There’s more than one way to fence a pig

Hel­lo, blog read­ers. This is my first blog post ever. Gal­lagher has been threat­en­ing to rescind my abil­i­ty to post for months, but I final­ly did it! Hope­ful­ly, I will get used to this and be a reg­u­lar con­trib­u­tor in the future.

On Sat­ur­day I went to a fenc­ing clin­ic at Wellscroft Farm in south­ern New Hamp­shire. There they oper­ate both a work­ing live­stock farm and and a fenc­ing com­pa­ny called Wellscroft Fenc­ing Sys­tems. They are very nice, very help­ful, and extreme­ly knowl­edge­able peo­ple. The own­er, David Ken­nard, in addi­tion to being a full time farmer and board­er col­lie breeder/trainer, is also the self-pro­claimed “Portable Net Fenc­ing KING of New Eng­land.” It was a great clin­ic and I learned A LOT about fenc­ing in one day.  When I told peo­ple I was going to an elec­tric fenc­ing clin­ic 1 1/2 hours away from the farm, the reac­tions were some­what mixed. Most peo­ple were sup­port­ive, but some basi­cal­ly said, “why would you need to go to a clin­ic?” I am an elec­tri­cian after all (albeit not a licensed one), and there­fore the assump­tion is that I should be able to hook a stu­pid wire up to a fence and not elec­tro­cute myself too bad­ly in the process. How hard could it be? This is some­what true. The answer is that I did not go to the clin­ic to learn how a fence ener­giz­er works, or what the dif­fer­ence between volt­age and amper­age is. I luck­i­ly already under­stand these con­cepts. What makes fenc­ing com­pli­cat­ed and worth learn­ing about, for me, is that there are so many dif­fer­ent options and vari­a­tions, so many ways to do it. And believe me, its very con­fus­ing and frus­trat­ing to design a fenc­ing sys­tem if you have no expe­ri­ence with it. My rea­son for going to the clin­ic was to deter­mine the best, most effi­cient (both in terms of work and cost) method for fenc­ing my pigs and specif­i­cal­ly what equip­ment I would need. I fig­ured it would be easy one stop shop­ping. I’d sit and lis­ten to a lit­tle sales pitch, ask some ques­tions, and buy what I needed.

The clin­ic was sur­pris­ing­ly well attended—around 100 peo­ple showed up at 8:30 for cof­fee and donuts, fol­lowed by a fast paced talk by David Ken­nard on the basics of elec­tric fenc­ing. In 2 ½ hours he cov­ered how fence ener­giz­ers work, the dif­fer­ent types of ener­giz­ers (AC, bat­tery, solar), ground­ing tech­niques, light­ning pro­tec­tion, mon­i­tor­ing volt­age and trou­bleshoot­ing, train­ing ani­mals to the fence, dif­fer­ent types of elec­tric fenc­ing (per­ma­nent, semi-per­ma­nent, and portable), and much more. 

A few things that I took away from this talk:

  • Ener­giz­er all have the same basic inter­nal com­po­nents in that they all run off DC (direct cur­rent, e.g. bat­ter­ies) pow­er. The AC (alter­nat­ing cur­rent, e.g. an out­let in your home) mod­els sim­ply have a rec­ti­fi­er built in and the solar mod­els are sim­ply DC bat­tery pow­ered units that have solar pan­els attached to to them. Many of the mod­els can run off of AC or DC right out of the box. If you want to run it off a bat­tery, you just need to buy a 12v deep cycle marine or reg­u­lar car bat­tery. If you want to run it solar, you need to buy a bat­tery and a solar pan­el.

  • Ani­mals need to be trained to the fence. The best way to do this is to set up the elec­tric fence inside of an exist­ing per­ma­nent fence or pen. Then you bait the fence leav­ing some grain or oth­er food right on the oth­er side of it. Once the ani­mal gets a shock they will not test it again. It is espe­cial­ly impor­tant with pigs to train them with a wood­en or wire fence behind the elec­tric fence because pigs, unlike oth­er ani­mals, will often charge through the elec­tric fence the first time they get a shock.

  • Ground­ing is extreme­ly impor­tant. If your fence, clogged with weeds and grass, is a bet­ter ground than your actu­al ground rod, then you have a prob­lem. The fence must be clean and you need at least one 4′ long gal­va­nized steel ground rod dri­ven, prefer­ably into damp soil. The wet­ter the bet­ter. You can even ground straight into a pond if you have one near­by. Addi­tion­al ground rods can be added as need­ed, but must be 10′ apart. And final­ly, all ground rods for your fence must me more than 30′ from your util­i­ty ground, or you will get elec­tri­cal inter­fer­ence on your 120v sys­tem.

  • If you need to ground a portable sys­tem quick­ly, and don’t want to dri­ve a rod 4′ into the ground, you can take a sec­tion of fence or of wire mesh, attach your ground wire to it, and then just throw it down flat on the grass. Just make sure not to touch it once the sys­tem is on. 

