Winter Fence Line

Winter Fence Line – Hanno returning from checking pig.

Snow makes fencing more complicated and simpler at the same time.

On the one hand we typically get up to about 14′ of snow which compresses down to two to four feet of hard pack depth. That hard layering of snow tears down fences as it is densified into alternating hard and soft layers that leave us up on an almost glacial pack. Worse, the snow melts from the bottom up for the most part due to ground heat, we get little frost depth, so that further rips down fences.

Dry snow insulates the animals from the ground lessening the shock.

Wet snow shorts the fence to ground lessening the shock.

The snow pack gets high enough that the animals can eventually simply walk over the tops of the fences. Sometimes 4′ high fences have vanished below the snow. This year our snows have not been that deep so there’s still a little fence sticking up.

On the good news side with the deep snow the livestock tend to want to stick to their packed trails and winter paddocks which are much like deer yards out in the forest. Walkabout is not of interest in the winter. Stepping off the trail can mean falling deep into the snow for animals like pigs that have small pointy feet. We and the dogs run lightly over the top of the snow with our big broad paws and far lower density, giving us an advantage when herding pigs in the winter months. Chickens, ducks and geese can walk on top of the crust but they think you’re basically nuts for wanting to bother – they’re home bodies too in the winter months, sticking down around their nesting areas for the most part.

The wet snow is not such a problem most of the winter because we have deep cold and dry snow conditions. When it is below zero the snow is dry and doesn’t bleed off electricity. Mostly the wet snow shorting of the fences happens in the spring, when the snows are still deep but melting, mostly from the bottom up. Our trick is we power the fences along the top wires and then power lower wires in sections from the upper wires. This lets us turn off the lower snow covered wires which aren’t doing us any good and could potentially drain the voltage, pun intended for the electrical engineering types.

The dry snow insulating effect is a problem, it makes standing up on the snow like standing on a rock to avoid getting shocked – a trick that works quite well. Turning off the outer perimeter and all the extra field paddock fences helps concentrate the charge from our three energizers (two 15 joule plus one 6 joule) to over come this problem for the most part.

The tearing down force of the compressing snow can be mostly solved with high tensile wires, although the stronger wire has its own problems with cold shortening during the extremes of winter. Springs help as do annual loosening in the fall and retightening in the spring. Most of our inner fences are polywire though. That and the plastic step-in posts do not hold up well in the winter. We’ve learned to unclip wires. The polywire is a better choice than the galvanized steel or aluminum wire for this as it does have some stretch so it doesn’t break insulators and posts as much.

The long term goal is to switch to more of the high tensile wire and better posts which will require less bi-annual maintenance. It’s a process getting there.

Outdoors: 18°F/-18°F Sunny
Tiny Cottage: 64°F/60°F

Daily Spark: I feel a sudden clear focus and perspective. There is no time for anything inessential. I must focus on myself, my work and my friends. I shall no longer look at “NewsHour” every night. I shall no longer pay any attention to politics or arguments about global warming. -Oliver Sacks at age 81 when he announced his impending death from cancer.

About Walter Jeffries

Tinker, Tailor...
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3 Responses to Winter Fence Line

  1. I too face the problem of electricity not working well in the dry snow. I have been able to get a zap by running two lines of poly wire very close together (about two inches), connecting the negative ground lead to one wire and the positive to the top. When the pigs touch both wires, the do get a shock. Care must be taken to ensure the wires remain separate but close.

    So far, so good, and the pigs once trained to the wire do not test it often.

    • Patrick says:


      I learned the setup from a beef grower who had a lot of rock and underbrush that was hard to clear by machine (rocks). His was high-tensile, but he kept three wires with the middle as a ground. A cow head is big enough that the wires were not too close together, but you get the idea.

      I didn’t need to do this, but I kept the low wire separated like you did and thought that if the growth got too high (summer growth comes FAST down here) and I was in a pinch, I would turn it off or use it as a ground. But the pigs don’t test often.

  2. I agree, fencing repairs aren’t as simple during the winter. I’ve also been having trouble with repairing the fence on my property. It’s given me a lot of trouble over the winter, but I can finally repair it now that it’s a lot warmer. I hope that you can get the high tensile wire and better posts that you need to make maintenance a lot easier throughout the year.

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