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How to use electric fences with sheep

Insights

Electric fencing can be valuable tool to a sheep operation. Katie Brian, AHDB Beef and Lamb Better Returns programme manager, tells us more.

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Fencing is a valuable tool for sheep producers, as it allows them to control where livestock eat and how long they remain there, enabling them to manage stocking density and grazing pressure.


It can also be useful in preventing animals accessing areas which may be dangerous or unhealthy, such as areas where mud snails, the intermediate host for liver fluke, may be present.


Katie Brian, AHDB Beef and Lamb Better Returns programme manager, says: “Fencing is a crucial part of systems which include rotational grazing and where the ability to change areas used by stock easily is important. Electric fencing is flexible, can be cost-effective and is worth considering as an alternative to conventional fencing.”


All-grass wintering of ewes and group grazing of sheep are both examples of systems which rely heavily on electric fencing. If well maintained, it can be durable, as stock have little, if any, contact with the fence.

Requirement

Planning is essential when using electric fencing, Ms Bryan says: “Points to consider include the type of fence required, length of area to be fenced, corners and change in direction, requirement for gateways and means of powering fences.”


There are three main types of electric fencing: permanent electric, off conventional and temporary electric.


It is important to consider what you require before installation. Permanent electric is a long-term option and should be trouble-free once erected.


To prevent stock rubbing or pushing against original fencing, the use of ‘off conventional’ fencing, which consists of an electric fence wire placed at a small distance from an existing timber or wire mesh fence, is a good solution.


For a lightweight option which can be transported easily, temporary electric fencing is ideal, enabling large fields to be broken up for ‘strip’ or ‘paddock’ grazing. With the use of adapted quad bikes, the movement and erection of these fences can be quick.


The main components of an electric fence system include a power source, an energiser, an earth system and a conductor. These need to work together efficiently to maintain the circuit. The energiser converts mains or battery power into high voltage pulses of current.


The earth system allows the power to flow around the fence and is an important component which is often overlooked. An electric fence is an open circuit and, if the earth system is working well, when an animal touches the wire it will produce a shock and then allow the flow of electricity back to the energiser.


Electricity flows through a conductor and various wiring and netting can be used to fulfill this role.


Ms Bryan says the use of electric fencing requires a different way of thinking.


“With conventional fencing, its security is in direct proportion to the physical strength of the posts and wire as the animals are able to challenge them directly by rubbing or scratching.


“With electric fencing, the security is in proportion to the voltage and consistency of wire height as, once the animals are trained, they will not challenge the fence providing these are both adequate.”


Deciding whether your fencing is permanent or temporary will determine the number and height of wire strands. It is important to ensure the wires provide a fence which controls stock and avoids shorting out due to vegetation. The lowest wire should be as high as possible to avoid this if control of vegetation at the fence is not possible.

Hassle

To save time and hassle when putting sheep into fields or paddocks bound by electric fencing, it is a good idea to train your sheep (see panel below).


Ms Bryan says: “The post-weaning period prior to tupping is the best time to introduce ewes to electric fencing.


“Do not attempt to train lambs directly after weaning.


Instead, leave at least seven to 10 days before introducing them to electric fencing. Lambs learn quickest when introduced while still with their trained mother.”


Many people who use electric fencing find it a flexible solution to managing stock which offers substantial cost benefits.

More information

See the AHDB Beef and Lamb BRP manual ‘Electric fencing for livestock’ at beefandlamb.ahdb.org.uk/returns

Training ewes and lambs

  • Using materials which will be used across the farm, set up a three-strand fence 50cm (20in) inside the permanent stock fence. Ensure voltage is +4,000V for shorn ewes or ewes with young lambs, and +5,000V for weaned lambs and ewes with fleeces
  • Observe stock for the first hour and then regularly over the following 24 hours. Once all animals have encountered the fence, run a three-strand fence across one corner of the field and once again observe stock for the first hour and then regularly over the following 24 hours
  • Then divide the field in half with a fence down the middle and check it over the next 24 hours. If the fence has been challenged by stock, keep them in the field for another 24 hours or until they stop
  • Once animals respect the fence, experiment with just two wires for ewes to reduce materials and costs
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