Electric fencing helps manage cattle on pasture


Source: Ministry of Agriculture, Food and Rural Affairs

A major limiting factor for beef production in Ontario is lack of fencing. With the spread of cash cropping across the province in recent years, perimeter fencing has been removed on many farms. Establishing, or re-establishing fencing is one of the first steps in getting into cattle farming.

Good perimeter fences are necessary for keeping cattle where you want them. Interior fencing, subdividing fields allows for increased pasture management. Perimeter fencing maintains good neighbours and safe cattle.

There are many fencing options available: page wire, barb wire, and electric being three common types in Ontario. We also have a fact sheet that compares 5 types of fence and their costs, Farm Fencing Systems. Both comparisons indicate that electric fencing is the least expensive and most effective fencing system on the market. It is quicker to build, using less labour and materials. Once properly trained, cattle show respect for the fence, and will usually not bother to challenge the fence.

Some things to consider when building a fence include:

  • What distance will you be fencing
  • What type of livestock
    • Cow calf
    • backgrounders
  • Is it perimeter or internal fencing

Electric Fence Considerations:

Things to consider when constructing an electric fence are power, fencer, wire and posts. Power can be accessed through hydro, battery or solar. The energizer should be chosen based on the kilometres of wire to be attached to it, and the load of grass or debris that may be on the wire. Making sure you have a good ground is essential for the fencer to function properly. High tensile wire carries energy effectively. Usually 2 strands are recommended for perimeter and one strand for internal fencing.

Current on a fence can be compared to water in a pipe. The larger the pipe, the more water it can carry. Larger wire has less resistance to the current. A 12.5-gauge wire has about one-third the resistance of a 16-gauge wire. This means it will carry the current a greater distance under similar conditions. The lead-out wire from the energizer should be at least 12.5-gauge.

Polywire, polytape, 14-gauge wire and 16-gauge wire are suitable for temporary fencing.

Cattle must be trained to electric fence for it to be an effective deterrent. Have a small field or paddock with a number of strands of electric, or one of the more permanent fences such as page wire with an offset electric wire. Use this to train the cows, and especially calves to the reality that if they touch the fence they will get a shock. Once they realize that there is a painful consequence for touching the fence, this becomes implanted in their minds. Psychologically they will view any wire with skepticism and shy away from approaching it, even if it is one strand. This makes building temporary fence a relatively easy task of using pigtail posts and one strand wire to quickly build paddocks for rotational grazing.

One of the keys to a good electric fence is the effectiveness of the grounding system. To test for sufficient grounding, operate the energizer and short out the fence by laying a number of steel rods (or T-posts) on the wires at least 91 m (300 ft) away from the energizer. The voltmeter connected to a live wire should show less than 1,000 volts. Take a reading between the grounding rod and the soil at least 1.2 m (4 ft) away from the rod. The voltmeter should read less than 400 volts. If a voltmeter is not available, touch the ground rod with one hand and the soil with the other. You should not feel a current if the fence is operating properly. If there is a problem, it is because more ground rods are needed, ground rods are too close or there are poor connections between wires and ground rods.

For perimeter fence, traditional wooden posts can be used, with insulators attached to the posts, through which the wires carrying the electric charge. Spacings of 25 to 30 feet will usually carry the fence if the ground is relatively flat. Adjustments can be made for uneven topography to make sure the wires remain relatively parallel to the ground. Other options as posts could be plastic recyclable posts, or steel t-posts.

When dividing paddocks for rotational grazing pig tail posts are effective, and easily shoved into the ground and taken up again (see Fig. 1). This allows grass to be managed more effectively by quickly adjusting paddock sizes based on forage growth.

Herd of beef cows behind polywire fence on pasture.

Figure 1. Polywire with pigtail posts makes it an easy to move interior fence.

Another thing electric fence can be used for is to extend the life of page wire or barb wire fencing. By offsetting the electric wire with an extender insulator, the cattle will get a shock prior to approaching the older fence to rub or push on. A good extender is 1.3 cm 2 cm (½ inch or ¾ inch) PVC pipe bent into a V and nailed to the post.

OMAFRA has an excellent fact sheet on different fencing systems. You can compare and choose the one that is best for you. As well, we have developed an interactive calculator, where you can put in the cost of fencing in your area. This will give you an accurate cost for your farm for each type of fencing.

But electric fencing will be the least expensive, most effective fence you can put up. It opens up pasture management to a new level that will keep your cattle safe and growing all summer long.


  • Farm Fencing Systems, OMAFRA Factsheet, Ontario.ca/livestock
  • Publication 19, Pasture Production, OMAFRA Publication, Ontario.ca/livestock


Author: Barry Potter, Agriculture Development Advisor, OMAFRA


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