Build Your Own Electric Goat Fence.
The biggest single expense with goat ownership is fencing. Goats are very tough to fence in. The can readily jump over,
climb, squeeze through, or simply bash-down most typical livestock fences. There is an adage that says "If your fence
won't hold water, it won't hold a goat." Some people swear by electric fences for goats. Others think woven wire is the
way to go. However, I also wanted mine to keep chickens in and predators out. I finally settled on 5 foot welded wire
fencing for the front paddock (about an acre) with electric fencing for a another "rougher" paddock of about 2 or 3
acres. This page is describes the building of the electric fence, the welded wire fence instructions are here.
Now before you head down to the hardware store and start buying all the electric fence stuff you are going to need, you
should first consider what "type" of electric fence you want to build. You should focus on deciding on the main
components of your fence and how they will be used in your goat field. These main components are: Posts, Wire,
Charger, and Grounding System. Also very important, you should also think long and hard about the gates you need to
build and the overall size and shape of your goat fence. All of these will contribute to what you need buy and how you
need to build the fence.
The main choices for posts are Wood, Steel "T-posts", or Fiberglass step-in. Wood posts are the generally the
strongest, but also the most costly and difficult to put in. Also, you may think that since wood doesn't conduct
electricity you won't need insulators. This generally isn't the case. Wet weather will moisten and be absorbed into the
wood and give it just enough conductivity to drain power out of your fence. However wood posts are an absolute
necessity if you wish to build a high-tensile electric fence (see wire section).
Steel "T-Posts" aren't as strong as wood, but they are far easier to install. Obviously, they easily conduct electricity and
insulators are a must. Also, they can't really be used for high-tensile fences, except maybe as spacers between wooden
Fiberglass step-in posts are quite common, they are the easiest to install (many just have a little lip on the bottom that
you can literally step on and install). However, they are not designed to be permanent. These are more suited for
temporarily fencing in areas for goats to forage.
The main choices for "wire" are various gauges and sizes of galvanized steel wire, aluminum wire, polywire, and
polytape. Galvanized steel wire is by far the strongest and probably among the most least expensive options. However,
it does have some drawbacks. It is the heaviest option, it will eventually rust away (probably take quite a while, but will
get "rusty" looking in spots relatively quickly), and it can't be spliced by hand. Also, it conducts electricity only about
25% as well as aluminum.
Aluminum wire conducts electricity four times better than steel, can be spliced easily by hand, is far lighter, and will
never rust. However, it is much weaker than steel wire. For example, 14 gauge steel wire has a break strength around
550 pounds, similar gauge aluminum has a break strength of around 215 pounds. Aluminum wire is also about twice the
price of steel wire (or more)
Polywire is essentially poly rope with woven stainless steel fibers in it. It is relatively cheap and very light. Also, it is far
easier to re-wind than either steel or aluminum wire. However, it conducts electricity quite poorly and will eventually
degrade in the sun in a few years. Although it is easy to splice (basically tying in a knot), the splices add to the poor
conductivity of this fencing material. It is best for temporary use on animals already trained to electric fences and that
are relatively easy to fence (goats don't really apply here).
Polytape is essentially polywire in flat form. This has the same characteristics as polywire, but is just larger in size for
higher visibility (particularly important for horses, but not so much for goats).
Chargers (also called "Energizers"):
You have three main types here. AC powered, DC powered, and DC solar-powered. AC powered are the most
convenient if you have an electric outlet near where you would like to have your fence charger installed. The most
powerful chargers are typically AC powered and they are readily available in many sizes.
DC powered chargers are also available. Most are designed to run on a deep-cycle marine batter. Contrary to what you
might think, and electric fence doesn't use much electricity at all. So a marine battery may last 30 days or more. DC
chargers are more convenient for remote installation where AC current isn't available. DC chargers are available in a
wide range of sizes, though not as many as AC units
DC solar powered chargers are essentially a DC charger with a built in 6 or 12 volt batter and a solar panel. Many will
run weeks without sunlight. However, these tend to be on the smaller power ratings.
Regarding power ratings in general. Be careful of measuring/comparing fence chargers in "joules" (although nearly all
major brands list this in the specifications) a joule is a measure of power. A joule is simply amps X volts X time. The
longer and more powerful the electric pulse, the higher the joule rating. But be careful, some of the very weak, "always
on" chargers (meant for protecting gardens from gophers) would actually have an INFINITE joule rating, since they
are constantly delivering a tiny amount of electricity. It is better to measure by volts and amps. Look at these factors
when choosing a charger. Goats generally require at least 7,000 volts for control. Many fence chargers define there
power by "mile of fence." Remember to look first at the voltage and amperage, and then on the mile ranges....
remember the mile ranges are for a SINGLE strand of wire under ideal conditions. So a four strand wire fence on mile
long, has four miles of wire. If this is all too confusing.. just get the biggest most powerful fence charger you can, and
you should be all set. Whatever you do, do skimp on the charger, or the entire fence will be weakened.
