If you're thinking about using portable electric fence netting for cattle, poultry or other livestock, read this first! I'm sharing tips I wish I had known before I started, including how to best set up your fencing for the specific predators in your area.
I've been using electric poultry netting for my ducks and chickens for over three years now and was still so pleased to sit down with Joe Putnam from Premier 1. He taught me hacks for using electric fence netting, most specifically for keeping predators out!
This past year we lost our entire flock of ducks during the winter to a coyote right outside our house! Now I've learned more tricks to keep the predators out, and my new flock of ducks safe and happy.
Join me for today's Pioneering Today Podcast (episode #394) to learn more about using electric fence netting, including how much you need, how powerful of an energizer you'll need, how to maintain the netting for longer life, tips for setting it up to avoid it shorting out, and so much more!
Premier 1 is one of the leading companies when it comes to small-scale (and large-scale) homesteading. Their portable electric fence netting is perhaps how they became a household name, but that's not all they offer!
On the Premier 1 website, you can order everything from fencing to meat processing equipment. With supplies like harvest baskets, home grinders and mills, home dairy supplies and all the poultry supplies from incubation to butchering you'll need, there's something for everyone.
You may not know that Premier 1 has a working farm where their products are continually being used and tested to improve what they're selling.
Living in the Pacific Northwest, I was always skeptical of using solar-powered netting. It wasn't until I went to a conference and learned more about Premier 1 netting that I figured I'd try it. Now, it's the best thing I've ever used! Even in our overcast, drizzly climate, the solar power works great.
Joe also shared that Premier 1 offers sheep and goat advice where they have an on-staff nutritionist (and work with a licensed veterinarian) who can answer your questions. Though they can't write prescriptions over the web, they can offer extensive advice regarding raising livestock. This is a huge asset to the new homesteader!
Be sure to check out Premier 1 to see all they have to offer! They also happen to be the sponsor for this podcast episode, so a huge thanks for that as well.
How Electric Fence Netting Works
Joe mentioned that many people are concerned with the power of the electric fence netting because if it's strong enough to shock a cow, it must be too strong for a chicken (especially baby chicks).
He explains that the way the netting works is that the larger and heavier the animal, the more they come into contact with the ground. So a black bear, for example, is going to get quite a large shock compared to a chicken.
Since chickens are much smaller with smaller feet, they don't make as much contact with the ground, giving them a lesser shock that's appropriately strong for them.
They also have something called “Shock or Not” fencing to protect your baby chicks from getting even a small shock.
It's pretty great the way the netting works for each different predator or animal.
Best Fencing to Get
The type of electric fence you'll get will be determined by your needs. Because I've started mob grazing with multi-species, I asked Joe if there's one specific electric fence he recommends that will work for all the animals.
He said the chicken netting is best because it's four feet tall, which works for cattle, is tight enough for poultry and goats, and also works well for sheep. So if you're looking for a “one stop shop” of a net, the 48″ poultry netting is your best bet.
It's not, however, recommended for pigs because they root and turn up the soil. As the soil is turned up, it can bury the bottom line of the fence, which will short it out. This isn't to say it can't be used with pigs; it will just require frequent checks to ensure it's working.
What Size Energizer is Needed?
Have you wondered how many nets you can string together before you begin to lose voltage? When setting up netting, you need to make sure you're using an energizer that's strong enough with enough output for the number of nets you're using.
An energizer with more output can run more fences. Something I've learned over the years is that you'll never regret getting more power for your energizer! We actually purchased one that was triple what we thought we needed at the Norris Farmstead, so I think we finally learned our lesson.
You want at least 3000 volts to your netting, so check often with your fence tester.
- .5-.8 Joule Units will run 3-4 strands of 100-foot poultry netting
- 1 Joule Units can run 5-6 strands of 100-foot poultry netting.
- 20 Joule Units (like they use at the Premier 1 farm) can run netting to a much larger area. This is ideal for larger operational needs.
Something to consider when setting up your netting is that when grass comes into contact with the fence, though it's not much, each blade of grass will sap just a bit of energy.
This sapped energy can really add up, so it's recommended to knock back the grass by mowing or trampling it down (or weed whacking) the perimeter of the area where the fence will be set up to eliminate the grass from touching the fence.
Setting Up Electric Fence Netting for Specific Predators
Electric fence netting will protect your livestock from coyotes, raccoons, bobcats, black bears, aerial predators and more. These are the tips I wish I had known years ago! You can actually set up your electric fence netting in unique ways to deter your specific predators.
- Aerial Predators: For those aerial predators like owls, eagles and hawks, it's best to set up a narrow run for your animals. This makes it more difficult for the birds to dive down and grab a chicken. For further protection, you can crisscross some fishing line or reflective string across the top of the fence.
- Cougars, Mountain Lions & Bobcats: Since these predators can jump pretty high, it's best to go with the taller netting. Then, angle the net outward. Once the animal gets a shock, it will usually look up to see if it can jump over the fence. Because it's angled outward, it will appear to be above them and deter them from jumping over.
- Black Bear: Set up the fence normally. Because black bears have large bodies and large feet, they'll receive quite a shock if they touch the fence. This is usually enough to deter them.
- Weasels: If weasels are an issue for you, you may need to look further than electric netting as a protective measure. Because they're so small, they may be able to fit through the fence. If you still want to give it a try, start with the Shock or Not because it has smaller holes that may keep the weasels out.
Using Electric Netting in the Snow
When dealing with snow (unless it's very dry snow or a small amount), it's probably best to not use the netting as there are so many factors that can cause the netting to short out.
However, if you still want predator protection for your flock during the winter, you're going to want to keep a good eye on the netting to make sure it's not shorted out by snow.
We like to free-range our ducks in the winter, and though they usually stay in their tractor when it's snowy, as soon as that snow melts, they want back out. Joe recommended simply testing the fence each day to make sure the snow hasn't shorted it out; that way, they're still protected from predators.
Joe also recommends setting up a pause barrier (in case the internal wire gets shorted out). A simple electric fence that's about two or three strands should do the job. This will be what the coyotes (or other predators) hit before getting to the poultry netting, hopefully dissuading them if the snow has shorted out the netting.
How Long Will Electric Fence Netting Last?
Joe says they tend to get 7-10 years out of their netting at Premier 1. However, they've also had reviews of people using 20-year-old netting!
It depends on how you use them and how much damage they receive. If you're continually pulling them through brush or setting them up in really hard soil, thickets, etc., this will reduce the overall lifespan.
Lifespan of the Energizers
The thing that goes out most on the solar energizer units is the batteries. Joe says this comes down to management. If you're setting up your solar power unit in the shade or at an angle where it can't get enough charge from the sun, it will still pull power from those batteries, draining them quickly.
It's essential always to set up your panel to the south and follow the instructions for the best solar power. That way, you're not just draining your battery within a month!
Joe recommends having a multi-meter or fence tester and frequently testing your battery to ensure it's above the 12.6 voltage rating and not drawing below that too often. If they're getting low, just top them off!
Can You Recycle Batteries
Joe recommends checking your scrap yard to see if they'll recycle the batteries. This may vary from region to region. My scrap yard does!
Modern Homesteading Conference
If you're planning on attending the Modern Homesteading Conference this year (2023), you can come meet Joe himself. If you'll be in the Pacific Northwest region (specifically North Idaho), come see us on June 30-July 1, 2023, for the first annual Modern Homesteading Conference. Buy your tickets to the conference here!
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Melissa: Hey, pioneers. Welcome to episode number 394. On today's episode, we're going to be diving into electric fencing options, including poultry netting, different ways that you can use that versatility with different types of livestock, and making sure that you are getting the best from your poultry netting, how to manage that so that it has a longer lifespan, is also effective, and some tips for how to set it up so that not only is it effective at doing its job at keeping those predators at bay, but also knowing how to best set it up depending upon the type of predator that you have in your area.
You'll hear in today's episode of where I share about how I first discovered poultry netting, why it is so nice to have as an option, especially if you live in an area that has a high predator pressure like we do. It's been the only way that I have been able to offer my poultry, both our ducks and our chickens, the largest amount of ranging area without losing an entire flock overnight when I tried to just fully free range. So I feel like this gives the best life, both expectancy and longevity range, to the poultry, but also their quality of life by including and using the poultry netting.
So really excited to talk about this today, because even though I've been using poultry netting myself for three years, there is some tips that I gleaned from today's episode that's going to help me use it better and increase the longevity of said poultry netting.
So we will definitely be talking about poultry netting, but also talking about when you are picking to purchase your energizers, which is what energizes and makes your electric fence electric, like things to consider when you're looking at the output of different energizers and which one to get started with, if you're going solar routes, et cetera. Some expectancies on how long the batteries are going to use, best ways, practices so that you don't run that battery down out really fast.
All of those types of things we're covering in today's episode. So if you have livestock or you plan on getting livestock and using any type of electric fencing, including the solar electric fencing, you are going to love today's episode, which is sponsored by Premier 1 Supplies. So let's get straight to it.
Well, hey, Joe, welcome to the Pioneering Today Podcast.
Joe: Well, thank you, Melissa. I appreciate it.
Melissa: Yeah, I'm really excited to have you on. It's funny, we've gotten to chat a lot of time in person and quite a few emails back and forth, and I've talked about Premier 1 as a sponsor of the podcast a lot of times, but it's your first time coming on, and I'm really excited, because I actually have some questions to pick your brain on.
Joe: Oh, wonderful.
Melissa: Right? That's always fun.
Melissa: I've got a lot of reader questions on fencing as well, so I'm excited to talk to you. One, I think this is really cool, because I don't think that we see this a lot with, and I know this is a relative term to call a company large or not. What actually constitute... To each person, that's probably going to be something a little bit different. But what I would say is a well-established large-ish company. But that you guys actually have, and I'll let you explain this more, but you guys actually have a working farm where your fencing products are being used and tested as a company. So kind of walk me through what that looks like, because I think that's really cool.
Joe: Yeah, I guess Premier kind of stumbled into being a company, because our owner and founder, Stan Potratz, he went to college off in England for a couple years after high school and then ran a farm there, and then when he came back to the home farm in Iowa, he wanted to use the tools that he used in England. He wanted to raise sheep the way he did there, but it was not being done that way here. So he imported handling equipment, electrified netting, brought that in, and then saw that there's kind of a market potential there.
So this farm get out of Iowa was like, you know what? I'll see if I can sell this netting. And then 45, 50 years later, we've got 60 employees and we sell a little bit more than just sheep netting now, and kind of expanded our product line. But he did all this so he could raise sheep on his home farm. So that's what we do. We have about 800 head of ewes out there, and there's about 40 or 60 goats and then a couple different poultry flocks, and we've expanded the acreage just so we can make more bailage, make more hay and just graze more area than the original farm. So Premiere's just allowed the farm to grow.
Melissa: Yeah, no, that's awesome. That's quite a few animals.
Joe: Yeah. Not quite as big as the Western Range folks, sheep flock wise, but for Iowa, it's a good size sheep flock.
Melissa: Yeah. Well, it's interesting because when it comes to fencing, I grew up on a cattle farm, so we always had your standard barbed wire fencing, and it was a mixture of fence posts and sometimes tree, like if a tree was growing, an evergreen tree was growing where you were doing it, boom, it became a fence post all on its own. And then some metal T-post, et cetera. And really, my dad, for gates, he would just take your barbed wire and some smaller wooden posts, and the gates were just this barbed wire with three posts in the center that you just open and then redo. So we didn't even have your metal swing gates or anything like that.
And he grew up in a time... I should say, he grew up during, he was born in the 1930s, and they always raised their own food, lived on a farm in a homestead, but they didn't have electricity at their house. So of course, and I don't even know if electric fencing was used at all back then, to be honest, in the '30s, '40s. I don't really know. I know, I'm like, I don't actually know when electric fencing kind of started. So we never used electric fencing growing up. It was always just barbed wire. And for the cows, he was doing pretty big, well, decently-sized acreage, not anything huge ranches in the Midwest, but for out here, about a hundred acres. So it was just barbed wire fencing.
And then I got into horses, and so of course we got horses, and that's where I started to learn about electric fencing, and we would just use a single wire on the inside of the barbed wire of the electric fencing, because horses are much more accident-prone than cattle. And so, after having to doctor the horse after it would get in the barbed wire, quickly learned, okay, we're going to put up this electric fencing to protect the horse and help mitigate, hopefully, injury and also vent bills.
But that was really my extent of different fencing, because my primary experience was just fencing with either cattle or horses, Until we started to raise a lot more of our own livestock, and we got into the chickens and into the pigs and all of that and realized, you really need to use electric fencing with pigs if you want to keep them in any specific space for an amount of time.
Tried goats. Goats were not for me. Amen. Leave that there. But that was really due to fencing, because the goats kept getting out of every manner of fence that we tried to put them in and damaging things, and so I'm like, okay, I'm done with the goats, and we haven't went back to goats.
But I first realized, honestly, it was when we went to one of the conferences about the poultry netting, and I was very intrigued to be able to use netting that was electric, but I was a little bit hesitant because it was solar. Honestly, here in the Pacific Northwest where we are, we're so gray all the time, and I just wasn't sure, is it actually going to stay energized?
Especially in our winter months when we go... I laugh and air quote "daylight hours," because we don't really get a whole lot of daylight. It feels like it's just that real gloomy cloud cover, and we'll get daylight at about 9:30 in the middle of winter where I am, it feels like the sun kind of really starts, or the light really starts to come up over the mountain range, and then by 4:30 in the afternoon, we're dark again, right around December when it's shortest days of the year.
So I was like, I don't know how, if this is going to stay energized, if it's going to work all winter for us. But I'm like, well, let's test it because there's no... Let's just test it and see. And I remember the first year we used it, I was shocked. I'm like, I can't believe this thing. It stayed energized the whole time, worked extremely well, and it was the only way that I've been able to successfully keep our chickens from getting killed by the coyotes, and giving them more space than just what's in the chicken tractor. Because prior, we were using the chicken tractor so we could move them around the yard, after we realized free range just means free range dinner for all the coyotes, and I went from a flock of 20 to one in two days' time when we were just total free ranging.
So I feel like it's given me the best of both worlds for the chickens, because it enlarges their space area, but it also keeps them very safe. It lets me do more effective pasture management with them, and with our ducks. So I love the poultry netting, but I've also had people ask, and really our main predators here are raccoons and coyotes, and coyotes are the biggest predator pressure for us when it comes to our chickens. We do have cougar and occasionally black bear in our area, but I've honestly never had them in my fields. I don't know of anybody around here who has had black bears attack their livestock or get into coops or anything like that. We have probably more issues with cougar with some of the bigger livestock, but not with the chickens thus far.
So my question is, with the poultry netting, what have you guys found, as far as different predators, does it tend to work really well with, or is there any that it... I mean, obviously aerial predators, they can just fly right over it, so that, but aside from that, any four-legged, two-legged critters, is there any of you found that kind of just go through it, they don't care? Or does it protect pretty well against your major predator forces?
Joe: I'm going to say, for the majority of those predators you listed, it covers it. One you didn't mention was weasels. I've had folks that say poultry net does work for it, and have other... But we don't recommend it that way. The key there is that you've got a very high output energizer, that weasels making poor contact to the fence, so if you're overcoming that lack of circuit conductivity, you can probably get it, but they're also small, because that's why we go with half inch or less hardware cloth, because they can't fit through that. But the spacings on poultry net's two by two, three by three range.
So I don't tell folks that it works for weasels. I have folks that say it does. But coming out of Premiere, we're not recommending it against weasel, so you've got to also have a good stout coop on that side of things. I wish I didn't say that out on the tape, but that's okay.
Aerial predators, we like to set up narrow runs. That cuts down on the bird's ability to swoop in. So you still have a long narrow run, but it reduces the angle of attack for your primary aerial predators.
Melissa: Okay, so instead of putting it more in a big round circle, just make it long and skinny.
Joe: Yeah. Narrower, yep.
Joe: Cuts down. Yep.
Joe: Then when it's long and skinny, crisscross fishing line or something a little bit bigger, thicker, like a monofilament. I have people that have done reflective tape, just to get in the way of the bird, so they're very hesitant to go in there because they don't know, they are not exactly sure what they're flying into. They don't know if they can get out. So that helps.
Joe: One is bobcat, and we've had issues with that in the past, and what we found is that if you angle your net outward, rather than having a nice straight up and down, if you angle it towards the predator, when they first come up to that fence, they're going to touch the fence, get a shock, they're going to look at it, look up, and they're going to see more of that thing that shocked them, and they're going to learn to stay away. If it's just straight up and down, they're going to look up and see sky and go, well, I can jump that. So we're just kind of playing with their brain a little bit there.
Cougar, I've been fortunate in Iowa that they're not too common here. You usually hear about them during deer season, or some game camera, someone says that they found them, but I haven't seen them. Bobcats. Yes. But I would probably still do the angled outward method for the cougar, pumas, mountain lions. But I would also realize that I've got a very unique predator to work with here, so maybe go with taller fencing at that point. So rather than the 48-inch poultry netting, maybe add in a couple multi-strand, like deer height style fences, just around there, just to add some upper strands that even though, say, the cougar is going to jump, they don't know how electric circuit works the way we do. So if the animal's up in the air, they're not going to get a shock when they touch the wire because they're not grounded. They don't know that. We do. So just play with their brains a little bit there.
You mentioned black bear, and people think that they're this big ferocious animal. Well, they are, but... They're often heavier than a human is, so they make excellent... And they don't wear shoes, so they make excellent contact to the ground. So the way an electric fence works is, pulse comes down the fence from the energizer, you or I or the animal touches it, shock goes through you, into the ground, back to the ground rod, of the energizer. And say, heavier you are or less insulated you are, you make better contact, so you make a better circuit. Bears, they're not wearing shoes. They don't have a lot of insulation on their feet, so when they touch a fence, they're going to get a good shock, because they're a big animal, whereas a chicken, they're not going to get as much of a shock, so they're smaller, because they're smaller.
So that's kind of the inverse of what people think, because right now we're doing some advertisements for poultry, and a common question is, "Well, how does this not fry the chickens?" Because it's meant for a bowl, right? You need more power for a bowl. Well, chicken's kind of the opposite. Or, "The bear's going to tear right through that if it's just strong enough for chicken." It's the opposite. So that's just interesting things you learn working with the fence.
So yeah, we use it for bear. Well, not in Iowa, but we have a lot of folks in the northeast, southeast, northwest. We have folks that take small sections of it camping with them just to put around their campsite, keep bear away. A lot of folks with beehives in bear country. Yep.
Melissa: Oh, that's a good idea. I hadn't actually thought of that application. I shouldn't even say this publicly. We're flirting with the idea of getting into bees, but I'm not quite ready. I'm not quite ready to make the plunge, just because I know at this moment in my life, I don't have the capacity to fully jump into anything new yet. But it's a goal for the future, is probably a better way of putting that. And so, that is an excellent thing to consider in order to keep the predators out.
Joe: Just started my first hive of this year. So they normally tell you to have two, that way you can compare them, say, is this one doing well? Is this not doing well? I did it wrong. I just jumped in, got one hive. Well, they seem to be doing well.
Melissa: Right? We always have the best, there's always the advice, what they say to do, and then there's what we end up doing.
Joe: Oh, yeah.
Melissa: Very often, they're not exactly coinciding there. So I'm laughing because I tend to do projects that way too.
Joe: Oh, absolutely. How else you going to do them?
Melissa: Yeah. And be a learner the hard way.
Joe: Learning is fun, whether it's easy or hard, it's still fun.
Melissa: It is very fun. Yes. So with the fencing, I think because like I said, electric fencing wasn't really something that I saw managed very much, and then started learning about it and seeing how different people were using all the different kinds of electric fencing beyond just what I knew as a, I don't know, a fencer that you plugged in, and usually it was a single wire. Sometimes it's a two strand wire, like with the pigs, we'd put one down really low at snout level, of course, that type of thing.
But then when I started to learn about mob grazing, I'm like, okay, we really need to have electric fencing to do mob grazing effectively, because I don't know how on earth anybody would do it without. When you're trying to move sections that often, it just doesn't make sense to do any other way. And so, that's when we got the reels and stuff from you guys, because I had never actually seen them done that way, because most people were just putting them up as stationary. I'd seen electric fences done as stationary.
And so, the mob grazing has been really great and effective, but I also realized when we first got started getting the netting, and I have one flock that we keep separate, and then we have the meat birds that we keep separate, and then now I have ducks that we keep separate, and getting the energizers for some of those different ones because they're just too far apart to be able to connect together in any shape or form. And then we purchased the 40 acre farm just a year ago. A few days ago, it's been a year. 40 acre farm down the road from us. So that has its own whole setup now, because it has different herds down there as well.
Joe: That's great.
Melissa: And so, I realize for a lot of people just getting started with fencing, getting started with homesteading and getting started with livestock is an expense all of its own, and then you start to add in the different fencing. So is there one type of the fencing that you feel is a little bit more universal? So say if you're only going to, you want to get some fencing that would work if you've got, maybe you're going to do pigs and you're going to do chickens and maybe something of the smaller livestock like goats or sheep, that type of thing. Do you feel like there's one that kind of is universal and can get you started? Or is it really more specific reasons that each one is better suited to a specific type of livestock?
Joe: It depends, and yes and no to both of that. So if you want something that's the most universal, I'd go with poultry netting because it's got the height. It's a four-foot-tall fence, so that's going to cover your sheep, your chickens, your goats, your swine, your cattle. It's overkill for cattle, but it works because it'll still get a shock. There's way more strands, because you can do cattle with one or two strands as you mentioned, but if you don't have any existing fence and you want to run some other animals in there, it's a good option.
So it's tight enough for poultry, it's tight enough for goats. Swine, I've worked with swine in poultry netting. It works, but the reason why we get pigs and put them outside is because they like to root and turn up the soil. That and it tastes good now. So when they root and turn up that soil, they'll often bury the bottom electrified strands of that net, and that shorts out your fence, so then you have no charge running through your fence and the hog goes through the fence.
So we have to be vigilant, or do chores every day, shall we say, and check your fence to make sure those bottom strands aren't shorted out. And it's just a turn off the unit or energizer, kick the clods off, kick them further into further into the hog lot, and turn your fence back on and you should be good to go.
Melissa: Okay. Now with the poultry netting, how many sets can you string together before you're going to start to lose voltage, I guess?
Joe: Excellent question. So when you're setting up multiple strands of poultry net, you want to make sure you have an energizer with enough output to power that number of strands. So if you go to a farm store or look at our website, you'll see different cost units, and that's primarily based on their output. So an energizer with more output can run more fence.
So a typical solar units in the 0.5 point joule range, and that'll do about 300, 400 feet of poultry netting, depending on your location, depending on your grass contact on the fence. If you go with a one joule unit, well, you can get probably five, six strands of poultry netting out of that. So it depends how many strands. We have some 20 joule units or higher used at the Premier farms, and we can get a lot of net on those units, so we can do a larger area.
And I mentioned, it will probably come up, I mentioned grass contact just now. So when those little green strands or things growing out of the ground... We're kind of in drought in Iowa right now, so green is kind of half an anomaly. When you have grass contact on your fence, each little blade of grass, it's not the most conductive thing in the world. You and I are more conductive than a blade of grass. But it doesn't take a lot of power from the fence, but when you have grass contact, you have a lot of little blades of grass or forage contacting those strands, so it's cumulative throughout the entire fence line. So they will sap a little bit of energy from your fence, but by the time you get to the end of your fence line, that's taken a lot of the voltage or power out of your fence.
So what I like to do is mow ahead of time, trample the grass down, that way I don't have any contact on my fence. And also just have a unit with enough output to power the quantity of net I want, based on whatever charts or ratings, say, and then maybe go the next size up because I know I'm going to have grass contact, just the way I manage things on my farm. All right, I want a little, make myself feel better here. A little mental... Less anxiety. There we go. Not the right word, but we'll get there one of these days.
Melissa: Yeah. Well, no, that's a good question, because we get a lot, we do have grass in the pasture, but then sometimes we'll be trying to put the animals that they'll graze where we've got a little bit of brush that's trying to encroach in where the forest meets the pasture to keep that down. And so, it's funny, I always feel like whenever we have bought any type of energizer, it never fails that down the road, you decide you need to add more fence, or there's more contact, like you're saying, especially in spring and fall. Summer, we can get drought drought here too in certain areas, and parts of the pasture will just die down and there's really nothing there, so it's not a big issue. But for the most part of the year...
And so now we're like, okay, what's the biggest one that they sell, the most output, because that's the one we're going for. So I feel like we finally learned that, instead of always just trying to balance that. So we got the one that was triple what we estimated we would need down at the new farm. Plus it's much larger acreage than we're used to having here. But yeah, I felt like we finally learned our lesson and put that into use of going bigger with the electric needs. Because I've never been like, oh man, that was really overkill. I've always, just a little bit down the road, wish we'd went with the larger one. So I guess that's the moral of this story, go for the little bit larger output than you think you're going to need.
Joe: Yeah. You don't have to be orders of magnitude larger, because I know I'll hear a lot of comments like, "Oh, I was told to need at least a three joule or a six joule unit for my one roll of fencing." No, you don't. You really don't. But yeah, and then it just depends how you manage it. So maybe those folks advocating for the higher output units are not mowing ahead of time, or they've got tons of grass contact, or they have poor conductive soils.
So if you're in a dry area, the pulse from your energizer when you touch the fence goes through you, through the ground, back to the ground rod. If you have dry soils, it works a little harder to push that pulse through, so you're not going to get as much of a shock. So if you have more output to begin with, you can get around that. If you have plenty of grounding, you can get around that.
If you run what's called a pos/neg fence, which is half your strands are connected to the energizer per normal, the other half are connected to your ground rod directly, so they're insulated from one another, and when an animal touches both of those strands, a positive and negative strand, they get the shock and they don't have to rely on the soil moisture to carry any pulse. So in dry, rocky areas, those are good fences to have, or in dry Iowa at the moment, but not quite that dry at home. But things to think about. There's a lot to think about when you're playing with fence.
Melissa: Yeah, and I'm glad you bring that up, because weather and climate, so obviously different times of year, can affect how things operate differently too. But also overall, so for us in the winter climate, here I'm in northern western Washington, so we're on the west side of the Cascades, so I don't get as cold or as much snow as the east side of Washington state, or even as Idaho does. So we really are flirting with a lot of cold rain and usually a lot of moisture, very dry summers.
But when we do get snow, usually I have fairly wet and heavy snow. Sometimes we'll get a snowstorm that will come in, it'll be real dry and light and fluffy and we'll get two feet, but then in three days time it'll start to warm up and then of course it starts to melt. It just becomes this hideous, soggy mess.
So with the poultry netting, is there kind of a general rule of thumb on how much snow it can handle? Is it in danger if you get too much snow and it's pushing on it, that something's going to break or damage it, that you shouldn't have it up during certain winter conditions, or that it's just going to be ineffective? Kind of walk me through that winter management when you're getting a large accumulation of snow.
Joe: Well, during the winter months, you're probably not rotationally grazing at that point in time, so for many, your net's going to be put away during that season. I have left mine up at home the last few winters in Iowa, and we have gotten some, a foot of snow, or 6-10 inches at a time, and it varies what kind of snow we get. We get the powdery kind, we get the wet slushy kind.
The powdery snows, the dry powdery snows, they kind of act as an insulator. So if an animal touches that fence and they are kind of on the dryer type of snow, that pulse power's not going to really be able to get through them. If it's a wet slushy snow and they touch it, and if, say if it's only an inch inches or so, they should get a shock because there's all that available moisture there. But if that wet slushy snow is touching those lower conductors, you're probably shorting out your fence because now there's a contact to ground.
So winter use and poultry netting is probably just more of a psychological barrier at that time if you have that snow cover. If you, say, take up your fence, clear the snow away, and then drill some holes in that frozen ground, put your spikes back in the ground, it'll probably work for you until you get the next snow again. So it's just a different management if you want to use it. Me, I left mine up all year round and just run an automatic door on my coop so the birds can rain during the day and go back in at night. It's shut, and they're just kind of half contained by that netting at that point.
Melissa: Okay, which that's great. And I am, yes, I'm not rotating them once the grass is quick growing and is covered usually with light snow, but it's still for predator pressure. Because the coyotes here don't really ever go away, and I hate leaving them in just the tractor space for all winter. Even though I do really deep hay... Not hay, straw bedding for them.
Joe: Deep bedding.
Melissa: They've got that deep litter. Yeah, deep bedding and all of that. But still, I mean, your tractor's only so big of a space. So I keep the netting up so that, same thing, at night, they'll go in, of course, because that's where all their betting is, and I keep their food and their water, et cetera, and then they like to come out within the netting area.
And I've shared with some of the listeners of the podcast, but we got ducks last year and I fell in love with raising ducks in our climate. I've never had anything go after the slugs. Because our chickens here, they don't touch slugs or snails. They're like, they don't eat them at all, but the ducks love the slugs. And so it was the first year I had no slug issues, and I could keep the ducks in the garden even when it was growing because they didn't damage the garden plants like the chickens did. The chickens were so destructive in the vegetable garden. They're scratching everything up and they just tend to eat everything. And the ducks would just do a pass through, they'd grab the slugs and then they would go on their way. They weren't tearing up roots and uprooting plants and eating all of my ripe tomatoes. Yes, I still have a grudge against my chickens. They like my tomatoes and strawberries as much as I do, and usually beat me too them when they're free ranging.
Joe: Yeah. Mine move my molts. Stop!
Melissa: Yes! I've actually had them dust bath under some of my berry plants, and because it was in the middle of summer and they're more shallow rooted, they exposed the roots so much that they killed them because they got so dry, the root. Anyways, so I have a love/hate with my chickens, but I love the ducks.
Anyhow, so we have the ducks in a separate area than the chickens. We just had them raised separate, separate tractor, separate area of the farm. And it got to be in the middle of winter, and they did not like the deep snow, bless their hearts. So once the snow had started to melt, they had gotten so sick of being in the tractor that I was having a hard time getting them to come back in the netting at night and into the tractor itself.
So I got kind of lazy, to be honest, because I was cold and I got tired of chasing them around the yard, to be honest, at night, to try to get them back in. I'm like, "Fine, stay out. You do your thing."
Well, that was good for about three nights, and then they were right outside our back door, and they had laid their eggs. And that was the other beautiful thing, is they would lay their eggs all winter for me without any... And I don't supplement our chicken coop, so I didn't get any eggs during the middle of winter, but the ducks kept right on laying.
So they laid their eggs at about five in the morning is when they would lay, five, six in the morning. And then we got up at seven o'clock in the morning. So from the time they had laid their eggs and when we got up, something came in and got all six of the ducks and there was no carcasses or feathers, so we're not really sure what got them. I don't think it was an aerial predator, just because I don't see how one owl could have taken six chickens in one hour timeframe and gotten them all, or six ducks, excuse me.
But I learned that that means... I now have a brand new little duck flock. I've got eight week old duck snow, but they will always be in the poultry netting all year long. I'm not going to take the chance and have them all become eradicated again. So that was really a question for me, like is it going to work when we do get the incremental snow that we get? And so, it may not actually be shocking, but it would at least be a barrier from predators.
Joe: Yeah, it would simply act as a net at that point. So what I would be doing, I'd be testing my fence each day, checking my voltage and monitor it that way. So you want at least 3000 volts on your fence. So go out with your fence tester, check it each time you do chores. If you're getting below 3000 volts, I'd probably try and reset this fence, get it out of the snow.
And then, also probably keep in mind that depending how it's performing for you and what kind of snow you're getting, I might even set up a fence outside of that, like a pos/neg fence that's like two or three strands that the coyotes are going to hit too.
Joe: That way you don't have to worry about snow cover or dry conditions at that point. So that would be something considered. So they'll see that pos/neg net... Or not pos/neg. They'll see that net that you've had up all year round, and they've experienced it, they know to stay away, but even if they test it, just always keep power on it, so hopefully they still get that sense of a tingle, and then maybe even have...
Melissa: An outer perimeter.
Joe: Have that outer out there too, just as a potential. It's kind of belt and braces at this point, but...
Melissa: Okay, good to know. And then, my next question about the netting is, does there seem to be a lifespan on it? At some point, things are going to degrade down and you'll probably need to replace it.
Joe: So they are UV treated, so they shouldn't have any degradation from that. So we have folks down in New Zealand and Australia that are using fences and they're doing fine. And they have, I know at least New Zealand has thinner ozone, so they're getting a lot more UV exposure, and they're holding up.
We tend to get seven to 10 years out of them, and we've had customers that are using, say, 20-plus year old netting that they bought back in the '90s. So it depends how you handle it. If you're pulling it through brush and bramble and thorns, that's going to give you a shorter lifespan on the fence. If you have spikes anchored in hard soils and then you're trying to pull those out, but that soil had kind of dried around the spike... I'm doing hand gestures off screen to demonstrate. That always happens on these calls.
Melissa: I talk with my hands. You're good. You're in good company. Don't worry.
Joe: Oh yeah, lifelong learner and hand talker. There we go. Kindred spirits there. And if that kind of spike's gotten glued down in the ground, it gets hard to pull out. So sometimes that spike pull out of the post, depending how hard it's been kind of glued in the ground.
Melissa: Oh, okay.
Joe: I've had that recently. That was actually, that was in really, really hard soils that I got that in. But that was my first time I had it happen. So there's things to consider like, okay, that might reduce its lifespan. But if I'm doing soft, loamy Iowa soils, majority of the time I'm not going to run into that. And if I'm grazing my sheep pastures, which are nice grassy areas, I'm not pulling it through the same terrain that I'm going to be fencing my goats back here at Premier, because we put that through what we call the thicket, put the goats out there because they like that spot. Not so much my nice sheep pastures.
Melissa: Yeah. No, the goats definitely tend to be better at the brush.
Melissa: Than the sheep or the cattle. How about the lifespan of the solar, your guys' specific, the solar batteries that run the poultry net, or that we have running the poultry netting? What kind of seems to be the lifespan for those? And again, I'm sure there's variations.
Joe: Oh, yeah. So the things that go out on the solar units, I would say, are probably the batteries, and that comes down to management. If you are setting your solar unit in the shade or putting it facing north, so that panel is not really able to recharge that battery, that energizer is still going to pull power from that battery as long as it can, and if you pull too far down on these lead acid batteries, you hurt its ability to take a full charge or be recharged.
So I think ideally, we tend to get about two years out of a set of batteries, and I've had folks that have toasted them in a month because they face their panel to the north, let it get covered, so it just drew down on that battery. That's kind of what wears, I guess. There's really not moving parts.
Melissa: Yeah. Okay. So my original one, I think has got to be going on almost three years now. So I should feel pretty good about that?
Joe: You should feel good. What I would do is just have, you can have a multimeter, or we have a fence tester and digital battery tester, and just check your batteries periodically and make sure that they're above, I think it's a 12.6 voltage rating on these 12-volt batteries, and make sure they're above that and don't draw below that too often, and they can last for it. So just do some general checkup. If they're getting low, just top them off. Those kinds of things help.
