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What is an electric fence and how do they work?

An electric fence can be used for many things like animal exclusion, animal containment, strip grazing, and security. They all work on the common principle of using the animal contacting the electric fence to close an otherwise open circuit, acting as a path for the electrical flow to move between live and earth. As the current flows over the muscles of the animal or person it stimulates a sharp involuntary contraction with every pulse. The “shock” results in most cases as to nothing more than a surprising jolt that can sometimes feel like being bluntly struck unexpectedly. Generally no damage or harm is done with the use of agricultural electric fence systems so they are classed more as a psychological barrier rather than a physical barrier.

What is an electric fence?


An Electric fence is – A barrier used to contain animals within or exclude animals from a particular area that includes one or more electric conductors, insulated from earth, to which regular electric pulses are applied by an energizer.
– By definition of AS/NZS 3014:2003 Australian New Zealand Standard for Electrical installations – Electric fences – Document: AS/NZS 3014:2003

What is an electric fence and how does it work?
Diagram showing a 3 strand live wire electric fence. Arrows represent current flow when an animal touches it

How does an electric fence work?

An electric fence works by using a controlled pulse sent out along a single or numerous live wires that are insulated from earth. The insulation of the live wires prevents the electrical current from completing is circuit to ground. Once the conductive body of an animal touches the live wire, the current running through it will have a path back to earth, usually through the body of the animal and into the ground. As the current is passing through the body of the animal in contact, it will pass over the muscles causing a sharp and considerable contraction. This is the boot or kick feeling you get if you have ever been unfortunate enough to touch an electric fence live wire. While startling and inconvenient a farm or pet electric fence shock does not cause any notable damage or injury to animals if used in accordance of the manufacturers instructions and general electrical safety principles.


Watch JVA explain how an electric fence works

What is an electric fence and how do they work? 1
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