Why Is The Electric Fence Not Working?

T post with plastic insulator holding metal electric fence wire

It can be so frustrating, the electric fence isn’t working! Now what? As frustrating as this is, the good news is there are some simple steps you can take to track down your specific problem and be back up and running in no time.

To find the reason your electric fence is not working, check to see if the fence has power. If not, check that the charger is connected to a working power source. If the fence has any charge/shock, you need to find the place the fence is grounded out or broken and fix it.

Here is a basic overview of questions to ask when your fence is not working. Be sure you have the fencer plugged in and if connected to solar or battery, have solid connections to the power source and the power turned on.

We’ve had our share of fence problems, sometimes it’s a break in the wire, sometimes it’s too small of a post supporting a sharp turn in the line and once the charger got toasted by lightening!

While none of these things are great and tend to happen (or more accurately be discovered) when it’s nearly dark out, they are usually simple fixes, when you finally figure out what’s actually happening!

Please note: the terms fencer, energizer and charger are all used interchangeably in this article.

If you are new to electric fences, consider reading Does Electric Fence Have To Make A Complete Circle?, which will give you the basics of setting up your fence.

ElectroNet For Sheep will give you the ins and outs of the electric netting we use year round for our sheep.

Your electric fence either does not have power or it is grounded out

Look over the chart at the top of the article. Follow the arrows and prompts to see if you can figure out the problem. You should double check the small and simple things first, then move on to the bigger items!

Sometimes a breaker will go out or something unplugs the fencer. Other times it is just miscommunication and all that is lacking is to plug in the fencer or get a charged battery!

Can Grass Ground Out Your Electric Fence? is another fencing article I wrote that’s worth a look to show you all of the spots you should look over and what you can do to prevent vegetative growth from grounding out your fence.

Double check that fencer is plugged in or attached to power source

This is the easy answer, you simply forgot to plug in the fence charger. Or, if you have a battery or solar powered charger, you forgot to turn the system on.

Great news, this is the best problem to have and it happens to everyone at some time or another!

We have quite a few animals running around here, mostly poultry and every once in a while they end up unplugging something. Anything you are powering the with an extension cord will be “hit” first.

Have a fence tester with you and use it

Test the fence close to the energizer. Do you have a shock?

If you do, check down the fence line until you find the problem. In my experience, it’s likely the fence is going to be grounded out on weeds or touching metal.

You can see the fence charge arcing in low light and you can hear it snap as it grounds out. This is my favorite one (if I can have a favorite problem!) since the fence actually tells me where it’s broken!

I find that it’s easier to figure out the problem with the fence on, since you’ll hear the snap. Once you find the problem, then turn off the fence to fix it.

Hopefully, this will fix your problem. If not, we have to dig deeper.

Check the energizer, do you have power?

First off, check to make sure your energizer has power. Do this after you have tested the fence line for power.

If you have a plug in energizer, this should be pretty easy. Check to make sure the outlet you have the energizer plugged into is working. Just quickly plug in something else, my favorite is an extension cord with the light up end.

If the outlet does not have power, now you know what to fix.

This is our second most common problem when we realize that our fence is not shocking, the outlet we are using has tripped a breaker and shut off. Usually this happens when we are doing something else like running heat lamps.

Any non grid energizers, like battery powered or solar can also have no power. The problems here will be basic, do the batteries have power left in them? If it’s been cold out, the have less ability to power your fence than when it is warmer.

Is the solar panel hooked up correctly? Are both of these, battery and solar, hooked up to the fence correctly? Hopefully, you’ll find the problem here, this will be an easy fix and get your fence running again quickly.

If the energizer is being powered but you are still not getting shock, (check the fence line really close to the energizer) you have an energizer problem, it needs to be replaced.

Check ground rods and ground wire attachments

Having your fence charger well grounded is mandatory for your fence to be providing a good shock.

Look at where the wire from the energizer connects to the ground rod. Is there a good, solid connection or did it work loose in the wind?

Is any of your metal corroded, wires or rod? Corroded metal does not carry shock as well as nice, shiny metal.

Is the ground really dry or snowy this time of year? If so, the charge can have problems getting back to the ground rod, meaning the fence will not shock well, maybe not at all.

Sadly, there is not a lot you can do about this one, except have fencing that is made to be used in a dry environment.

Greg Judy, GreenPasturesFarm.net, recommends watering the ground rod, to help your fence work in really dry weather.

Snapping noise means power is leaving fence

If you are able to hear a snapping noise, that means power is leaving the fence. Go to the spot where you hear the snapping and see what it will take to fix the fence line. It might be an easy fix to get you up to full power quickly.

If you really don’t have time to fix the fence now, take your fence tester and see how much power is still getting through the fence a few yards further down the fence line.

If you still have an acceptable charge running through the fence, the repair can wait until after work. If you have no or too low of power, the repair needs to happen now.

In our area, Ohio, we have occasionally noticed our fence snapping in really foggy weather or when there is a heavy dew. In this case, there’s not much to fix here. When the air dries out, the fence will be back to normal.

Check fence lines after storms or high winds

You’ll need to check your fence lines after storms or just high winds. You’d be surprised the vegetation that can get blown around and be interfering with your fence.

The great news is, this is another easy fix, at least as far as identifying the problem goes. It’ll take some work to get the fence back to the needed power level, but now you know what you are working towards.

If your fence is portable, this will be a biggie for you. As soon as your fence leans or sags, your animals will be presented with a pretty easy escape route!

During the storm, they are hunkered down, waiting for the bad weather to stop. After the storm, they get to exploring and that’s when you’ll see them considering a break out.

Very dry soil equals poor electric fence performance

Sadly, very dry soil is especially tough to use electric fence with. The shock of the fence needs water in the soil to travel back through the soil to the ground rod in order to work well.

Moisture in the soil is like the highway for your shock. No or really low moisture, no good movement of shock. If the shock from the fence can’t go through the animal into the dirt easily, you have no livestock control.

A few summers ago, we had a drought around here.

We were moving the electric netting (like always) and it was terribly hard to get the posts in the ground, then, once the fence was up, we had a few ewes that insisted upon jumping out! Even if we had just moved the flock.

That was super frustrating and something we just had to deal with until we got more rain. The problem solved itself when there was enough moisture in the soil to shock well again.

One ewe continued to get out (for no reason), so she had to be sold because she had learned a new habit that she wouldn’t give up and could be easily passed on to the rest of the flock. No thanks!

Heavy snow can interfere with fence shocking ability

Heavy snow will interfere with a fence’s ability to shock your stock. We have had this happen with the electric netting.

Usually the sheep are respectful of the fence, as long as the snow isn’t pushing it down to the ground, but the taller stock, like horses will figure out that the fence is no longer shocking them, since they are standing on a snow drift!

There is not a lot to be done with this situation. When the snow melts or just blows the drift off of the fence line, you will be back to normal fence ability for the winter. Until then, keep your stock well fed and see if they’ll stay.

When the poor weather conditions are over, the fence will work again

The good news with the poor shock due to weather is that most of the animals that were willing to push the fence when it was not shocking well, will respect the fence again, when it has acceptable power.

Sadly, some animals will not respect the fence again and will continue to get out. If that’s the case, you can either change how you manage those individuals or sell them.

Either way, get the escape artists out of the pasture before they teach the others to get out, as well!

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