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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Electric fences are great and easier than you think, just follow the the directions. In the south a company named Jeffer’s has some solar electric fence chargers that have worked well for us will cattle and garden. Good job! Karen
Didn’t everyone have horses, an electric fence and a really gullible neighbor kid to check the electric fence with his tongue like I did?
The memories of accidentally touching that fence are clear and that was fifty or so years ago. Zap. Ouch.
We used to try to get city kids to pee on the electric fence: our idea of a good time We didn't have a lot of entertainment options back then.
No cable TV, no internet, no dumb social media. Just stupid neighbors and electric fences to while away those long hot summers.
City kids? Where did you get fancy pants city dwellers? We depended on the family of carnies who lived in a gully to the east of our horses for science class, AKA Why electricity can make the washing machine spin like a Tilt-a-whirl and Making your tongue buzz and steam while you hop backwards into the stream! I was in it to win it. The science fair was my favorite diversion.
I tried to get my garden neighbour in the plot next to me to fling his body onto it wrestler style but no dice. ~ karen!
The raccoons will not eat my cantaloupes, I repeat, the raccoons will not eat my cantaloupes!
I do not have a need for an electric fence.
I frequently have the need for Devilled Eggs.
Rethinking our friendship ;)
Ditto!!🤣 ~ karen!
Very clear and helpful. Another alternative is the Flexinet variety, which I find to be much easier, more versatile, and very effective. Comes on a roll, all attached to posts, in a variety of heights and lengths. I use it around my vegetable garden, and around my chicken yard. The nice thing is that you can take it down once the season is over, roll it up and store it. For the vegetable garden, I can change the configuration each year as I expand certain areas or experiment with new crops. Very affordable. I use Premiere Supplies to get mine, but there are other suppliers.
One note: blasted gophers/groundhogs/woodchucks can and will still burrow under any fence, the bastards. I find sonic spikes to be most effective at keeping them away, in conjunction with the fence. And if they’re really persistent, motion activated thingys that connect to your hose and spray a circle of water jets at anything that comes in their path. (You just have to remember to turn the water off before you enter the garden yourself…)
I WILL be putting one in! This summer I lost cukes and squash and beans to rabbits, lost pumpkins, melons, sweet potatoes to deer, lost potted midget bush cukes from the top of the green stalk to white flies, intense white flies. I lost every little replanted start to the $^^$% armadillos that just pulled up the plant looking for worms or whatever was under the damp earth surrounding the seedling. THREE times and I gave up. I tried tons but swore I would figure out how to arm myself better next year by putting in an electric fence. The sadness of all this is I love the animals that are around and normally they do a little damage but this year due to the drought, then the deluge of daily rain for 2 months, then the HEAT, I didn't blame them for needing to eat. The deer sort of stared at me wondering what I was doing in their patch. Then of course, they flipped me off with their tail as they blew at me and turned to walk slowly away. My daughter bought me a plastic owl that was fueled by the sun. It was roll it's bright red eyes around and make hooty noises when an animal approached BUT had to be aimed at their entrance point. THEY CAME FROM ALL OVER - a bust. But a fence surrounding it, with high and low touch points (deer and rabbits) will solve it all. I can dream, right?
We had invasions in our garden too, and found that the cheapest fence was 6-foot stucco wire mesh (like you'd wrap your house with before troweling on the stucco) on treated posts. Then, my husband put one electric wire around the bottom about 4 inches off the ground on the plastic stand-off attachments you can buy, and one wire at the top to deter anything else that managed to climb over the first one to get higher. We had to do the lower wire even though the mesh touched the ground because the skunks would burrow under to look for the chafer beetle grubs in the garden beds. I found one year that you can only re-plant uprooted corn about three times before the corn gives up the fight and dies! With the lower electric wire though, you have to be prepared for skunk farts every night as they make the trek all around the perimeter looking for a place you might have missed.
Love the corn issue! I had corn years ago and know for a fact that corn gives off some sort of signal unknown to humans but widely used by raccoons on the night before humans plan to harvest. Those raccoons will always wait for the corn signal and eat the ends off the corn during the night before planned harvest. Amazing!
I have deer but few raccoons. I prefer land mines for the deer. But one must deal with neighbors irriatated by the explosions at night and the gore splattered about from time to time.
Yes, one could see how that could cause discord among your more delicate neighbours. Perhaps you could electric fence the deer IN your garden and train them to wear saddles and offer pony-type rides? ~ karen!
Can I use chicken wire to keep out squirrels ?
Thanks very much for all the great info! 1000V is recommended for livestock and small wildlife; 5000V for bears, who love melons and beehives. Also, a thrilling way to test is to loop a long blade of grass around the wire (or tape) and hold both ends between thumb and forefinger
A lifetime ago (when we first bought the house), I grew corn in the backyard. The only wildlife that turned up then were squirrels and birds. After the first year, the squirrels started going after the corn: pulled the ears off, took a few bites and went for the next one. So I grew sunflowers to lure them away from the corn. No dice! I've since stopped growing corn. And raccoons, skunks, bunnies, you name it, use the backyard as a thoroughfare. All my raised beds are covered with bird netting from top to bottom during growing season. Haven't lost any produce to wildlife since. I'm sure they're all plotting how to outsmart me. A matter of time! A matter of time!
Will this keep back alley human vagrant’s/opportunists out too?
Betty did a lousy job raising you obviously. Devilled eggs are the food of the gods imho. Invite me to your next bbq and I’ll bring some! 😂
Raccoons are cute if not in your house or garden 🥴
Funny and informative. Thank you.
Next up: See it it's possible to wire up my own Solar powered electric fence unit using an Arduino or something..
Yep, you can. I have every confidence. It won't be as funny, but still ... it'll work. ~ karen!
Thanks, you just saved me money! I was set to do two things - have an electric fence installed AND wrap chicken wire around my entire garden for the few inches at ground level that rabbits travel. I was going to do the rabbit fence first since I could do that. BUT I was going to have someone install the electric fence to keep the multitude of deer away that I seem to feed every year. Last year I got no food except one nice sized squash with a hoof print scabbed over the skin. THANK YOU SO MUCH!!!!!!
You're welcome!! These little battery operated electric fences are great. ~ karen!
How do you keep the squirrels out? I string my tomatoes up, thanks to you, and the damn things climb right up the rigging and down to each plant!