When the first snowflake starts to drift down upon your property, you should have already have a plan in place for keeping your fence in top shape through the winter. From preparatory maintenance to emergency fixes in the middle of a blizzard, Zareba® Systems offers you these electric fence care tips for the winter.
Electric Fence Problems in the Cold
The primary reason that electric fences depower in the winter is because ice and snow interfere with circuits. Water is a great electricity conductor, but ice isn’t. This is particularly problematic for your ground rods, and much of the “winter” problem can be eliminated during your initial ground rod installation:
- Ground Rod Location: Place your ground rods in areas that will see limited snow coverage, such as on the leeward side of a barn or under a tree. This protection will minimize the chance that frost will penetrate as far as the depth of the rod.
- Number of Ground Rods: Electric fences should have at least three ground rods, any fewer and your fence will have a hard time collecting energy, especially if you have soil with poor conductivity.
- Galvanized Steel: When used as a ground rod, this metal won’t rust or corrode.
- Copper: When this metal is used in ground rods, it provides better conductivity.
- Moisture: Before winter sets in, make sure the soil around your ground rods is thoroughly moistened. Winter air can dry out the soil, making it a less efficient conductor.
- Spacing: Keep your ground rods spaced at least 10 feet apart. Doing so will ensure larger ground field to insure the collection of all the available power. Rods should be at least 6 to 8 feet long, and extend far below any frost penetration.
Another problem that can crop up during a cold snap is an issue with line tension.
One of the reasons you don’t apply too much tension to a fence during installation is because of the effect that cold weather has on electric fencing. As the temperatures plummet, the metal in your fence will contract, which adds tension between the posts. If your fence tension was initially set too tight, then it could damage your fence posts, pop connectors or insulators and even cause the line to snap.
During installation, tighten fence lines but leave a bit of slack. This slack will draw the fence tight during colder weather.
Before the Snow
Prior to the onset of winter, make sure you, your livestock and the fence lines themselves are prepared for cold winter weather. Keep an eye out for:
- Trees and Vegetation: During a late fall tour of your fence, look for any trees that could collapse on your fence. Also, check for any shrubs or vegetation that may push against the fence if covered with a thick layer of snow. Take appropriate measures to remove this vegetation.
- Make Permanent Repairs: Hasty repairs you made to your fence over the summer should be made permanent before cold weather sets in to your area. Replace fencing knotted together with connectors. Add new insulators where needed. Replace any lines showing wear.
- Organize Supplies: While the weather’s still good and it’s easy to get supplies, organize a fence repair kit that includes everything you would need for a hasty fix-it job in the dead of winter. Include a spool of wire, a crimper, a multi-purpose tool, insulators, tensioners and connectors.
- Install Cut-Off Switches: If you’re in an area that gets a lot of snow, install cut-off switches on your lower lines. These switches can then depower those lines if they are buried in snow. Without cut-off switches, your fence charge will be drained if any of your lines are buried under snow.
- Keep it Visible: As you know, your electric fence is primarily a psychological barrier. It’s important that you maintain this illusion with your livestock to help keep them within the pasture boundaries if your fence loses power in the winter. With that in mind, maintain the appearance of your fence at all times. Even if it’s not operational, the very sight of it should keep most of your animals inside it!
Electric Fence Hot/Ground for Snowy Weather
When snow piles up or when the frost penetrates deeply into the ground, your fence can become ineffective. This is because snow or ice are not good conductors, so completing the entire circuit is often problematic. Without proper grounding, your fence will only carry a minimal charge and deliver weak corrective shocks. If you encounter this during heavy snows or extended cold snaps, and have checked for any other problems, you may need to temporarily rewire your fence to a “hot/ground” setup.
To create a hot/ground circuit, run parallel wires on a fence. The top wire is then electrified or “hot.” Connect the lower wire to your charger’s ground terminal. When an animal comes into contact with the ground wire and the hot wire at the same time, it completes the circuit and gets a corrective shock. Aside from using this setup in the winter on any electric fence, it’s also frequently used in rocky or arid regions where soil moisture is limited.
Although it’s a good short-term fix to get your fence up and running, don’t plan on keeping it for too long. In fact, these fences have problems of their own:
- More Work: Increased maintenance time because you’re effectively doubling the length of your fence.
- More Shorts: Increased chances of accidental shorts between the two wires.
- Loss of Utility: Reduced flexibility with your fence grid since it will be harder to adapt.
- Vegetation Problems: More shorts as the result of vegetation growth since the extra line makes it difficult to graze under the fence.
Electric Fence Maintenance After a Snowfall
Each time your pasture gets snow, it’s important to head out to your paddocks and check your fencing. Inspect your permanent fencing as well as your temporary fencing. In most cases, your permanent fencing will fare best. Heavy winds and drifting snow are more likely to incapacitate your temporary fencing.
During your inspection:
- Test: Use your voltage meter regularly along the line to test for power drops. Significant drop offs may indicate a disruption somewhere in the fence line.
- Repair: Be prepared to repair and right any temporary fencing that may have been damaged. Carry with you any tools and supplies you may need to make patches or repairs, including an extra spool of fencing.
- Clear: Check for collapsed trees. Snow and wind may have pushed them into the fence. Remember to depower the fence while you remove the tree and repair any damage.
- Shorts from Weeds: Look for snow-laden brush or weeds that may now be resting on the fence. This will create a short in your circuit and depower a portion of your line. Clearing these obstructions from the fence usually restores the circuit.
- Shorts from Snow: Whether snow piles high from a storm or drifts from wind, you need to keep your fence line clear. A high snowpack will drain your line of power and make it ineffective. If you can’t clear your fence with a plow or shovel, depower lines that are snowed under by disconnecting them or by installing a cut-off switch.
- Snow: Bring a leafblower with you to quickly clear snow off your connectors and insulators. Remember: Heavy, wet snow can disrupt your electricity flow.
- Ice: If your lines are covered in ice or heavy snow, they can sag under the weight. Be prepared to clear it and tighten the line as necessary.
Solar Fence Chargers in the Winter
With the onset of winter, you will also see shorter days and diminished sunlight intensity. That means you need to make sure the solar panels on your fence chargers are running at peak efficiency.
- Clean: Regularly clean off your solar panels. Doing so will allow more energy to be transferred to your charger’s batteries. To clean, take a damp cloth and scrub the panels to remove dust, leaves, grit and other accumulations.
- Recharge: Another idea is to get an extra set of batteries for your fence charger. Leave one set in your fence and charge the second with an AC adapter back at the barn. Once a week, swap out the batteries.
Your Winter Tips for Electric Fencing
Do you have any helpful tips for dealing with electric fences in the winter or when the snow starts flying? Let us know in the comments below or when you visit Zareba® Systems on Facebook.
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