Calibrating Pain – Fence Testing

In a discussion about fencing someone wrote:

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 which is a good source of fencing supplies along with 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

  1. 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.
  2. 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.
  3. 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.
  4. 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.
  5. 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. 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.
  7. 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.

I use Daisy Strainers [1, 2] to tighten our high tensile wire fences. For the polywire I just pull it tight by hand. Animals are far more respectful of tight fences than they are of loose fences.

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.

For chickens and piglets, poultry netting [1, 2] works wonders – clip the bottom two horizontal wires at the end post leads to prevent shorting.

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…

Also see:
Pigs Fixing Fences
More Fencing
Fence Lines 2
Poultry Netting for Pigs
Moving Pigs With Fence Panels
Calibrating Pain
Dumb Pig, Smart Pig
Pig Trap
Fence Jumpers

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

About Walter Jeffries

Tinker, Tailor...
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23 Responses to Calibrating Pain – Fence Testing

  1. jayedee says:

    i’m so glad there are folks like you that do my hot wire testing for me!
    i’m such a candy a** that i can’t even handle touching the metal shelving in the grocery store for fear of the little tingle i’m gonna get from static electricity! LOL

  2. pablo says:

    And the most amazing part of this post is in the last sentence. Four foot snows!!!!!

  3. We don’t have good luck keeping young lambs inside electric fences.
    I think the wool is insulating them.

    Pigs seem to have a lot of respect for it.
    They almost never “test” it.

    I believe some animals can tell when the fence is hot and when its off.

    I won’t ever test a fence on purpose :-)
    I’ve been accidentally zapped so hard I could feel it in my teeth!

    You’re brave to touch it!

  4. Just doing my job to advance our knowledge in the name of science, mam! :)

  5. We have a friend who tested his dogs invisible fence collar last fall- with it on his neck..Bonfire & brew made it more enticing I guess. The dog kept running through and he thought it must not be that bad- but she has a thick long coat which decreased its effectiveness even on high. Of course he’s a farm boy who has had his time with livestock fencing.
    Just thought i would share the idiocy of our friend while on the subject of electric fencing :~)

  6. *grin* Been there, done that. I didn’t have the fortitude of brew, I just wanted to know what it would be like for Kita whom I had resorted to the electric collar for training. I figured best I should try it myself before I gave it to her to play with.

  7. finspop says:


    Can you expand on this?

    clip the bottom two horizontal wires at the end post leads to prevent shorting

    Do you mean clip them together? Or?? We have sheep and meat birds in poultry net and I notice that no matter how clean I keep the netline, it’s a significant drain on our fencer… I’d never heard of your technique, and I’d like to try it… but I’m not sure exactly what you mean.


  8. Podchef says:

    The worst shock I’ve gotten was 10kv in rubber boots on dry ground. I was reaching over the wire scratching the steers horns and ears and his tail hit the tire. I didn’t realize my waist was in contact with the wire. OUCH!

    I must have gotten the same zap the steer got because it hurt. He flew off to the far end of the pasture, but only after I saw the huge blue spark between my fingertips and his head. My elbow felt like it had been slammed in the pickups door or something. It ached for days like bursitis.

    I had tested the fence by grabbing it before, but never again. I ordered a bulb tester that night. The hog fence feels like a wasp sting through jeans. No wonder they squeal across the valley. Despite that when they want out they seem to know when the fence is shorted out enough to plow through it. Almost like they take turns testing it to see. If it’s still too hot they pile logs, rocks and dirt over it until it shorts out enough to weaken the zap and then they break out to chase the cattle–a favorite piggie pastime.

  9. Henwhisperer says:

    One time I was stroking my horses muzzle, my hand extended over the electric strand and my boob grazed the wire which sent a shock from there to the horses mouth. Ouch! It hurt ever so much. For both of us. ;-)

  10. threecollie says:

    The only time my border collie Mike ever quit working on me was when he lifted a leg on a really hot fence as we were going out to gather cows. I hollered “no!” as he did it, hoping to prevent disaster. He thought I did it to him, poor guy. I don’t think he would ever work up in that corner again. Then there was the time we were taking down fence for the winter and the boss tossed the solar charger in my lap….it was still working as I can attest.

  11. Anonymous says:

    Our new goat earned the name “Sparky” because the first night she spent at the farm she was testing the fence when she sniffed a tension spring. In the dark we could see the blue spark leap between her nose and the fence. She has gotten used to the fence and no longer tests it, but she still occasionally brushes it by mistake, though.


