Setting up temporary livestock fence

Setting up temporary livestock fence

Mary Gaffney setting up temporary livestock fence

David Kennard of Wellscroft Fence Systems recommended always starting project by creating a complete fencing plan. Whether you are a beginning farmer setting up your first fence, or a more experienced rancher, check your inventory of parts before you begin the installation. Gather all your fence components and tools before starting your  installation. Besides the standard installation tools like a shovel and hammer, you will need: wire or netting, posts & bracing, battens, spikes, insulators, connectors, springs, reels, gates, bracing, energizers, lightning protection and diagnostic tools.

Always start by creating a complete fence plan. Whether you are a beginning farmer setting up your first fence or experienced check your inventory of parts before you begin. Be sure you have or purchase all your fence components and gather your tools before starting your fence installation. Besides the standard installation tools like a shovel and hammer, you will need: wire or netting, posts & bracing, battens, spikes, insulators, connectors, springs, reels, gates, bracing, energizers, lightning protection and diagnostic tools.


Always start with a clear path to work. If your pasture is already tall, drive a 4-wheeler or other vehicle around your fence route to crimp the grass. This will give your fence a chance to work while the animals flash graze the pasture or paddock.

To set up a Quick Fence (low tension, semi-permanent fence), begin by installing your energizer and ground rods. For solar or battery operated energizers, install in a waterproof box high enough above the ground so they will not be flooded in seasonal or flash floods. Regularly check batteries (monthly). Maintain at least a 20% charge to prevent winter freezing and replace batteries when they do not hold a charge or offer sufficient volts. Spray the boxes with insecticide annually, use mothballs, lavender or other natural pest repellants.

Next, locate the corner and any points with significant directional changes and install posts. If using existing trees, attach boards to trees. Attach insulators and connectors to posts and trees and spring connectors to your ends as per your design. Run out wire between posts, lift up, snap, and then connect the wire to springs and connectors at posts. Follow this line, installing fiber rods every 20 to 30 feet or closer if dips in terrain warrant it. Use sturdier fiber rods, wooden posts or T-posts for corners or at changes in direction. Install cable, wire, Maxishock or poli-product (like rope or tape). Install gates and lightning arrestors and clip on warming signs every 300 feet. Attach fence to energizer, check grounding and fence voltage.

Setting up Temporary (Netting) Fence

Locate energizer and establish grounds. An old baby (jogging) stroller is perfect for moving solar set ups, batteries and/or reels.

Unroll the fence bundle holding on to the posts and shake the netting away from you. Never letting go of the posts, place the first post (with tie strings) at a 30-degree angle away from the direction you will be walking. Back up while keeping the bundle of posts level in front of you. When the netting is almost tense, take the next post off the pile (you will feel it pull away) and toss it away from you to prevent tangling, as you drop it and keep backing up. At corners, or where you will change direction, snug up the fence and install the post at an angle away from the center of the enclosure.

When you are at the end of the netting, snug up the fence and push in the last post at an angle away from the netting. If adding another roll of net, tie end posts, clip metal tabs together and continue with second roll. If there is more net than needed, double the extra back on itself but DO NOT roll the extra up. Walk back, right the fence and push in each post being sure the fence/netting reaches the ground. Connect to energizer or wire fence.

Taking down Temporary (Netting) Fence

Disconnect to energizer or wire fence. Take up the last post and hold it horizontally in front of you. If working in gravelly soils, use your foot to push sideways on the bottom of the post to help loosen the bottom of the net post. Walk along the fence line taking up each post and keeping the posts parallel to the ground. When moving the whole net, shorter people may want to bend their elbows over their heads, which takes up a lot of slack and helps keep netting off the ground. When you get to the end of the fence, roll up the netting, starting with the posts; never roll from the netting end. Store the bundled fence off the ground, away from light and mice or other rodents looking for nesting sites.

Maintenance & Training

Monitor fence voltage regularly; check battery voltage regularly. Install a Fence Alert where you will see it many times a day to notify you when fences are NOT working or have low voltage.

To maximize predator and pest deterrent effectiveness, bait fence with aluminum foil spread with peanut butter (deer) or tuna fish (raccoons) or strips of bacon (bear, wolves and coyotes).

Lightning Protection

Permanent or semi-permanent fences need to be protected against lightning on the AC side and the fence side.

