Training Livestock to Electric Fences

(Lesson 3. Fencing Systems continued)

livestock in pasture; photo by Edwin RemsbergWhether building permanent fences with high tensile steel wire or temporary electric fences with polywire, an electric fence is not finished until animals have been trained to respect it. 

The training area should be a small area that has a perimeter of woven wire or boards with the electric fence installed inside the physical fence. Keeping the area small will reduce the time it takes animals to learn about the fence. It will also minimize the time needed to gather and return the animals that get out during training and reduce the time required to build and mend the training fence.

When you turn stock into the training area, keep an eye on the animals but leave them alone to discover the fence on their own. Livestock are curious and will investigate the fence. As they do, they’ll get their first lesson. When first shocked, animals don’t know how to react. Some back up, others bolt ahead.

When an animal investigates the fence a second time, it usually does so prepared to back up. Rarely do animals challenge a fence a third time. If an animal continues to challenge the fence, cull the animal.

Depending on the number of animals and the size of the paddock, training usually takes no more than one day.  Some people put hay or grain across the fence to give stock some incentive to cross the fence. This can increase the speed of training but is usually unnecessary.  Do not herd animals into the fence. Livestock need an escape route.

Sheep and especially goats are the most difficult class of livestock to train. Wool is an effective insulator, and therefore sheep are best trained just after shearing. Long haired cattle are also insulated by their coat from a fence charge. Some producers have trained sheep by attaching cut out aluminum cans containing a little molasses to the fence. When sheep come up to lick the can, they get shocked and learn quickly to respect the fence. Make sure the cans do not touch ground wires!

Learn from Others’ Mistakes

Controlling cattle or sheep with electric fences without first training the stock results in hours gathering stock and mending fences. If you take the time and effort to train stock, the fences are effective. If electric fences are to consistently hold livestock, training is essential! And remember animals need to be retrained each spring.

Click on the links below to finish Lesson 3: