Not just any old fence


I’ve been working with electric fences for cattle pretty much all of my life. Ours are just the single strand of wire which is held up with insulated posts and has a battery supplying the power. Like everybody else I’ve looked at, and been tempted by, the fences which use solar panels to power them, but alas, the solar panels are too tempting for thieves. As it is, we use an old tractor or car battery and just recharge it occasionally.
People do ask if they’re dangerous. The answer is basically no. Apparently there is one death or serious injury world-wide per year, and that is a death involving an electric fence, not necessarily caused by one. Indeed to explain why, I’m going to quote one website, “the electric fencers used in agriculture put out high voltage (around 8,000 volts) this makes a very clear mental imprint that really gets the attention of the target. However they also reduce the deadly amps to a very low amperage of around 120 milliamps (It varies with manufacturers). This is 120 Thousands of an Amp (normal mains electricity is 13 Amps). It should not even kill a squirrel.”

It’s interesting watching cattle get to learn about the fence. I watched a young heifer with one the other day. She brushed up against it, got a shock, went “Muhhhhh” and jumped sideways. She then stopped, looked at the fence and cautiously sniffed it. So she got another shock, went “Muhhh” again, stepped back and ignored it from that point on.

But the interesting thing is, cattle don’t fear the fence. As you can see from the photo they’re perfectly happy to eat under it. In fact they’ll eat all the grass under it and the stuff they have to stretch to reach. They’ll eat it far shorter than the rest of the grass they have access to, and they’ll often eat it first. You can tell a field that has been strip grazed (where you give them enough grass for a day and move the fence every day) by the bands of really short cropped grass where the fence was. You can tell exactly how many times the fence was moved.
Some farmers used to have an electric fence across the back of the collecting yard. This is where cows would stand whilst waiting to go into the milking parlour. As always you get those who’re really keen who’ll be at the front and push others (and you) out of the way to get in. Then you get those who linger at the back. They know that they’re not going to miss out, and that you’ll come down the yard to get them when you’re ready.

So what some farmers would do was use the electric fence as a back fence, moving it up during the course of milking, so that these recalcitrant madams would at least be near the door by the time you had to go and get them. An uncle of mine had this in his yard and during milking he would occasionally unhook the wire and move it to a position further up the yard.
The problem came when one evening he discovered, half way through milking, the wire had been unhooked and had fallen down. So he just assumed he’d not hooked it on properly and hooked it up again. So it happened a second time. Eventually, as he kept an eye on things, he noticed one old cow, who still had horns, would hook her horn under the wire, lift it up and off the hook so it fell on the floor.

Now horns do not conduct electricity. So she could do this without fear of getting a shock. My uncle pondered the situation and drilled a very small hole through her horn, near the tip. Now most a horn is just keratin with no nerves and no blood vessels. Doing this no more hurts than getting your hair cut.  He then put a wire through the hole and connected it to the metal tag the law requires we fitted in an animal’s ear so she could be identified. So when the old lady tried her ‘lift the wire off trick’ she got a shock.

My uncle rather thought this would be the end of it, but a couple of weeks later the electric fence wire was on the floor again. The old madam had rubbed her horn on the wall to rub the wire off. So they adopted the obvious solution. Whether she wanted to or not, she went through the milking parlour first and never came into contact with the electric fence.


If you want to know more about the peculiarities of livestock, obviously, ask the dog

As a reviewer commented, “This is a selection of anecdotes about life as a farmer in Cumbria. The writer grew up on his farm, and generations of his family before him farmed the land. You develop a real feeling for the land you are hefted to and this comes across in these stories. We hear of the cattle, the sheep, his succession of working dogs, the weather and the neighbours, in an amusing and chatty style as the snippets of Jim Webster’s countryman’s wisdom fall gently. I love this collection.”

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24 thoughts on “Not just any old fence

  1. Alicia Butcher Ehrhardt August 12, 2019 at 4:21 pm Reply

    Like to see the wheels turning in that cow’s head – smarter than you’d expect.

    They have a lot of leisure time.

    • jwebster2 August 12, 2019 at 4:32 pm Reply

      I’ve often felt that was part of the problem 😉

      • Alicia Butcher Ehrhardt August 12, 2019 at 4:35 pm

        Well, you don’t exactly have much for them to do, even though you would rather they not spend their time thinking up things to make your life harder.

      • jwebster2 August 12, 2019 at 5:00 pm

        Used to play them radio 4 (the BBC news radio) in the milking parlour to help keep them in touch with current affairs 😉

      • Alicia Butcher Ehrhardt August 13, 2019 at 2:31 am

        Isn’t that dangerous?

      • jwebster2 August 13, 2019 at 5:26 am

        we got away with it 🙂
        After all they don’t let them vote

  2. rugby843 August 12, 2019 at 4:46 pm Reply

    Not as dumb as people think, eh?😂

  3. Widdershins August 12, 2019 at 10:53 pm Reply

    Bwhahahahaha … clever girl!!! 😀

    • jwebster2 August 13, 2019 at 5:26 am Reply

      far too much time to think 🙂

      • Widdershins August 13, 2019 at 11:19 pm

        Did you ever get to read Gary Larson’s The Far Side comic strip? … very reminiscent of this gal. 🙂

      • jwebster2 August 14, 2019 at 5:21 am

        yes, I picked up a couple of collections of his strips second hand, he has a lovely way of looking at things at times 🙂

  4. jenanita01 August 13, 2019 at 9:34 am Reply

    I have often wondered why these fences work. Surely, the cows determination would disregard the small shock involved?

    • jwebster2 August 13, 2019 at 10:45 am Reply

      Normally if left to their own devices they’ll not bother. If the animal is frightened or upset by something then, yes, it’ll just go through it. But the role of a stockman is to ensure cows don’t get frightened or upset

  5. patriciaruthsusan August 17, 2019 at 9:19 am Reply

    Reblogged this on Musings on Life & Experience and commented:
    First, Jim Webster tells of using an electric fence and the cows’ reactions to it, Next, Jim has another small amusing and informative book on offer at an acceptable price. It’s followed by a review from a pleased reader.

    • jwebster2 August 17, 2019 at 9:28 am Reply

      The cunning of bovines with too much time on their hands 🙂

  6. […] Continue reading at Jim Webster […]

  7. deteremineddespitewp August 17, 2019 at 3:39 pm Reply

    Wow those cunning bovine minds

    • jwebster2 August 17, 2019 at 4:56 pm Reply

      You know what they say, the devil makes work for idle hands 🙂

      • deteremineddespitewp August 17, 2019 at 5:42 pm

        I shall views cows a whole different way from now on.

      • jwebster2 August 17, 2019 at 6:16 pm

        Ah well, I’d rather work with them than people, they’re more reasonable 🙂

      • deteremineddespitewp August 17, 2019 at 6:19 pm

        So they seem.
        There is always something new and worthy to learn from our fellow creatures.

      • jwebster2 August 17, 2019 at 6:37 pm


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