Shocking Stories



Nothing I read or see in the news can shock me like the real thing: backing inadvertently  into an electrified fence. That is the ultimate wake-up call and it has been my bad fortune to have been awakened that way so often in my sordid past that I might have built up enough immunity to survive the electric chair.

Not much is made of the fact, but without electric fence, today’s rotational grazing would not be so easy and inexpensive— hardly possible at all. But ’twas not always so. l began getting electrified way back in the 1950s when my father and I decided that we could replace real livestock fences with one wispy strand of electric wire and hold in a hundred head of hungry Holsteins. I still have nightmares of our thundering herd  disappearing into standing corn and exiting out the other side into Aunt Stella’s garden, dragging a fourth of mile of high tensile wire behind them.

I hold that the history of farming can be told in the history of fencing. The main reason there was such a wholesale move to large scale tractor farming was not because farmers could make a better living that way but because smaller farms required animals to make a profit and animals required fences. Farmers hate fences, no matter how much they might deny it. That’s why the  song “Don’t Fence Me In” was at the top of the Hit Parade for so long back in the middle of the 20th century. That’s when farmers started gleefully bulldozing away the tree-choked fencerows they had inherited from grandpaw.  After that, if anyone was fool enough to still keep animals and one of them got out, it could go all the way to Montana with nary a fence to stop it. When my son’s cows got out a couple of years ago, I asked sheriff deputies who helped us round them up what they did if a cow really went wild since there are hardly any fences left in our county to act as a corral. “Sometimes we just have to shoot ’em,” he said.

After most of the fences were gone in our part of the country. we decided to get into dairy farming. Electric fencing was in its infancy and so was the cow’s experience with it. A cow learns not to touch the fence with her head, but her tail never learns. It has a life of its own, flailing away back there chasing flies. It gets entwined in the electric fence. Montana here we come.

Soldiers in war get shell-shocked. Livestock producers get wire-shocked. If one does not stay alert at all times out where the kilowatts lurk, one will invariably back into a hot wire. Or sauntering dreamily across a field (that’s me), inadvertently walk into one. This was especially true before electric wire became more of a tape, easy enough to see. In earlier years, all we had was this thin, wispy stuff, about as visible as a spider web. There is no surprise like that rendered by a jolt of unexpected electricity along a corn field. I got so battle scarred that sometimes I would just imagine I saw fence out of the corner of my eye and jump back like someone possessed. I had a friend who delighted in suddenly leaping backwards as we walked across our pastures, shouting  “watch out!”  I would instantly summersault backward to avoid the would-be danger.

It was electric fencing that almost got me expelled from the seminary in my wild youth. We used lots of electric fencing on the seminary farm. One of our wild-youth pastimes was to see who could hold on to the fence the longest. The pulsations of electric current make one’s arms jerk convulsively. The trick is to grab the wire as tightly as you can, which (don’t ask me, I’m not Edison) diminishes the effect of the jolt. So one day I was driving an old truck whose muffler no longer muffled out to the fields. I roared by one of the seminary buildings and stopped while my companion turned off the electric fence and opened  it to allow me to drive on. One of our teacher-priests came storming out of the building, stuck his head in the truck cab and started chewing at me for disturbing the quiet sanctimony of his study and meditation. About that time, I looked out the windshield to see my gate-opener holding the wire and pretending that the current was running through him, jerking his arms around ludicrously, as if he were  being electrocuted. I couldn’t help myself and broke out into a raucous laugh. The priest of course thought I was laughing at him and before it was all over, I came very close to being excommunicated.

Today, controlling cows with electric fence is relatively easy but not raccoons and deer. It can be done, but when the coons get into the sweet corn anyway,  I suspect that the fence isn’t working. Those little gadgets that register the amount of current in the line don’t always work for me either. I know how to short the line out to make sparks jump if the wire is hot.  Or I can use the old time-honored method of touching the wire with a blade of grass and maybe get a mild poke rather than the full treatment. But eventually there comes that moment of truth when the only way you can be sure that the line is working properly is to touch it. And so. Uhhhhhhhhhhhharrggghhhhh.  Yes, it’s working but what about my heart?


There are three kinds of men;
1.) The ones that learn by reading
2.) The few who learn by observation
3.) The rest of them have to pee on the electric fence for themselves.

I still remember the time I was filling the calf water tank at uncle eds and was thinkin can electricty really travel through water? Well i proved to myself it can and does and dropped the hose mighty quick in the process! the cousins used to get visiters new to the farm to make a people chain and then the closest would touch the fence with a stick, supposedly the last person in line would get the biggest shock! I never held on long enough to find out. Or there was the time we hiked way back in the woods and laid sticks and weeds all over the fence of an unfavorite neighbor to ground it out,(Naughty kid tricks) I like best how well it usually works for the pigs, although over the years i have had a couple who seemed imune to its powers!