The ground is the other half of your fence. When an animal touches the fence, it flows through the animal into the
ground to complete the electrical circuit and generate the "shock."The most powerful fence charger in the world will
be useless if the ground is no good. Do not skimp on the grounding. Most fence chargers recommend you have no
fewer than three 6' ground rods 10' apart. 8' ground rods are better. The more the merrier. To avoid electrolysis
reactions, try to keep all the metals in your grounding system the same. If your grounding rod is copper, use copper
wire. If your grounding rod is galvanized steel, use galvanized steel wire. If your fence is extremely long add extra
grounding rods as far away from your charger as possible. Also add more rods if your soil is exceedingly dry. In
extremely dry conditions, I have heard that folks actually need to "water" their ground rods. At Swampy Acres, there
isn't much need for this, as the fence is in extremely wet ground.
Shape of the Fence:
Remember to always build your fence in a circle or square. You want both the beginning and end of the fence to
connect directly to the charger. This will help to minimize voltage drop at the far end of the fence. Take a look at these
two diagrams that will show how a poorly designed "linear" fence will show voltage drop at one end as compared to a
"closed loop" fence.
If will generally need at least one gate. If you are fencing a large area, multiple gates are obviously more
convenient.You can make"gates" that are electrified merely by buying spring loaded rubber handles to attach
between the wire and a fence post. However these looked a little "flimsy." Also, since if you are making multiple wire
fences you will to have to hook and unhook multiple individual wires each time you go in and out of the gate. So
consider how often you will be opening this gate. Wooden gates are also and option, but you must plan on routing the
fence wires over or under these gates.
The Swampy Acres Goat Fence Materials:
Okay, here are the decisions I made for each of these choices:
Since I have a relatively huge, irregular shaped area to fence, I chose steel t-posts. The ground is too uneven, with too
many obstacles (including streams and swampy areas) to build a high-tensile fence. Also, I didn't want to install
dozens and dozens of wooden fence posts. So, steel posts it was. I have read all types of opinions regarding how far
apart fence posts should be. These range from 100' per post, right down to 10'. I started out with about 50 feet, but
ended up with something closer to 25' spacing. Basically, the bottom wire would sag a bit a touch the ground if the
spacing was farther apart. Also, the ground is uneven, so minor changes in the ground level would also cause
problems. In some areas, I was able to get about 40'. In others, less than 10'. In addition to the steel fence posts, you
need a number of items to hang the wire (I chose a five strand system). I went with the following equipment, all of it
available at my local Tractor Supply Company:
I bought hundreds of "short" yellow plastic insulators and a fewer number of longer 2" plastic insulators (above).
These merely snap onto the posts and the "nubs" keep them from slipping down. You don't need to measure the
spacing on these insulators, instead you can just count the "nubs" on the posts to keep spacing similiar. I wanted a
five wire fence. The first four wires are about 9" apart, and the top wire is 15" away.
I bought one cap for each post. It adds visibility to the fence, and doubles as a wire holder.
Screw in Insulators:
There is a section of my electric fence that backs up to my wooden welded wire fence. As such, I needed a number of
screw in insulators as well (above)
In-Line Wire Clamps:
I bought enough galvanized wire clamps to attach wire under and/or over my gates.
Also pictured is some 14 gauge aluminum wire, and plastic-coated 14 gauge wire (suitable to bury). This is probably
the "bare minimum" materials you will need to build a fence of this type. A few knife switches and a fence tester are
also highly recommended and will be discussed later.
I decided to use 14 gauge aluminum wire for this fence. It costs about 40 bucks for 1/4 mile of this. I appreciated the
lighness, the conductivity, and the fact you can splice by hand.
This was the biggest decision by far. I do not have an electrical outlet anywhere near the fence, so I knew I had to go
with a DC system. However, I don't relish recharging a marine battery every 30 days. However, the "ready made"
solar charging systems all seem pretty weak. They don't have enough shocking power for goats, and the batteries are
extremely small. The most powerful ones are very expensive (the top-notch Zareba brand model is almost $400)
Therefore, I finally decided to build my own high performance system.
So, I bought a fifteen watt solar panel, with a charge controller (turns the current "off" when the battery is full) for
about $100. Next, I bought the biggest deep-cycle marine battery I could find (105 AH). I also went with a Zareba
brand DC fence charger rated at "two joules" (model B25LI, rated for "25 miles"). I built a custom solar panel
holder on top of one fence post and built a small enclosure to keep the rain of the battery, charger, and charge
controller (below). So far this system is working great. The battery never comes close to draining down, as the solar
panel can easily keep up with the demands of the fence.
I decided to go with three 6' galvanized steel grounding rods connected with grounding clamps (it is not a good idea
to simply wrap the wire around the rods, they should be securely clamped). I used 14 gauge galvanized steel wire with
a heavy plastic coating. Obviously, it isn't important to have this wire insulated, but it just comes this way, and I was
too lazy to look for non-insulated wire. I guess I could also bury this wire, I just haven't gotten around to it yet.