Barbed wire fences have been used for centuries in all sorts of situations and in all sorts of different places. They have been used to contain livestock, outline properties, and add extra protection to military bases. While barbed wire fences are effective on their own, it is common to wonder if they can be turned into an electric fence as well.
Barbed wire fences can be electrified and they work in the same way that other electrified fences do. An energizer creates a high voltage pulse and another terminal is connected to a metal earth rod. When something touches the fence and the ground, the circuit is complete and it receives a shock.
While barbed wire fences can be electrified, there are a lot of reasons to not do this, including legalities and health risks to animals or even people. Keep reading to learn more about electrified barbed wire fences and why they may or may not be a good idea.
Barbed Wire and Electric Fences
Before we talk about barbed wire fences being electrified, it is important to understand the differences between the two so we can get a good idea of what each type of fence is capable of. Barbed wire fences and electrified fences have some pretty big similarities, but also a lot of differences, so let’s explore those.
Barbed Wire Fences
Barbed wire fences are very effective and have been used for a really long time. As such, they have a rich history, especially in the US. This material was used to help claim areas of land in the 1800s and it helped farmers during that time because they lost fewer cattle to roaming across farms and it cut fencing costs by quite a bit. Cattle would not try to get through it because of the physical pain, and it made a very clear line that showed where a new property started. It would not be an accident if you trespassed on someone’s property.
Barbed wire has a series of sharp points (called barbs) set along the length of the wire. These barbs are stationary and are spaced along set intervals on the wire. Their angling and placement make it very difficult to pass through it without getting hurt on one of the sharp points. It is used as wire fencing and it can be attached to the tops of walls or a different kind of surface to make it even harder to cross.
Electric fences also have a rich history, though they became popular much later than barbed wire fences did. Electric fences gained popularity in the early 1900s when they were used during times of war to prevent border crossing. Later on, however, electric fences were more often used to contain and control livestock. They have since been improved throughout the years.
Electric fences work based on an energizer and conduction. Without a complete circuit, the fence will not shock anything. The fence is made of a conductive wire or a blend of materials and an energizer sends a voltage pulse through it every few seconds. Another terminal is connected to a metal earth rod that is stuck into the ground.
This way, only animals that touch the ground and the wire will receive a shock. Birds can safely land on the wire and not be shocked because the circuit is not closed.
While barbed wire fences and electric fences work in different ways, they perform the same job. They create a border for livestock and send a clear message that the property should not be trespassed upon. They repel livestock in similar ways as well. Any animal that touches either type of fence will receive a bit of physical pain, and through this negative experience, they will learn to stay away from the fence next time. Both fences help contain livestock by teaching them not to get too close, preventing them from breaking through the fencing.
Pros to Using Barbed Wire for an Electric Fence
While it is not legal in most places to use barbed wire for an electric fence, that does not mean it has no benefits. If you are considering fencing options and an electrified barbed wire fence is legal in your area, here are the benefits of it to help you understand it better.
- Livestock control: One benefit is that it will really have an effect on the livestock that it is containing. When animals have a run-in with barbed wire or an electric wire, they can receive a little poke or a little shock. When they receive both of them, the learning experience is more prominent to them and they will remember even better to stay away from the fence.
- Easy to Install: Another pro to using barbed wire for an electric fence is that you will not have to put up more than one fence. Some people want to have an electrified fence and a barbed wire fence, but it is not legal to electrify barbed wire. If it is legal, you will only have to put up one fence to get the benefits from both of them. If you already have a barbed wire fence, there are attachments that you can buy and install to electrify it, making the work even easier.
Cons to Using Barbed Wire for an Electric Fence
Electrified barbed wire fences are illegal in many places for a lot of good reasons, even if there are a few benefits to them. Here are the cons and dangers of electrifying a barbed wire fence, aside from breaking any laws against it.
- Extremely Dangerous: While both barbed wire fences and electric fences are dangerous on their own, they are significantly more dangerous when the two are combined. Getting a little shock or catching on the barb are both scary and harmful. When they are combined, an animal or a person can get caught on the wire and then receive multiple electric shocks over and over because they cannot escape. This can end up killing the victim or seriously injuring them.
