How to test an electric fence with a voltmeter

Written by regan hennessy
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How to test an electric fence with a voltmeter
Cows need an electric fence with fewer volts than goats and sheep. (Jupiterimages/ Images)

Voltmeters are tools that hook up to your fence and provide you with a reading of the fence's peak voltage at any given time. This allows you to identify -- and troubleshoot -- instances when the voltage reading is too low to deliver a proper shock. Without a voltmeter, your only option for determining if an electric fence works is to watch the fence for hours to observe the effect of the fence on animals that touch it. Develop the habit of testing your electric fence with a voltmeter at least once weekly to help keep your fence running properly at all times.

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Things you need

  • Electric fence digital voltmeter

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  1. 1

    Walk to the section of electric fence that is furthest from the fence energizer. Insert the voltmeter's metal ground probe straight into the soil immediately beneath the fence; the wire attached to the ground probe is typically covered with black insulation to provide a visual clue that it is negatively charged. Push the probe firmly into the soil with your hand, leaving the top 1 inch of the probe exposed. If possible, locate the probe in an area of dry soil; this gives you a better idea of the fence's power under more challenging conditions, since dry soil doesn't conduct electricity as effectively as moist soil.

  2. 2

    Remove your hands carefully from the metal ground probe and the metal parts on the voltmeter. Touch the positively charged voltmeter clip or hook (usually identified with a red strip or marker) to the charged wire on your electric fence; if your voltmeter has an alligator or crocodile clip at the end of the positively charged voltmeter hook, simply clasp the alligator clip to the charged electric wire.

  3. 3

    Check the visual display on your voltmeter, which shows up in kilovolts or kV. As a rule, a display that reads below 2 or 3 kV (the kV equivalent of 2,000 or 3,000 volts) indicates an inadequate charge that you need to investigate and fix. Repeat the voltmeter check with each charged wire in your electric fence to verify that all wires are conducting the same power voltage.

Tips and warnings

  • In most cases, you need a different minimum kV reading for proper containment depending upon what species your fence contains. Cattle and horses typically need an electric fence that produces at least 3,000 to 5,000 volts, while smaller, more insulated animals like sheep and goats require minimally 7,000 volts, says Dean Oswald, animal systems educator at the University of Illinois Cooperative Extension.
  • Never test the power of an electric fence by touching it yourself.
  • Only test an electric fence with a voltmeter designed for use with electric fences. Never use a voltmeter designed for testing regular electric wires; these voltmeters aren't designed to withstand the high voltage that travels through electric fence wires.

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