A friendly reminder: Stay grounded, my friends

by Troy Bishopp

Staying grounded in life means you aren’t controlled by external chaos and have the ability to stay calm and connect to the core of who you are in the face of uncertainty. Having a good grounding system on your fence energizer will also help control the chaos of animals getting loose and allow you to remain calm when you’re with friends or striving for a good night’s sleep.

There’s no uncertainty: Mother Nature has grown a heavy vegetative layer that is now affecting many a farmer’s fence line and reducing the shock value of even the most powerful of fence chargers. Without a consistent physical barrier, many livestock can go astray and put the farm at risk. Risk is different for everyone but generally the more public the field, the greater the risk.

There are important points to consider when you are under this “load.” What is your tolerance for this risk? What species of animal are you managing? Have you consulted with an energizer manufacturer or fencing professional to size the system under the most dire conditions? Does your energizer have enough grounding capacity? Do you have a daily monitoring system or warning device in place to check for diminished voltage or a dead short? Are you maintaining the fence lines in some capacity? Do you have access to a backup charger in case the unit goes down?

According to countless energizer manufacturers, it’s recommended to have one joule per mile of fence and to maintain 3,000 to 7,000 volts to keep control of livestock. “The joule rating is best understood when combined with acres of fence. However, the user should understand that ground conditions, vegetation, moisture, type of wire being charged and type of animals being contained are all factors that affect the success of an electric fence or whether the charger is strong enough for the job. There is one reality that can be relied on and that is it is virtually impossible to overcharge a fence,” stated Powerfields Fence Company.

Delivery of an effective shock deterrent relies on proper grounding, which is the lifeblood of the energizer. Keep in mind that 90% of problems with an electrical fence can be traced back to improper grounding. Michigan State University Extension recommend “installing a minimum of three feet of ground rod per joule of output capacity. These rods must be installed at least 10 feet apart from each other away from other electrical systems.” (If you test more than 400 volts on your grounding system under load, you need more ground rods.)

One of your best defenses for livestock control is also having a clean fence. Whether you subscribe to weed eating, brush hogging, herbicide treatments or disconnecting lower wires to keep vegetation from draining your power, one thing’s for sure: You need to monitor voltage levels daily – especially on a psychological barrier fence. There are a range of fence testers, fence warning lights and even Wi-Fi that signals your smartphone. The point is to get in the habit of using them and not using a cow in the road as your monitoring tool.

From time to time, a fence energizer will stop working from a lightning strike or, more commonly, a surge of electricity from the power line. Adding a surge protector is a highly recommended practice to avoid damage. If you rely on an energizer every day for managing livestock on your farm, having a backup unit or securing a spare from a local fence company is a great resiliency plan.

Inadequate grounding and vegetation on the fence are the top reasons for loss of control and animals going on a joyride. Robert Frost reminded us “Good fences make good neighbors.”

Do a fence system check today and see if you have these vulnerabilities. Have questions? Contact your local fence company, energizer manufacturer or a local Soil & Water Conservation District for diagnostic help.

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