Melissa: Okay. And is there any, I guess, do you guys have a recycle program or anything like that? Or just do you dispose of them like you would normally, any type of battery?
Joe: I think if you go to your scrap yard, they'll take the lead acid batteries. I'm not positive on that. I think it's going to vary region from region.
Melissa: Yeah, ours does. I just didn't know if you guys had a way of send back the housing, or you could replace the battery itself but keep your panel. Because it's not the panel, typically it's just the battery inside, right?
Joe: It's just the battery inside. Opens up.
Melissa: So just replace that part.
Joe: Yeah, throw in a different battery. Yep. There we go.
Melissa: Okay. Your casing and your panel are still good, it's just the battery itself?
Joe: Yep. Energizers don't really go bad. If you're in an area with a lot of ants, sometimes they try and get in there. So we've had folks that'll put ant repellent or poison in there in the case with them because they're attracted to electronics. Current boards on our units are potted, so that should prevent the ants from getting in there. But have had folks have that happen. It doesn't really seem to be a thing in Iowa. It must be further south. But I don't know if that's fire ants or what they're getting in there.
Melissa: Yeah. I haven't noticed. We're pretty far north, though. I don't have a huge ant problem. I mean, maybe your typical ones, carpenter ants in the first few warm days of spring, and then the little, I know I call them sugar ants. I don't know what they actually are called technically, but yeah. Okay, well, that's good to know. So check them, because you could have an ant ant problem in certain locations.
Well, I feel like you've definitely helped me with all of my poultry netting questions that I still had. But you guys do more than just fencing, even though you have a really large, awesome, different fencing that's specific by animals. So if someone has goat specific, you've what's recommended best for the goats fencing section, et cetera, down by the livestock. We kind of talked about a lot about poultry, about how you could also use that for different livestock as more general overall.
But what else do you guys offer, because obviously you have a huge farm there and a lot of experience with livestock. So kind of share with us some of the other ways that Premier 1 can help folks with their livestock.
Joe: Yeah. Well, as you may have caught earlier, sheep's kind of the passion at Premier. So we have that 800 head ewe flock and we carry a lot of equipment to help that out. So hoof trimmers, mineral mixes, things of that nature. We have a full sheep and goat equipment catalog, that's a hundred plus pages of items along those lines. So if you're lambing, you're kidding, reach out to us, get a catalog and see what kind of things might help out on your farm.
We also do a lot of poultry supply, so feeders and waterers, in addition to just the netting. So another catalog for that. So there's more than just fencing on the premier website. There's a lot of other equipment that we have.
And then on the sheep side of things, again, we run what's called a sheep advice service. It's also goat advice, but it's started off as sheep advice. So we have a on-staff nutritionist that's a retired Iowa State professor, Dr. Dan Morrical, and if you have any questions about is this poisonous for my animal, or what should I be feeding in addition to whatever I have growing, if you're going for growth rate or you want better lambing rates or kitting rates, give us, we'll take any kind of questions.
We also have, working with a veterinarian for an actual sheep vet out of Pipestone, Minnesota area. And just send in those questions to [email protected], and we'll get you directed directly to those experts that do this every day. They know nutrition, they know veterinary questions. Because I hear a lot of folks saying, "Well, I ask my veterinarian, but they don't know sheep," or "There's not a veterinarian for a hundred miles that I can talk to." So we can't, we don't do scripts over the web, but we can get you pointed in the right direction and help you troubleshoot. So, yeah.
Melissa: Oh, that's awesome. I was not aware that that was a service that you guys did, so that is very cool. And for those of you who are going to be joining us at the Modern Homesteading Conference in Coeur d'Alene, Idaho in just a couple of weeks on June 30th and July 1st this year, Premiere 1's going to be there. Joe himself is going to be there and have his booth, so you will be able to come through if you've got additional questions, see some of this stuff up close and personal in action, and it's going to be a lot of fun. So Joe, thanks so much for coming on.
Joe: Oh, thanks for having me.
Melissa: I got a one-on-one consult on how to better use my poultry netting and expectations of that. So thank you so much. Always a pleasure.
Joe: All right, thank you.
Melissa: Well, I hope that you enjoyed that episode as much as I did. There was a lot jam packed into there. And as always, we will have the blog post that accompanies today's episode, so if you are listening to this on your phone via a podcast app, you can go to melissaknorris.com/394, just the numbers 394, because this is episode 394. Of course, if you're watching this on YouTube, then you will see the link to that and other things that we spoke about in today's episode. You can access all of that at the blog post, and we'll just have that linked for you in the video description beneath this recording.
I would love to know what other topics you would like to hear, or questions you have to cover in future podcast episodes, so let me know in the comment section below this if you're watching it on YouTube, or you can put that comment in a review if you are catching this on whatever app you happen to be listening to. And if you're at the blog post, actually watching this from the website, there's always the comment section there as well, and I check all three places. So I look forward to seeing what you would like to hear in a future episode. Blessings and Mason jars for now, my friends.
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