How to install a portable electric fence around your garden or chicken coop. Easy to follow, complete step by step instructions to keeping pests out of your garden with a battery operated electric fence. Seriously. If every other guide to installing one of these things has confused you, this one will help.
7 or so years ago a couple of things happened: I ate my first devilled egg and confirmed they do indeed taste like eyeballs made out of toots AND I started to grow my own corn.
This of course led to raccoons discovering I had started to grow my own corn. They were masterful. Not once did they give any hint that they were skulking around while it matured. My excitement about the crop grew as it did.
Over the summer it got taller and matured with big, juicy ears. You know where this is going, I know that, but I still feel like I need to finish the story.
The night before I was going to pick my first ear, as I slept peacefully, a band of maniacal raccoons ravaged the plot in what was obviously some an elaborate cult initiation.
All the stalks were pulled over, laying pathetically on the ground, husks were everywhere, and littered amongst it all were corn cobs. Empty ones. That's the year I came up with a plan to figure out electric fencing.
But the big bad Internet only wrote about how to install HUGE electric fences and assumed I had some sort of knowledge of how electric fences work. I did not. But now I do.
So if you are looking for an inexpensive, pretty much guaranteed way to keep pests out of your garden or chicken coop, I'm here to help. Please don't thank me with devilled eggs.
Table of Contents
The Components of an Electric Fence
An electric fence works through 5 main components:
- the electric fence unit
- the wire
- non metal stakes, or knobs that go on fence posts to guide the wire
- the earth
- a grounding rod
How it Works
An electric fence is an incomplete circuit of electricity. Why yes, I do know how boring that sounds.
The circuit is only completed when something touches a wire while standing on the ground. It's the earth below that completes the circuit and allows a microshock to be felt.
The Unit - The unit is called an energizer or a charger. It converts the electricity from a battery, solar panel or other main power source into a high voltage pulse. The pulse happens once every second and only lasts 150 microseconds. Units come in different strengths depending on how big the area you need to cover is.
The Wire - The wire is what conducts the electricity from the charger around your garden, coop or pasture.
The Stakes/Posts - Any fence needs stakes or posts. With an electric fence the stakes need to be made out of plastic or fibreglass - something that doesn't ground the wire or conduct electricity in any way.
For larger fences, you'll be using wood posts with insulated (just means it won't conduct electricity) knobs or rings to hook the wire onto or through.
The Earth - The earth is what completes the circuit if the wire is touched. If an animal were to touch the wire without touching the ground - it wouldn't get a shock. THAT is why birds can land on hydro wires.
The Grounding Rod - After the wire is touched, electricity passes through the body of whatever touched it and back into the earth where they're standing. The grounding rod attracts that electricity through the earth to a safe place (the grounding rod) so it doesn't go blasting elsewhere. Granted that's an incomplete and rudimentary explanation but all you need to know is you NEED the grounding rod. It's not optional.
Your grounding rod needs to be made of rebar, pipe or any other metal - preferably at least 4' long and made of galvanized material. Hammer it into the ground as far as you can. If it's too shallow the soil will be dry and it won't conduct electricity well.
O.K. How are you feeling right now? Is it making sense? It's O.K. if you have to go back and read it a few times to get it straight in your head.
I hope you're ready because we're moving on to how you install the fence now. This guide is going to cover how to install a battery operated electric fence that's portable but the basic procedure and materials are the same for any electric fence.
I thought a video right about now would make things a little more clear.
- Zareba battery operated electric fence unit OR
- Zareba Solar powered electric fence unit
- Electric fencing wire (17 gauge)
- Grounding Rod
- Voltage Tester - not mandatory, but less terrifying than grabbing the fence to see if it works.
- The first thing you need to do is pound your grounding rod as far into the ground as it will go. I managed to get mine in about 3 feet deep before I hit rock. I use a large galvanized pipe and it works well but you can use a smaller rod that's actually meant for grounding. It'll be easier to pound in.
2. Once the grounding rod is in, go around the area you want to protect with your plastic stakes, placing them every few feet. The ones I use and recommend are "step ins" which shove into the soil easily. The stakes will have hooked pieces on them every few inches to tuck your wire into.
3. Hammer a wood stake into the ground and hang your charger unit on it (just for convenience.) Twist one end of your coil of wire around the positive terminal. The positive terminal will be RED.
4. Now it's time to run your wire around your garden or coop, guiding it on all those stakes you put in.
The height you place your wire will depend on what type of animal you're trying to keep out. For rabbits and raccoons the wire should go from around 6" off the ground to 1.5' high. This puts the wire right at nose or back level of the animal so your chances of the animal touching it and getting a shock are good. If your wire is 2' off of the ground the animals will just walk right under it.
5. Once you've made a few passes around your garden with the wire like you can see above, you can tie off the wire. Instead of continuing on around the garden twist the wire back onto itself like you can see below. Cut the wire off from the rest of the coil with a pair of snips.
6. Next up is attaching the ground wire. The ground wire is made of the same wire as your fencing wire. Cut a couple of feet off of your coil of wire; that's all you'll need. Attach it to the ground terminal on your charger unit and then to the grounding rod.
Your operation is almost complete. By now you have the unit installed, the electric fence wire running from your unit around your garden and a short grounding wire running from your unit to the grounding rod.
7. All that's left is to add the battery (if you're using a battery operated unit.) Place your 6v battery on top of the unit and grab the 2 wires with connectors that are coming out of the unit.
8. Attach the positive clamp from the unit to the positive terminal of the battery. Then attach the negative clamp from the unit to the negative terminal of the battery.
9. Your unit is now activated so for the love of God don't touch the fence now.
My battery operated electric fence unit does not have an on/off switch. To turn a battery operated electric fence off, just remove one of the clamps from the battery.
The solar powered unit I recommended above comes with an on/off switch.
Testing Your Fence
Before you test your fence, go around the perimeter and make sure nothing is touching the wires or even close to them.
If you remember when you were an electric fence noob, a couple of paragraphs ago, anything touching the fence wire that's also touching the ground will complete the circuit. That means leaves from corn stalks or weeds resting on the wire will complete the circuit. This in turn decreases the strength of the electric fence. If enough weeds or plants are touching the wire, the fence won't provide a strong enough shock to deter anything.
See the corn leaves touching the wires up there ⬆️? They'll ground out the fence so they need to be removed or tied up.
The fastest easiest and I suppose stupidest way to test if your fence is working is to throw yourself on it. Don't do that. Instead use a voltage tester to check if it's working.
Hang the voltage tester off of a wire then stick the metal prong at the end of it into the ground.
The unit will light up showing you how many volts are running through the fence. In the case of my fence it's measuring at 5,000 volts.
If I hadn't cleared away the corn leaves it might only register at 2,000 or 1,000 volts.
To keep everything dry and weather proof just put a plastic bucket over the unit.
How much does it cost
In total the setup for a small home garden electric fence will put you back about $150. $60 for the battery operated unit and another $90 for the wire, posts, tester and grounding rod.
If you upgrade to the solar unit you can add on about another $100.
If you're in Canada like I am, the price is higher - about $200 for the charger and accessories you need.
I've been using this fence for 4-5 years now and it still works perfectly.
How long does it take to install
Once you know what you're doing and are familiar with the process, installing an electric fence like this will take you about 15 minutes - only slightly more time than it takes to hide a mouthful of devilled egg in a napkin.
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