Matt’s story about 110 volt fencing reminds me of the time Gene and several seminarians approached an electric fence and I, as designated fence tester (I apparently craved attention or something) put Gene’s rifle in my right hand and grabbed the wire with my left. Lo and behold, it was at least 110 volts and I could not open my hand to stop the contact no matter how hard I tried. Then I realized that to disconnect, I had to get my feet off the ground; so I leaped into the air away from the fence and remember being careful to lay the rifle down gently as I flew along, landing perhaps 10 feet from the fence without a scratch fairing better than the rifle which, they say, I slammed it into the earth like I was trying to bury it. I now test fences with a wide open palm unarmed.

Oh Gene.

You have brought back such memories for me. The testing of the voltage with a piece of grass (green you get a higher belt than with a brown stalk – depends how brave you felt) and the way cows can tell with their noses whether or not current is flowing. They can dammit, but obviously the message does not reach their nether parts as you mention!!

The 2 funniest recollections I have of electric fences in this old brain of mine are;

1) a group (sorry, not sure what the collective noun is) of pigs wanted to get to the other side of the electric fence which was going and who were determined to do so. The smart little beggars started at the top of the hill above it and just began a mad dash for the fence and the fresh feed on the other side. About half way down they started squealing like their throats were cut (sorry, just read that and it doesn’t seem right but what the hell!) and they barged right through and onto the new paddock. They were smart enough to know they were going to get zapped and so just went for it. Very smart animals pigs!!

2) and I am sorry about the juxaposition of these two words but it was entirely unintentional!! A neighbour of mine had begun growing a crop new to NZ called pepinos under shade cloth and some way from their house. The NZ police were at the time dealing with a rather heavy outbreak of marijuana crops in the rural areas (this was in the mid 80’s) and had identified this as a suspicious site by flying over with a microlight. A night or two later these neighbours were awakened by shouts and screams and their dogs going ballistic. Apparently an undercover squad had launched a night raid to check it out and had walked into some very, very alive electric fences for the cattle. Red faces on one side and great hilarity on the other. Obviously the cops doing the raid were from the city and not rurally based guys!

Thank you for bringing back the memories. I am sure that there are also a few dogs around who decided to relieve themselves against inappropriate ‘small trees’ and have regretted too it I am sure!!


Thanks for the “shockingly” lively tells of the electric fence! I guess we can all attest to a few unexpected encounters such as whizzing on the unseen silvery serpent in the grass (Yes I’m guilty! 🙂 ) But my father had perhaps the best of all stories. It seem him (He was about 16) and an uncle were on a squirrel hunting tip together when they used the but of their guns to mash down the wire before stepping over. Uncle Jim made it over just fine, but as dad stepped across, the wire slipped off the stock and raked against his thumb. Then next he new he was several feet away and and laying on his back, uncle Jim slapping his face and asking him to wake up. You see, this poor farmer didn’t own a fencer so he just connected his wire to 120VAC!!

Great post! Thanks again for sharing,

Matt H.

A couple of boys tried the old pee on the wire trick on my original college roommate. They were out discussing “herbal” matters in the ag fields beyond the dorms at an unnamed enormous central Pa state university. The pulse timing was such that he missed a shock that was delivered to one of the others who thought that it was safe to cross over it. He still chuckles when retelling that story.

We have several neighbors who use six strands of electrified fence to keep bears off of their hives. It has worked so far. The local orchard tried the six strand New Zealand angled fence. They say that it does not deter deer and is a royal pain to mow . Our only stock are chickens. Because of them, we have two lengths of electric mesh around the garden. The solar charger was on back order so we have gone five years without charging them and have not lost any plants to our birds yet. The charger is still in its box. It will come in handy if my wife ever gets herself the Jersey she keeps threatening me with.

Here’s a tip. Do not step over electric poultry netting without first turning it off. At the precise moment that you have one foot on either side of the fence, you will be hit in “one of those lower chakras” with a jolt that will take you down and make you think you’re having a stroke! Your legs will give out, and you will just have to hurl yourself one way or the other to get clear of the fence. Another hint, try to hurl yourself OUTSIDE of the fence, or you will just have to go through the whole thing all over again!

My father resorted to 120 volts in the 10-acre field where he kept the young bulls.They’d get to squabbling, and sooner or later, one would shove another through the fence. They’d go right through barbed wire, hog wire and standard electric fencing. With the higher voltage, usually both would get a jolt, and the squabbling would be over for a while. I also used a hot wire on the chicken pen when the racoons came calling and climbed over it. My daughter and I ran two wires about a foot apart just below the top of the fence. Shortly after dusk that night we heard a loud racket and cussing in Racoon, but we didn’t lose any more chickens.

The worst pokes are the unexpected ones. Like when I was moving several sheets of 16′ cattle panel around, and had a real good grip on it, and as I turned, it got tangled in the fence. I got about three jolts before I was able to turn loose of that thing, only to (adding insult to injury) drop it on my foot.

Sometimes, you gotta go crawl back into bed and then start the day over.