After the talk, we took a tour of the farm and David showed us all of the dif­fer­ent types of fenc­ing in action. This was extreme­ly help­ful because it became more and more clear how ben­e­fi­cial elec­tric fenc­ing can be when it is set up exten­sive­ly as a sys­tem to con­trol the entire farm. David talked a lot about rota­tion­al graz­ing and how he has designed his fenc­ing sys­tem with this mod­el in mind. Rota­tion­al graz­ing is so impor­tant in any sus­tain­able live­stock mod­el, and portable fenc­ing is what makes it pos­si­ble, both in terms of cost and labor, for small and large pro­duc­ers alike. 

Inten­sive rota­tion­al graz­ing (IRG) is a pas­ture man­age­ment tech­nique that results in high­ly effi­cient usage of pas­ture as for­age as well as restora­tion of nutri­ents to the soil and an increased bio­mass. Graz­ing ani­mals are con­fined to a sec­tion of pas­ture for a brief peri­od of time (the area and time are depen­dent on the type and num­ber of graz­ers) while the oth­er sec­tions of pas­ture are allowed to rest. The idea is to find the right ratio of graz­ers to pas­ture size so that the for­age is con­sumed at an even rate and the manure is even­ly spread. If you put 5 pigs on an acre of land, then they are going to poop in one spot, eat some grass here and there, root up some spots here, and maybe not even touch some areas. But if you take those pigs and you put them in a 1/4 acre or even small­er, then they will start to graze, root, and spread their manure more evenly. 

After the pas­ture is exhaust­ed (but not destroyed), the ani­mals are moved to anoth­er sec­tion and the pre­vi­ous sec­tion is allowed to recov­er. The ani­mals are pro­vid­ed with unlim­it­ed fresh for­age. The manure begins to break down and seep into the soil prov­ing it with nutri­ents nec­es­sary to regrow. And if the tim­ing is right, this process keeps going on and on. Its real­ly a beau­ti­ful thing. 

This sys­tem work with any rumi­nants or non-rumi­nants that can get a por­tion of their diet from for­age. And it works espe­cial­ly well when you bring more than one type of ani­mal into play. One of my favorite farm­ers, Joel Salatin, is the mas­ter of find­ing ways to achieve sym­bio­sis on the farm, to have every­thing play its part and in doing so cre­ate a closed loop. After his cows have exhaust­ed a sec­tion of pas­ture, they move on to anoth­er and he moves his lay­ing hens onto the grazed down land. The lay­ing hens for­age for what­ev­er is left and also pick apart the fresh cow pat­ties look­ing for the insects that are already hatch­ing inside them. This breaks the manure down so it can leech into the field more efficiently. 


pigs enclosed in a small pad­dock using pig netting

For our 4 pigs, we have about an acre of pas­ture and prob­a­bly 1 1/2 acres of woods. The plan that I have come up with after attend­ing the clin­ic is to sur­round the entire area with a perime­ter fence and then use net fenc­ing specif­i­cal­ly designed for pigs to seg­ment it off into pad­docks. The perime­ter fence could and prob­a­bly should be per­ma­nent fenc­ing, ide­al­ly high ten­sile wire, but I don’t have the mon­ey for that. So I am going to install a semi-per­ma­nent fence using 2–3 strands of poly rope and I am going to run it through the woods using as many trees as pos­si­ble as posts. The perime­ter fence will run through the woods and then across the back of the pas­ture, through anoth­er sec­tion of woods and then back along the tree line, cre­at­ing a big U shape. I will then use one or two lines of pig net­ting to cre­ate a nar­row slice con­tain­ing pas­ture and woods that will be about ¼ acre total. The best thing about cre­at­ing the perime­ter fence is that it becomes my pow­er source. I can put the ener­giz­er at the begin­ning of the fence, which is close enough to an out­let to run it off AC, and then it will run all the way out though the woods to the far end of the field. So, when I set up my pig net­ting, all I need to do is clip it onto the perime­ter fence and it is ready to go. I will post a map of the fenc­ing plan soon. 


We are con­sid­er­ing using elec­tric fenc­ing for the veg­etable fields as well. We need to keep both small crit­ters and deer out, so the plan is to use a 30” tall gar­den net­ting for the crit­ters and then run 2 strands of elec­tric tape above it to keep out deer. Small ani­mals will not dig under elec­tric fenc­ing like they will under con­ven­tion­al wire fences because their first instinct is to test the fence before dig­ging. Since I am already buy­ing the fence ener­giz­er for the pigs, the cost of buy­ing the fenc­ing for the gar­den will cer­tain­ly be cheap­er than putting in a per­ma­nent fence and it comes with the added ben­e­fit of being able to take it down in the fall if we need to plow again. 

2 Responses to “There’s more than one way to fence a pig”

  1. who was here says:

    >Boo! Bring back Gal­lagher! Boooooo!

  2. TheGoldBug says:

    >Excel­lent — now this blog has ful­filled my mas­cu­line obses­sion with tech­ni­cal knowl­edge. Keep writing.

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