sharing this and your instructions were very good.
Rachel Koski Nielsen (author) from PA, now homesteading in MN on July 21, 2014:
bravewarrior - Thank you :) It's good to be back!
Shauna L Bowling from Central Florida on July 20, 2014:
It's nice to see you back, Rachael. I found this hub quite interesting. I don't have livestock, but your instructions were clear. I enjoyed the photos of your hooved friends. I look forward to reading more about what you've been up to in your absence.
Rachel Koski Nielsen (author) from PA, now homesteading in MN on July 19, 2014:
Thanks Brie! They're my new favorite thing.
Brie Hoffman from Manhattan on July 19, 2014:
Great article, I have always wondered about these kinds of fences.
Rachel Koski Nielsen (author) from PA, now homesteading in MN on July 18, 2014:
Thanks for stopping by, Bill! And glad you enjoyed it. Things never go "smoothly" on a farm, as I'm sure you know, and we have more than our share of DIY house renovation projects. But life is good good good, nothing to complain about :)
Bill Holland from Olympia, WA on July 18, 2014:
I've never seen one, Rachel, so thanks for the information. In two years I'll remember this when we get our farm. Good to hear from you my friend. I hope things are going smoothly on that farm of yours.
Rachel Koski Nielsen (author) from PA, now homesteading in MN on July 18, 2014:
Liz, nice to hear from you! Glad you enjoyed the new read and thanks for commenting, as always :). Now that the move and the house renovation have calmed down a little, I expect to be more active on HP.
Liz Davis from Hudson, FL on July 18, 2014:
What an amazing resource, Rachel. I always love seeing your name pop up! I hope all is well on the new farm. -Liz