Well, I’ve been an electric fence user for almost as long as Gene. It’s a love hate affair for sure. I love em because they are quick to install and when an animal is trained to them they work wonderfully. We have an imported English Suffolk Stallion (Eyke Sovereign) that is a big horse, maybe 18 hands and weighs about 2200 pounds. He was trained to the “ribbon” by a seasoned horse lady in England we bought him from and that horse respects the white plastic fencing like no other I’ve ever seen. The other horses can get out and tear the fence to the ground and he won’t go across it or even where it was…. Amazing really. I have a place that I go into his paddock where the fence is less than a foot high so an older man can easily step over it and you know this horse could too, but he doesn’t – thanks goodness! The most important feature for any electric fence is the ground rods. One must have at least three to make sure it creates a memorable experience for the stock. And of course I inadvertently end up testing it myself every once in a while. It’s is a very unforgettable experience.

The best electric fences don’t even require touching. They will reach out and get you for just getting close to them, like within 1/2 inch. A blue spark connects the fence to the ground through your body and it takes some time to get over it. I’ve had em make me bite my tongue, cuss for high heaven and resent the damn things for days from an accidental shock. And those plastic gate handles will simply degrade and crack in the sun over time and one day…you’ll test your own fence that way.

Another view is that they are an expensive excuse for a cheap fence. That’s because if a person paid there self a minimum wage for all the time that goes into maintaining the ground seeking, short developing, white man lightening devices, they could afford to build a real mechanical fence to start with. But that never is affordable when someone is in a big hurry or rotating pastures for intensive rotational grazing, constructing temporary paddocks on a logging job or just training young horses to respect them.

The key is training. Putting an electric in front of a mechanical fence is the only way to train them because once an animal’s head is past the fence and they get shocked, they tend to think they can go forward regardless and even though they get another shock (or three) their prey animal flight instinct is in high gear from the first shock and they’ll tear an entire afternoon’s electric fence project out in a few seconds. One of the worst experiences is trying to find the yellow insulators they use on steel rods that push in the ground by foot. When one of those is demolished in the spring about time the dandelions are blooming it’s really hard to find them as they are exploded into to the field by a fleeing animal. They go in all directions with zero pattern of distribution. I’m amazed at how many I’ve found plowing my own ground.

I’ll leave out the stories from childhood days about innocent city cousins being told about how good it feels to urinate on one, because I never actually tried that awful trick on anyone, but heard plenty of stories from older cousins that retell them to this day with a chuckle and those city cousins still don’t like them. I’m also glad this wasn’t another blog about police brutality or torture, seems us farmers are brutal enough on ourselves without a mean cops or freedom defenders help.

A short story on electrically fencing goats: a friend of mine installed a electric fence with the electronics hanging on the inside wall of a small building. The electicity on the fence was high voltage (something like 2KV) pulsing at about 1 time per second. The pulsing woud generate an audio noise that was transmited through the wall to the outside of the building. The goats very rapidly learned they would NOT get shocked shortly before (or after, whatever) that audible noise. They would just assemble toguether by the noisy wall and jump over the fence. One at a time. And go for the most cherished for flower plant in the neighboring garden! Oh yeah, goats know exactly what is the most precious piece of nature to the farmer. And will chew it up as if it was there to serve him for that short moment of double pleasure.

I have not seen this with my own eyes but it came from a credible source.

So, Gene – is it true what they say about one’s urine stream?………

It’s even better when you’re innocently weeding in the vegetable garden, stand up, and get one of the electric fence strands to the back of the neck!

I have to say, the 6′ electric fence has kept the deer out of the garden so far.

If the critters are trained to them they usually work. But they always work for me, even when I wish they didn’t. My lovely spouse recalls how many times the fences that usually worked in fact did not work so if we want a real fence it is two inch by four inch five to six foot height woven horse fencing strung with wood stretched across the top and staples so it won’t eventually buckle. THEN and only then is electric fence attached to the same posts to be used as a backup. It does slow down on animals using the fence as a back-scratcher, thereby prolonging fence life. Even then, if a gate is left open (of course I never do that) or a dexterous goat figures out how to open the gate ( I don’t know how they do it I just know that they do) the hottest fence won’t stop them, at least in my experience.

Yes I’ve seen pictures of Elephants and Bison being retained by electric fence. I’ve even read of folks (who obviously didn’t know better) advocating that electric fence be used to deter giant Brown bears on Kodiak Island and other parts of Alaska so cattle could be raised sans bear predation.

I have used and will continue to use electric fence, nevertheless I keep faith and hope in God, but only hope sans faith in electric fence.

i find that electric netting works great for my sheep -keeps them in and the occasional dog out. the ewes that is. My jacob ram on the other hand has twice gotten his horns (imagine 2 pair of old rabbit-ear antenna) tangled when he attempted to graze close to the fence. i found him all tangled and twitching. Needless to say, i don’t use electric netting to fence him any more.

Once when i was foolishly trying to keep sheep in with electric fence i even resorted to hooking two chargers together on a line! I went out after dark to try testing it. Missed !!Then i felt a surge through me like someone punching in the chest!! lol I went through one arm ,across and out the other arm.It was one of the few times I actually heard sheep chuckle!!

I must say we did not use a lot of electric fence so I only got a few shocks. My dad remembers vividly when he was a teenager peeing on one of those wispy thin wires. He is now 83 and it is one of his most vivid recollections of his youth. I can not imagine how much that had to hurt.

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