5 Diagnostic Tests for Electric Fence Troubleshooting
There’s a moment you have when you realize your cattle or other livestock have breached your electric fence. In that moment – the same moment you’re chasing after your animals as they fan out over the countryside – you wonder “What went wrong with the fence?”
You can save yourself these kind of headaches by regularly testing your fence and addressing issues as they arise. When you find your fence has lost power, is running low voltage or has dropped a charge somewhere along your fence line, you will need to find out what went wrong.
Zareba® Systems has five helpful diagnostic tests to suggest for your electric fence troubleshooting. It’s best to test a system in the order presented here so that the issues that cause broad problems are checked first. We recommend having a fence tester ready so that you can properly test your fence. Zareba® Systems offers a variety of fence testers for your needs.
TEST ONE – BATTERY/POWER CHECK
If your fence has completely depowered, your battery or power source may be at fault. Here is how to determine whether power is being delivered from your power sources.
- Outlets – Your fence tester can’t be used on an outlet, but a simple test is to plug in another electrical device (such as a light) into the outlet and check if that works. If that item doesn’t power up properly, consult an electrician. The outlet should be delivering between 105 to 125 volts to the charger.
- Solar – Use your voltage tester to measure your battery voltage. If it is underperforming, you may need to replace it. The batteries inside solar chargers are meant to last about 1,000 days (3 years), and after that point, it’s advised that you obtain a new one. Further, a solar battery could lose its charge after an extended time without sunlight or minimal sunlight. A 12-volt battery should test at 12 volts to properly energize a charger. A 6-volt or 6/12-volt battery should show a minimum of 6 volts in a test.
- Battery – If you have a battery-operated, non-solar, DC fence charger, you should check your DC battery to see if it is delivering the appropriate charge. Your battery may have been drained by a short somewhere along the fence or if animals are frequently testing the fence, so check for shorts before reconnecting this battery.
TEST TWO -- TERMINAL TEST
The terminals are the posts used to attach the hook-up wires to the energizer. Testing these posts can help determine if the energizer is properly outputting energy.
- STEP 1 – Power: Turn off the power to the energizer.
- STEP 2 – Disconnect: Disconnect both hook-up wires from the charger.
- STEP 3 – Power On: Turn the power back on.
- STEP 4 – Test: Check the voltage output with your voltage tester.
- STEP 5 – Under 2,000 Volts: There is a fault in the energizer, contact our consumer care team at 855-5-ZAREBA.
- STEP 6 – Over 2,000 Volts: The energizer is operating properly. Move on to Test Three.
TEST THREE -- GROUND ROD TEST
A lot of poor-performing fence systems can be blamed on inadequate ground systems. Every system should have at least three ground rods to perform properly. More ground rods should be installed if your electric fence is installed in sandy, dry or rocky soil. Frozen soil will also hinder the operation of your fence.
To test your ground rod system:
- STEP 1 – Power: Connect your fence and ground hook-up wires, then turn the power on.
- STEP 2 – Check Voltage: Use your Zareba® Fence Doctor to read the voltage on the ground wire.
- STEP 3 – Over 400 Volts: If over 400 volts, your ground rod is leaking too much voltage. Add extra ground rods or make them deeper. Test again after making these adjustments.
- STEP 4 – Under 400 Volts: The system is sufficiently grounded. Move on to Test Four.
TEST FOUR -- HOOK-UP WIRE TEST
Your electric fence’s hook-up wire is the line that leads from your energizer’s positive terminal to your fence. A second hook-up wire runs from the negative terminal to your first ground rod. Both of these need to be securely connected to the charger and their final destination. Likewise, conductivity must be fully established.
To test these wires, follow these steps:
- Step 1 – Power: Turn off your power to your charger.
- Step 2 – Secure: Check both connections (positive-to-fence and negative-to-ground rod) and make sure they are securely attached. If one or more has come loose, reattach, turn your power back on and see if this resolves your issue. If not, continue to Step 3.
- Step 3 – Disconnect: Keep the hook-up line connected to the terminal and disconnect it from the fence (leave the ground rod hook-up completely attached).