  12. Beth says:

    Absolutely wonderful entry – I love the subjective pain ratings. Question: do you find the electric fencing expensive to run in terms of the increase to your electric bill? We are trying to figure out why our use has doubled in Jan 08 as compared to Jan 07 and I’m hoping its not the new fencing. Or I’m hoping its not the cloth diapers (increased laundering) – whichever one gets me off the hook! This is a great subject for a homeschool unit, as I imagine you’ve done as well! Thank you again.

  13. The fence charger uses extremely little power. One of the things we’ve done for homeschool projects is measuring all our uses of power. A great too is the Kill-O-Watt meter for logging power usage. That will help you pin down where the increased power usage is.

  14. Stephane Beaulieu says:

    Ever try it with your hand on a landmower running in wet grass! OUCH!
    This way, i figure out it was on.

  15. Berni says:

    Amazing attention to detail in your work. I don’t think I could grab a fence line on porpose!

  16. Jerry says:

    When I was a kid I watched my little brother pee on a electric fence, It was hard to tell if he was ok do to laughing so hard! Now as an adult I have accidentally touched my fence and try very hard not to repeat that mistake, I can only imagine what my brother felt, he always has been one to learn the hard way, he has said he has not repeated that mistake!

  17. Bob says:

    When I was a kid we raised goats. The buck would urinate on his beard and dangle it over the wire for a good buzz. Strange goat…. I have been shocked lots of times, do not like it! I use to have bad dreams where I was trying to squeeze between two parallel fences without getting shocked.

  18. Larry AJ says:

    Then there is the farmer that needed to relive himself while mowing/raking with his old 2 lung John Deere. He stopped the tractor and stood out on the axle to drain his bladder. The stream hit the spark plug of the cylinder on that side. I don’t remember what happened exactly but am sure he got a nasty surprise.

    For those that do not know about the old JD’s, they were two cylinder tractors where the cylinders were side by side, horizontal to the ground. The crank case was to the rear and the cylinder head to the front. Here is a good picture of one.

  19. Someone asked several questions:
    I’m running the Zareba 200 Mile AC Low Impedance

    That looks like what we have although different stickers. 15 joules. Works well for us.

    Right now I only have about a half an acre enclosed with 5 strands. The fence measures at between 10Kvolts and 11Kvolts everywhere I test it.

    That’s about what I get on mine when everything is right, no shorting. That is good.

    Is this too hot? My piglets are learning quickly that the fence isn’t a toy but I’m also worried about my kids.

    It is important to teach them about fences. The most important thing is do NOT crawl under fences. Apparently there was a case of a child that crawled under a fence in Florida and got shocked in the back of the head and died. I remember reading about that on one of the fence company web sites or in their catalog. Do not crawl under fences.

    I got bit by the fence today, but I was wearing muck boots and leather gloves. I startled me, but it wasn’t anything what Walter described at 9.7Kvolts. I’m assuming I was pretty well insulated, but I can’t guarantee that my kids will always be also.

    How well you’re grounded makes a huge difference as you note. Be very direct with the kids teaching about the fence. How old are your kids? I would not let small children near a hot fence unattended. How old is too small? Well… that kind of depends on the child. Some people seem to find a deep seated need to pee on the fence and taunt danger. Others get the idea watching someone else or just by being told that it is no-touch. You’ll have to use your judgement and knowledge of the child.

    I find that my pigs respect even low voltages of 2,000 Volts or so. I like to keep it above 4,000. Having it at full power is great because things do drag down such as rain so if you can get it to be at full power it will likely go down. Check it regularly. In fact we have the kids help with this when they are old enough which in our case they all are.

  20. Dan Moore says:

    We finally upgraded to a 24 joule charger. It’s able to hold 6-8KV even through wet grass and grounded spools of wire. I didn’t think much about the charger until I came across this short one day.

    I think I’ll avoid licking it anytime soon.

  21. Ed says:

    Hi Walter. I have just setup 50m of electrometer for sheep. I have a 0.5 jule stafix solar energiser. While it seems to be working it barely produces a tingle? I tried a second earth spike, but little to no difference. The sales guy assured me it was more than enough? Am I missing something?

    • That is a very weak energizer and I would not expect it to keep the sheep in. Sheep need a strong energizer with a good ground system and they should be well trained to the fence and sheared. I would suggest starting with an energizer of at least a 2.5 joule rating.

  22. Ed says:

    Awesome. I will get stronger energisers ASAP.


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