Grounding an Electric Fence
Grounding an electric fence is one of the most overlooked aspects of electric fencing, and is also one of the main causes of poor performance. If your energizer (also known as a charger, fencer, or controller) is not working properly despite being connected to the fence according to the instructions and is used for a fence sized within its rated limits, then improper grounding is the first issue to look at.
How Does Grounding Work?
In the diagram above, you will see 3 main components: the grounding system, the energizer, and the fence. The energizer is connected to the fence using leadout (highlighted in red on the above diagram) and to the grounding system (highlighted green). It is important to note that the fence and grounding system are NOT connected until an animal touches the fence. This causes the animal to complete the circuit and be shocked as a result. When the fence and grounding system are connected without an animal touching the fence, such as when a fence wire breaks and touches the ground or vegetation grows high enough to touch the fence wire, this is known as a fault and will cause your fence to lose power and will increase wear on your energizer.
It is also important to note that the entire ground, not just where the ground rods are located, is part of the grounding system. This is because the ground conducts electricity and acts like a large wire. The electricity will travel through the fence, through the animal, and through the ground before returning to the ground rods, which act a bit like radio antennas.
Portable vs Permanent
Most portable fence setups, including those used in kits like the Horse Corral Kit, and those used for strip grazing, use a small energizer paired with a 3ft ground rod that has a T-shaped handle for easy removal from the ground. Usually, leads with alligator clamp connections are used to attach the energizer to the fence and ground rod. For a small, temporary setup, this is usually sufficient.
However, such a setup is not ideal, and there are many ways to create a much more robust grounding system. When creating a permanent setup, you should use longer ground rods, generally 6 feet, and multiple ground rods connected together. You can use the 3-6-10 rule to guide you: use 3 ground rods that are 6 feet long, spaced 10 feet apart. You can always increase the number of ground rods to increase performance as well. Larger energizers generally require more grounds rods than 3. Make sure to check manufacturer recommendations when using an energizer over 10 Joules to verify whether additional ground rods are need. All ground rods should be spaced 10 feet apart, even when using more than 3.
A chain is only as long as it weakest link, and in a grounding system having poor connections can cause an otherwise solid system to perform poorly. Make sure that all wire used to connect rods, energizers, and other components is insulated and free from corrosion or damage. When attaching wire to other components, such as the ground rods, make sure to use clamps that tightly hold the wire to the component. Loose connections will not transfer electricity efficiently, and can also allow air and moisture to cause corrosion inside the connection.