- Step 4 – Test: Turn the power on. Then, using your voltage tester, check the output of the hook-up wire that is normally attached to the fence.
- Step 5 – Less than 1,500 Volts: If the reading is less than 1,500 volts, your hook-up wire is accidentally grounding itself in some way. You should ensure that you are using a 20 KV insulated wire. Turn the power off, replace this wire and recheck your reading.
- Step 6 – More than 1,500 Volts: If the voltage on the hook-up wire reads more than 1,500 volts, the hook-up wire is fine. Reconnect this line to the fence and move to Test Five.
TEST FIVE -- FENCE TEST
When you have eliminated all other options, it’s time to take a good look along the length of your fence.
- Step One – Power: Turn the power on.
- Step Two – Walk and Test: Every 100 feet or so, test your line. If you get no reading or a low reading, back up 50 feet test again and try to find where the drop begins.
- Alternative: Get a Zareba® Fence Doctor, which will indicate the direction of the fault so you can find it quicker.
- Tip One: Be aware that the longer your fence, the more voltage drop you should expect at the most-distant portions of your fence.
- Tip Two: If the voltage drop along a lengthy fence is too much, you may want to buy a more powerful charger or set up a second fence fueled by another charger.
ELECTRIC FENCE TROUBLESHOOTING – WHAT TO LOOK FOR
After Test Five, you may determine that your fence has a short somewhere and you will have to walk your fence line. Shorts can be created by numerous situations, so be sure to consider all of the following as you make your survey:
- Are the Hook-up Wires Firmly Attached? – These wires can make or break your fence, make sure all your fasteners are attached.
- Are the Jumpers Between Lines Connected Properly? – Jumper wires carry voltage from one fence wire to another, often between gates, at corners or in multiple wire situations. If one wire is hot, and another shows no charge, check your jumper wire for a good connection.
- Are Splicers and Splices Providing a Good Connection? – When you perform fence repairs or need to extend a line, you may opt to install a connector or make a splice directly with your wire. Even if these appear to be secure, they may not be making a good connection, so check for voltage before and after the splice.
- Is the Fence Leaking Voltage into the Earth? – You want to look to see if a shovel or other object was left leaning against the fence. Such an object would lead to a short.
- Is Vegetation Touching the Line? – If a plant – whether it’s a weed growing up from below the fence, a bush growing into the fence, or a branch resting on the fence – will drain voltage from your electric fence. Clear these items from the fence and maintain a regular schedule of trimming these plants.
- Are Gates Properly Wired to Connect Over the Gap? – One of the biggest trouble spots for fencing (after improper grounding) is trouble with wiring around and under gates. Check for good connections and that wire bridging the gap is remaining hot.
- Are the Proper Insulators Installed? – If you are using insulators that are not built specifically for the brand or wire style you’re using, then they may not properly insulate the electricity from being grounded by your fence posts.
- Are the Insulators Damaged, Cracked or Dirty? – Damaged and cracked insulators can create shorts or drain voltage on your fence. Be prepared to replace individual insulators during your regular survey of your fence line. Insulators can be damaged by prolonged exposure to sun and temperature variations as well as stresses to the fence line, such as an animal attempting to run through the fence or a tree collapsing on it. Dust and cobwebs can also create problems with insulators.
- Is the Wire, Polyrope or Polytape Touching a Fencepost Somewhere? – Check to see if your wire got dislodged from an insulator somewhere along the fence. If your wire comes in direct contact with a fencepost, it will short out.
YOUR EXPERIENCE WITH ELECTRIC FENCE TROUBLESHOOTING
Now that you have a plan for troubleshooting an electric fence, we’d be interested to know the problems you’ve experienced with your fence and fence equipment. Leave a comment below, reach out to our consumer care team at 855-5-ZAREBA with your thoughts, opinions and concerns.
We also urge you to subscribe to the Zareba® Systems E-Newsletter, where you can learn about our latest articles and products to help you with your livestock and fence.
Want to learn more about your electric fence? Check out these helpful articles:
- What kind of fence do you need? 6 questions to ask before buying an electric fence.
- Why you need a solar-powered fence charger.
- Understanding line and height requirements for electric fences.