When severe weather threatens, unplug your AC energizer and disconnect your fence from the energizer. NEVER touch your systems during a storm.

When poli-products are hit by inductive lightning, the metal filaments can vaporize leaving just the poli-product behind making your fence unable to conduct electricity.

Livestock and Wildlife Training

Kennard strongly urges training animals to electrified fences (and retraining each fall) so they will not test the fence during insulating snows. Weeds, tall grass and snow may ground an electrified fence, essentially stopping its ability to zap or contain livestock and deter predators.

Like a parent teaching a child that woodstoves are hot by holding their hand near it (not touching), livestock must be trained to respect an electric fence. Sheep tend to look up, so grain troughs near a fence can be effective; they need to be zapped on their skulls as their horns can act as insulators. Pigs tend to root along the ground so they need to be also trained in a physical pen with electric fence on the inside, as they will try to run through an electric fence when they get shocked. Kennard recommends placing long strips of apple peelings on the fences at 12 to 18” above the ground for horses, cattle and camelids. Their sensitive noses learn quickly, and pigs can be contained with just 1 or 2 strands of electrified wire.

Common Mistakes

Dave Kennard described these common mistakes made in electric fence installations

  1. Not choosing the right fence for the job. Different livestock and wildlife need different fences for containment or exclusion, the number of wires and spacing will change. Be sure to consider potential expansion, terrain and environmental factors.

Select the right post and batten spacing for your livestock type to provide adequate support; prevent fallen fences, loose animals or predation entry.

  1. Not choosing the right energizer. Choose one based on the Joules of output needed for that animal containment, not the miles of fence or acres fenced. Poultry or other netting close to the ground will need a larger energizer than horse or cattle wire fence because more energy is ‘leaked’ out into the ground. Consult with your fence company to select the right size the first time.
  2. NEVER use two energizers on the same fence line. NEVER use two remotes at the same farm to avoid risk to farmers and staff possibly turning on a fence which is being repaired.
  3. Improper grounding. Grounds should be located under the fence. Insulated heavy wire or cable is needed, not household Romex wire as it is only rated for 600 volts. Poultry fence, which is often moved regularly, can be grounded using a length of old chain link fence on the ground rather than sinking and moving ground rods with each move.
  4. Not protecting against lightning or power surges. Public utility poles have a ground at every other pole. If you use public electric systems, you will need a good quality surge protector (minimum of 1,000 joule); “buy the $15 not the $5 version,” said Kennard.

If you can, unplug or disconnect your fence systems when thunderstorms are coming. NEVER touch your systems during a storm.

If you use a quality lightning diverter, you will be protected from all but a direct hit. Locate one near the charger and one at the far end of the system. Kennard also recommended a double-pole cutout switch at the beginning of the fence. Hook the positive connection to the fence and the negative to the ground and the knife to the fence. Throw the switch and the fence to ground before an impending storm. Do not forget to turn the fence back on after storms have passed.

  1. Setting up a fence and ignoring it. Monitoring is crucial to any fence. Weeds, grass and even saplings can grow up and short fences. Batteries can fail. Kennard recommends a digital voltmeter ($39) or a fence multi light tester ($15.00) not a household multi-meter which will be damaged by the energizer’s high voltage in most fence installations. Be sure to place a pole in the ground and then touch or test the fence.

Ideally, fence owners will use digital a Fault Finder and lighted sensors (like Fence Alerts) to show them the fence is live (or not).

For solar or battery operated energizers, check batteries monthly. Maintain at least a 20% charge to prevent winter freezing and replace batteries when they do not hold a charge. Each spring, spray the boxes with insecticide or insert mothballs, lavender or other natural pest repellants.

  1. Not training animals (livestock, predators and pests). When zapped, pigs keep going forward. To train them, place an electrified fence a few inches inside a physical fence and bait with apple peels or other favorites. When they leave bait alone for 36 to 48 hours, you can move them on.

Be sure NOT to leave the fence turned off and set up. If you need to leave your electrified fence off for any length of time (and it is temporary fence), take it down or your animals will need retraining.

Match the bait to any wildlife you want to train. Use honey for bears, canned tuna for raccoons, bacon for wolves, coyotes or predatory cats and peanut butter for deer, etc.

