Deer-Proof Electric Fence


Your garden looks lovely, with all those healthy beans, lettuce, carrots, tomatoes, and flowers. But one morning, you spot some missing tomatoes and chewed-up bean plants. The leaves are ragged, and the shoots have been eaten over 2 feet above the ground. You can see tracks in the soft soil, clearly made by white-tailed deer.

Having dealt with wildlife damage before, I’ve seen plenty of cases where plants were lost because of these deer. The population of white-tailed deer in North America has boomed, with some estimates saying there are over 20 million nationwide. Their impact on gardens and plants is especially noticeable in suburban areas, where there’s a mix of woodland and not enough hunting to keep their numbers in check.

Often, during the summer months, preventing deer damage to home gardens can be achieved with a straightforward solution, an invisible deer proof fence such as an electric fence. Rather than serving as a complete physical barrier, an electric fence delivers a mild shock that conditions animals to steer clear. For a deer, encountering an electric fence is an unfamiliar experience. Upon initial investigation, a deer may touch it with its nose. If the shock is sufficiently deterrent on this first encounter, the deer typically avoids the fence thereafter.

Improving the effectiveness of an electric fence

The electric fence relies on a high-voltage charger for its power source, delivering regular pulses at a rate of 55 to 65 per minute, with brief breaks of approximately one second between pulses. These pulses, characterized by short duration and high energy, produce voltages exceeding 4,000 volts, effectively deterring deer from approaching the fence.

Enhancing the effectiveness of the electrified fence can be achieved through two methods. One strategy involves combining the fence with attractants or lures, enticing deer to make contact with the fence and reinforcing aversive conditioning. For instance, aluminum flags can be affixed to the electrified wire and coated with peanut butter, or electrified ribbon, such as polytape, can be treated along its length with a mixture of peanut butter and oil. The high-visibility polytape aids in visibility at night, reducing the risk of deer inadvertently breaking the wire.

Alternatively, another approach focuses on repelling deer from the fence. Field experiments have demonstrated that commercial deer repellents can enhance the efficacy of electric fences. In these experiments, cloth strips treated with odor-based deer repellents were spaced every 3 to 4 feet along the electric fence. Such repellent-treated fences proved more effective than those using attractants like aluminum tabs coated with peanut butter or electric fences lacking attractants or repellents. Employing a combination of aversive odor and electric shock via repellent-treated cloth strips is preferred due to its effectiveness and cleanliness compared to using peanut butter and oil mixtures.

Materials and costs are modest

Installing an electric fence around a small 50-feet by 50-feet home garden should cost less than $200, with materials that can be reused for a decade or more, equating to an annual expense of about $20. A basic list of supplies includes approximately 75 yards of polytape or electric wire, around two dozen 4-foot fiberglass support rods, an equal number of plastic insulators, and a high-voltage fence charger (exceeding 4,000 volts), along with a copper rod for grounding the system. Additionally, investing in a digital voltage meter for testing the fence’s functionality is recommended, typically priced between $15 to $20.

Approximately half of the system’s cost is allocated to the fence charger. If an electric outlet is accessible, an AC-operated fence charger can be utilized, providing continuous current and negating the need for battery recharging. However, if an outlet is not nearby, operating a fence charger with a deep-cycle marine battery is an option, which can be recharged via solar panels or a standard battery charger. Adding a marine battery will increase the cost by $50 or more to the estimated $200 for the fencing system. Personal experience indicates success with a fence charger equipped with a self-contained, rechargeable battery and solar panel, spanning over a decade.

Before commencing installation, it’s advisable to consult local authorities to ensure compliance with any zoning ordinances or regulations in your community. Some municipalities prohibit the use of electric fences due to safety concerns. If opting for electric fencing, prominently display warning signs to alert individuals, including pets and children, to avoid accidental contact, which may result in an unpleasant shock but no permanent injury.

Installation is easy, with the power turned off

To commence fence installation, begin by driving four corner rods approximately one foot deep into the soil along the garden’s perimeter. Subsequently, insert the remaining support rods at intervals of 8 to 12 feet to maintain wire tension. Slide an insulator onto each post, positioning them at 30 inches above ground level. Next, encircle the four corner posts with polytape, threading it through the insulators. Hand-tighten the polytape and secure the ends to an insulator with a square knot to uphold tension. For additional protection against woodchucks, rabbits, raccoons, as well as deer, incorporate insulators and a lower wire set at 6 inches above ground level.

Mount the fence charger onto a wooden post or adjacent building, connecting a bare wire from the polytape to the charger to activate the fence. Adhere to the manufacturer’s guidelines to install adequate ground rods for the charger.

Lastly, assess the line voltage using a digital voltage meter to ensure it aligns with the manufacturer’s specifications. While a non-digital voltage tester can confirm the presence of a charge, it cannot ascertain whether the fence is operating at optimal voltage. Investing a nominal additional sum of approximately $10 in a digital meter is advisable.

Installing the electric fence

  • Space the fiberglass rods 8 to 12 feet apart along the garden’s perimeter, driving them one foot into the soil.
  • Position a plastic insulator on each rod at a height of 30 inches above ground level, then thread the polytape through the insulators. After stringing the polytape, pull it tightly and secure the end to an insulator using a square knot.
  • Position the charger near the fence gate and connect a bare wire from the polytape’s end to the charger.
  • Install sufficient grounding rods as per the manufacturer’s guidelines. Lastly, ensure the polytape is carrying a full charge by testing the line with a voltage meter.

The electric fence should remain active 24 hours a day, as deer frequently forage during the night. Operating an AC-powered fence charger should incur a daily cost of less than $1, with no additional expenses for solar-powered units.

With the fence charger deactivated, the next step involves incorporating either a repellent or an attractant. To deter deer, affix cloth strips to the polytape at 4-foot intervals and spray them monthly with a deer repellent containing putrescent eggs as the active ingredient.

Alternatively, to entice deer, utilize aluminum-foil tabs. