Hi Walter: Thanks for the suggestions. I especially liked this one [for fence testing]: “Best test is to use the tip of your tongue or your nose while standing barefoot in your piss. That’s how a pig does it.“
*grin* I’ve never actually tried that method but I’ve watched a pig demonstrate it which is why I figure it is the official way to test fences. Having watched the pig’s reaction I’ll pass.
The other thing is, don’t piss on a hot fence. Just incase you were considering it… I’ve heard people joke about pissing on an electric fence but having observed it I would not recommend it. I’ve seen it demonstrated by a pig and a dog. The pig did it on a 0.8 Kvolt netting fence. It was a gilt and she failed to take into account that her stream sprays out a long ways – she hit the fence about two or three feet behind her. The dog, Saturn, did it on about a 2.0 to 3.0 Kvolt netting fence. He did it on purpose. Both of them lived but they yelped pretty loudly! I don’t think they will do it again. I will be avoiding that method of fence testing as well.
My wife Holly calls me the human fence tester because I often do brush the fence to see if it is hot enough. That may be mostly a thing of the past as I finally bought a digital meter Pakton PowerProbe 11 fence tester. Nice unit. I got mine from http://Kencove.com which is a good source of fencing supplies along with http://Premier1supply.com as well.
Previously I had a simple six light fence tester. It was extremely hard to read in the daylight, even on an overcast day. It was also a good way to get a shock while trying to use it. I ended up adding shrink tube electrical insulation to the ground probe wire and body to reduce the chances of getting shocked. The Pakton is much easier to use.
The Pakton is expensive. The cheapest digital meters I’ve seen start around $40. The Pakton cost $120. The cost is why I haven’t bought a digital fence tester before. It gives direction of fault, volts, amps, requires no ground probe and is only turned on when you press the button so it saves battery. The directional fault finding is a lot more useful and accurate than I thought it would be. I like. The unit is small enough such that it easily slips into my pocket. The Pakton is made in Australia, not China – a point in its favor for all sorts of reasons and probably part of why it is more expensive. I’m hoping that it is also better made and will last.
After using the Pakton fence tester for a few weeks I love it. Much better than licking the fence. It’s even more accurate than my pain meter. I used the Pakton meter to calibrate the Table of Pain below more accurately for those of you who don’t have good meters and will have to resort to hand testing the fence.
Walter’s Tried and True Table of Pain
- 0.3 Kvolts (300 volts) is noticeable barefoot. Dry leather shoes will make it unnoticeable to just a tiny tingle. Rubber boots, even cheap ones, make it unnoticeable. In bare feet it is comparable to being bit by a horse fly. You pay attention, would probably rather avoid it but it isn’t that bad and if you want what is on the other side of the fence you’ll brave it.
- 1.0 Kvolts (1,000 volts) is noticeable wearing dry leather boots and fairly painful barefoot but possible to hold on. Compare it to being hit by a small rubber band on your cheek. You pay attention quick like and want to not have that happen again but would put up with it for $5 in cash per hit. Pick your personal price.
- 2.0 Kvolts is just noticeable in rubber boots, painful in dry leather boots and very painful if you’re barefoot. Compare it to being hit by a large rubber band on your cheek. You pay attention right well and really don’t want that done again! This is about the typical, actual, real world fence reading I get on our fences. Sometimes higher or lower.
- 3.0 Kvolts is painful in my rubber dairy muck boots – obviously they’re not perfect insulators. I can hold onto the fence through multiple shocks if I must for some strange reason. I once did two shocks across the chest down to leather boots on wet soil when I fell on the fence. Another time I stood through six shocks from thigh to barefoot when I fell against a fence at this level – it took that long, six seconds, to untangle myself. Not advisable but doable. Definitely memorable. Compare it to being hit with a whip – you’ve had that experience right? Okay, for those who haven’t, it hurts a lot more than a big rubber band. You don’t want it repeated but in an emergency you could withstand it to save someone’s life including your own.
- 4.0 Kvolts is really hard to hold on even with most rubber boots, forget it with leather boots or barefoot. Standing on a rock with rubber boots makes this level tolerable if the rock is a little conductive, say it’s damp, or okay if the rock is dry and non-ferrous of course. This is like a wasp sting – the big kind. You’ll feel it for a while afterwards and avoid that fence. It’s a big neon STOP sign.
- 6.0 Kvolts and above is very hard to hold onto with rubber boots unless they are perfect insulators (rare). Stand on a rock and it still may hurt badly with conductive rocks. If you were wearing leather boots, rubber boots with holes or barefoot then you’ll be feeling that spark for five or ten minutes after and you’ll remember it clearly for days.
- 9.7 Kvolts is the worse spark I’ve gotten – very, very memorable. I touched the unloaded fence switch on the charger side. It was like being hit with a big wasp sting and a well swung 2×4 at the same time. I checked my hand for burns – there was a small one on my thumb about a millimeter in diameter where the shock went in. Dumb mistake. I have not repeated it.
The unloaded 6 Joule K-6 fence charger we use for the main fields runs at 9.7 Kvolts, e.g., when it is not connected to the fencing or if it were a perfect fence with no shorts and wet soil. Today after last night’s rain the energizer is running at 5.3 Kvolts full loaded (connected to all the fencing – about 10 acres perimeter with paddock divisions). That’s measured at the main switch where the underground cable comes up about 50′ from the actual charger. At the far end of the fence about 2,000′ away as the crow flies, further by fence, it is 2.0 Kvolts. Most of our fencing is between 2.0 and 3.0 Kvolts – typical, real world fence voltage with shorting on brush, etc.
All those readings are during a fairly dry Vermont June after last nights rain. That was the first rain in a while, so there is some water in the soil but it isn’t soaked. How dry your ground is will greatly affect things. I’m in Vermont. It is never as dry here as it gets in Colorado, Arizona, etc. I can scuff the soil an inch down during a dry spell and it is still moist, dark dirt.
The secret to electric fences is that they are very high voltages but very low amperage. The fence charger is like a super soaker squirt gun rather than a fire hose – lots of voltage er, pressure, but very little volume of water e.g., current. Amps kill. Volts just hurt. The static electric spark you can generate rubbing your feet across a carpet or a cat in winter may be thousands or even tens of thousands of volts but it has very little current so it just hurts. Tell that to the cat.
Why does all of this matter? Electric fences are primarily a psychological barrier. The animals rarely actually touch them. The pigs, dogs and sheep seem to learn what fence looks like and just avoid it after they’ve messed with it once or twice. Animals must be trained to electrical fencing – don’t just turn them out on pasture. An animal can accidentally or even learn to rush through a fence. That rushing through the fence can also happen if they are spooked and stampede. If you start with poorly charged fences that are not strung tight and at the right wire heights then animals will learn to escape instead of stay in.
It is a very good idea to keep the fences turned on as much as possible. If you leave the fence off then animals may learn that it is off and challenge it. They do listen to the sparks on brush, feel the field with whiskers, push a friend into the fence to test it, etc. I’ve watched pigs test a fence in all of the above manners. Best for the fence to be on. The fence also turns back predators to a large degree although it is not enough. Combining electrical fencing with livestock guardian dogs (LGDs) is the best solution.
Another issue is that some animals, like our thickly furred dogs, feathery chickens and sheep with long fleeces won’t get shocked by a low voltage. They are well insulated. The voltage determines how far the spark will jump. If the voltage is too low then an animal can just slide right through the fencing without getting shocked.
Another thing the dogs do is they leap through fences. That way when they’re touching the fence they’re not touching ground so they don’t create a path for the voltage. Putting the lines closer together and having them strung tight helps on this. Using alternate hot-ground wires might help and is relevant for coyote control in particular.
Training the dogs to respect the boundaries also helps. This takes time but is worth it. Our dogs can easily jump any field fence I can afford to build so over building the fence is not the solution – thus I train them which fences they are allowed to jump and which are boundary fences.
The most important thing about fencing is to have what the animals need inside the fence. Keep the scary stuff like bears, neighbor’s dogs, etc outside the fence. Inside = good. Outside = bad. Then the animals naturally tend to stay inside the fence lines.
Last thought, if you have deep snows in winter like we do then build higher fences. We have 4′ high fences that vanish come winter…
Outdoors: 78°F/53°F Sunny, 1/4″ rain
Farm House: 74°F/64°F
Tiny Cottage: 70°F/68°F Form work Test Arch 2