  1. Using improper wire connections or joints. Be sure to make the best connection possible for your fence wire or tape. Poli-rope works well with spiral rope connectors, Tape needs splice buckles and wire uses split bolts.
  2. Placing fences close to stone walls or Scare Wire over stone walls. The animals cannot graze close to the fence on both sides. Weeds will grow up and diminish the fence’s effectiveness. Kennard recommends locating fences over the stone walls to allow grazing up to the stones or placing fences 15 feet away from stone walls, even if this means locating them in forests edges.


Grounding is critical. For every Joule of energizer capacity, you will need 3’ to 6’ of galvanized steel (not copper or rebar) ground rods. To dissipate energy properly, these partially (not completely) buried ground rods should be at least 10 feet apart. Be sure to leave at least 3” to 6” out of the ground to make connections. To be effective and safe, the ground rods must be at least 40 feet from a well, waterline or metal watering tub or utility ground.  If placed too close to a barn or water lines, troughs or water dishes may become electrified and zap animals’ noses. Worse yet, the third prong on three prong electrical outlets could become live and destroy equipment or harm people.

Kennard warns against copper ground rods and connectors because they can develop a patina reducing conductivity over time.

Benefits of Temporary Fencing

Moveable pastures with portable watering systems improve Livestock health. When all animals come to a common watering site, parasite and disease levels can accumulate in soils and water supplies. Routinely moving animals breaks these cycles.

Temporary fencing can also be set up around unfenced areas that require trimming such as near parked farm equipment.

Intensive Grazing Practices

Using temporary fencing with small paddocks allows much more intensive grazing which improve animal and pasture health and vigor. Be sure to keep careful notes. Adjust the fence area and the time on each paddock or pasture with the season. Adjust with the quality and quantity of available food and the wear and tear on the pasture.

Kennard recommends letting animals graze pastures after there is a killing frost and root reserves have been built up. He grazes his flocks late into the fall rather than spending energy cutting, baling, collecting and moving late season forage. He does not offer supplemental feed to his sheep until mid-December.

For more information

Learn more or request a fence catalog at or call 855-FARMFENCE (327-6336) toll free. You can also visit the showroom at Wellscroft Fence Systems, LLC, 167 Sunset Hill-Chesham, Harrisville, NH 03450.

This Livestock Fencing workshop was part of a series called “Conservation – There’s a Plan for That: An Introduction to NRCS Conservation Plans & Practices” organized by Dr. W. Michael Sullivan, Dept. of Plant Sciences and Holly Burdett, Cooperative Extension , College of the Environment and Life Sciences, Univ. of Rhode Island.  For more information, email Holly at email:, call (401) 874-2249 or write the Holly Burdett, URI Cooperative Extension Water Quality Program, 1 Greenhouse Road, CIK Building, Kingston, RI 02881.

The six-part series was funded through a partnership between URI and USDA NRCS to conduct training sessions on the planning and adoption of conservation plans and practices improving farmer and landowner skills to engage in and benefit from the USDA NRCS Environmental Quality Incentives Program (EQIP). Participants did not need to be enrolled in an NRCS Program.



About Sanne Kure-Jensen

Sanne Kure-Jensen is a frequent contributor to Country Folks, Country Folks Grower and Wine & Grape Grower bringing regional and national attention to agriculture in RI and across southern New England. She has also written for newsletters of the Northeast Organic Farming Association (NOFA), Holistic Management International (HMI), RI Beekeepers Association and RI Tree Council. Read Sanne’s work at her Sustainable Living page at Sanne has written successful grant applications for alternative energy projects, staff and board training, products and services. Clients include agricultural businesses, farm stand/markets and non-profit organizations. Recent successful grant projects include a $90,000 USDA Rural Development‘s Rural Energy For America Program (REAP), $10,000 Sustainable Agriculture Research and Education (SARE) Farmer and $20,000 Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) Conservation Innovation Grant (CIG). Sanne is the part-time Administrator for NOFA/RI, a Rhode Island Certified Horticulturist and beekeeper. She is a NOFA Accredited Organic Land Care Professional and has lectured across southern New England on Beekeeping, Native Pollinators and Ecological Landscape Design. Learn more about the NOFA’s Land Care programs or contact Sanne for a garden consultation through the NOFA/RI website.
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