Training Your Animal to Your Fence

December 1, 2022 by
Mike Gais

The need to train an animal to a physical barrier fence is minimal because this fence type depends on the robustness to contain the animals. However, there should be some type of introduction to the new fence before setting the animal loose. This is especially true with horses. With a psychological barrier fence, the need to train the animal increases dramatically as the strength of the fence alone may not be able to contain the animal if they try to break through. 

The idea behind electric fences is to change the animal's behaviour after receiving a “shock” from the fence. This then teaches the animals to “fear” the tiny piece of wire and to avoid it by all cost. The fence training application will depend on the species you are fencing as each species has a different response and curiosity level.

When training cattle, it is important to train them to the electric before just turning them into their new pasture. Due to the brute strength of cattle, they will often just flatten the fence to get to the other side if they are not feared by the wire. Cattle that are born onto a farm where electric is already used will learn to respect the fence from herd mates, but training is needed for cattle that are being brought in from another farm. 

The recommended approach to train cattle to the electric is to build a cross wire across a small paddock or corral. You will want the corral to be a physical barrier and a small area to allow the cattle to have minimal space to roam. You will want to install an electrified cross-fence across the middle of the small paddock leaving an opening for the cattle to pass through on one end. Place the feed on one side of the cross-fence and the water on the other. This will force the cattle to move from one side to the other. Due to being in a small area, it will not take long for the cattle to either get curious and sniff the cross wire, attempt to cross the wire to get to the feed or water on the other side, or just rub up against the fence while maneuvering the area. Upon the first zap, cattle may retreat from the fence or bolt forward. After the initial shock, the cattle with approach with caution and will only take a few zaps to learn to respect the fence. Once all the cattle have been zapped a few times and show respect to the fence, they can be turned out into the permanent pasture.

A physical barrier, psychological barrier, or combination of the both can be used to contain goats and sheep. No matter which type of barrier you use, it is important to train your animals to the fence to teach them that the fence is an insurmountable barrier. An electric netting fence works great for goats and sheep.This type of fence keeps your animals in, and the predators out. The fence uses semi-rigid vertical stays to keep the fence standing and strong to prevent drooping which would cause electrical shorting. Posts can be added to these nets to make them as tight as you need, or to add more stability for ornery, persistent animals. However, a stranded electric fence requires more training because these animals can be very curious and keep testing their barriers to go under, over, or through the strands.

The most recommended approach is to entice your animal to investigate the fence. This can be achieved by placing feed on the other side of an electrified strand of fence or by attaching apple slices to the fence strand. Either of these approaches will entice the animal to cross or touch the wire, but will receive the shock once they do so teaching them to avoid that fence strand. Sheep and goats may take 2-3 attempts before they realize they should not go near that again. Heavily wooled animals may require more stimulation due to the insulation their coat provides for them. 

Typically a psychological barrier is ideal for horses, but a physical barrier can be used as long as it is strong enough to hold up to the horse's weight. No matter which fence type you choose to use for your horse, the key factor is to be sure it is visible from a distance. If a thin wire, braid, rope, or tape is being used it is best to apply fence flags or fence tape hanging to make sure the horse sees the fence line. In the case of a rail or wooden fence, the color of the fence should stand out from the background. For example, if the fence is along a highly wooded background, a brown or black fence may not be the best option. A white fence would be more ideal in this situation. Training your horse takes the same approach whether you are using a physical barrier or a psychological barrier with electric running through the fence. 

Once your fence is built, be sure your fence energizer is turned off. Walk the horse around in inner side of the fence line to familiarize the horse with where it’s boundaries lie. It is important to have the energizer off at this point so the horse does not become spooked if the fence is touched. Once you feel the horse is comfortable, the energizer can be turned back on. At this point, the horse can be released into the pasture where it will learn the charge in the fence. It typically only takes a horse one or two “zaps” to learn to fear the fence and stay away.

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