- More resistance: While it is totally possible and quite easy to electrify a barbed wire fence, there are some problems with the design. When there are a lot of joints or open points in a wire, the electric current runs into more resistance when traveling along the wire. The electric current will not be as effective as it is on a smooth wire with no joints. Plus, the farther it is from the energizer, the weaker the shock will be.
- Entanglement: This is a part of electrified barbed wire being extremely dangerous. With more joints, especially ones that can catch on clothing or skin, it makes it much more common for the animal or person to become entangled with the fence. Not only does this pose a risk to their life, but it also means that the owner of the fence will have to fix the fence after the animal has become tangled in it. This introduces extra work and extra danger that are just unnecessary.
- Rust: Unlike regular electric fence wiring, barbed wire rusts over time. It is made out of steel and iron and these metals are very prone to rusting. It will inevitably need to be replaced. Rust is also a poor electricity conductor, so as the wire rusts, it will carry a weaker and weaker pulse, no matter how strong the energizer is.
There are both pros and cons to installing electric barbed wire fencing. However, it is important to understand the dangers as well as the benefits that it can provide before trying to get it installed.
How to Use Electrified Barbed Wire
If you have decided that you want to install electrified barbed wire on your property and it is legal in your area, here is a guide on how to responsibly use and manage the fence.
There are a lot of safety concerns regarding an electric fence so it is important to find ways to reduce these safety concerns as much as possible. Let’s address each concern separately and talk about ways to reduce them so that the fence is safer for you and your livestock.
The biggest worry is that anything that gets caught in the fence will not be able to get out and will be shocked repeatedly. A great way to regulate this is to set your energizer to give off fewer electric pulses per minute. With fewer electric pulses, any animal that is caught in the fence has time to escape before being shocked more than a couple of times or even at all. While it is still dangerous, it is less worrisome than a captive animal being shocked a bunch of times and panicking, increasing entanglement.
Another thing to keep in mind when using an electric barbed wire fence is the problem of increased resistance to an electric pulse. This is something that can actually help make the fence safer. If the pulse is weaker than a smooth wire, anything that touches the fence will receive a smaller shock that does not put them in as much danger. The barbs will help teach the animal to stay away from the fence even more, so you do not lose any effectiveness of the fence.
The final big problem and responsibility with using barbed wire as an electric fence is that it will rust. While this does decrease conductivity, it can cause other problems as well. Rust on its own is not dangerous, but when it creates a cut in the skin of an animal or a person, it can cause the wound to become infected. Rust can carry all sorts of bacteria and when it breaks the skin and is not properly taken care of, it can quickly become worse than just a cut.
To prevent this, you will need to replace sections of the barbed wire when they rust in order for it to be safe for everyone.
Is it Legal?
This is where it gets the most interesting. While we have talked about how barbed wire fences can be electrified, they are actually illegal in most places. In most places, neither the fence, electric or barbed wire, are illegal by themselves. But when the two are combined it is not usually legal. This is not exclusive, however, so let’s dive into why they are illegal in many places.
The biggest reason that electrified barbed wire fences are usually illegal is because they do not allow the victim to escape. Because the barbed wire can catch the animal and hold them to the wire, they will be repeatedly shocked until they can get out. In some cases, they can’t escape immediately and this puts their life and health in danger.
There are some places in the US that do allow barbed wire fences, but if you are unsure whether it is okay to put one in, look up your local fencing laws and regulations to make sure that it is legal in your area. In some cases, it comes down to what your neighbor says is okay. Because it could fall onto their property and hurt some of their animals, they are often asked if they would be okay with it before law enforcement can give you the “go ahead”.
In other countries, like the UK or Australia, it is completely illegal to put up an electrified barbed wire fence. There are exceptions, but until you have brought the question up to legal officials, do not put up an electrified barbed wire fence.
Overall, barbed wire should not be used to construct an electrified fence. Not only is it illegal in most places, but it is incredibly dangerous to animals and people. If you do install an electric barbed wire fence, take the necessary precautions to reduce the dangers associated with it.
Both barbed wire fences and electric fences are not very effective on their own and do not need to be combined to be intimidating. Overall, an electrified barbed wire fence is a personal choice as long as it is within the legal boundaries in your area.