From the February 2016 issue of Drovers.

Whether you’re looking for a permanent fencing solution or want something portable for your grazing system, there are many cost and management benefits to utilizing electric fence.

Build it right, and electric fence can save you a lot of money and labor. Do it wrong, and you can have a continuous mess on your hands. Here to weigh in on the subject are Jim Gerrish, grazing and fencing consultant for American Grazing Lands Services LLC in east-central Idaho, and Steve Freeman, a cow–calf producer and fencing equipment veteran from western Missouri.

Portable or permanent?

“I think it takes people a little while to learn to trust electric fencing,” Freeman says. “So I think one of the best ways to accomplish this is to start with portable fencing before moving into permanent.”

Freeman and his wife, Judy, gained their confidence in electric fencing when they decided to strip-graze and stockpile fescue on their operation. He says portable fencing is also a good option for producers grazing leased ground, while permanent is for producers who know exactly how and what they want to accomplish with their pastures.

Select your materials

Step one: Choose your energizer

“The starting point to any electric fence is getting the right energizer,” Gerrish says. “One of the things that needs to be understood is that every energizer is designed for a different job.”

Producers are going to have three options: plug-in, battery powered and battery powered via solar charge. Regardless of it being hooked to a permanent or portable fence, there is a rule of thumb when it comes to selecting the proper size.

“Energizers are rated on joules of energy output, with 1 joule of energy per mile of fence ratio. So if your expectation is to power 5 miles of fence, then you want at least a 5-joule energizer,” Gerrish says, adding that he recommends producers purchase a larger energizer than they need so they have the option to expand later on. “If you read the labels on the energizers in the store, it will often read that the energizer will run 100 miles of fence or is good for a 1,000-acre farm. Those assessments don’t mean anything since it’s all relative to the construction site—stick to the 1 joule of energy per mile of fence rule.”

When it comes to selecting the proper type of energizer, Freeman recommends a 110v plug-in charger for a permanent fencing system if a connecting power source is available.

“You get so much more bang for your buck,” he says. “Since they are a plug-in, they will most likely be under a roof and not as likely to get rainwater in them or get hit by cattle. A lot of our chargers are 10 to 15 years old.”

However, Gerrish says a battery-operated energizer is suitable for a permanent or portable fence—as long as the producer keeps up with the battery charge.

“Some people will complain that the battery isn’t as powerful as a plug-in,” Gerrish says. “But as long as the battery has at least a 50% charge, then there will be no difference in the shock charge.”

To eliminate time management of keeping track of the battery’s charge, he recommends setting it up with a solar-powered system to automatically keep it going.

“If you’re not using a solar panel to keep up with the battery, then you need to have two batteries,” he concludes. “One needs to be fully charged in the shop to rotate with the one on the fence. And when it drops to 60%, switch it out—there is no sense in letting it drop to 50.”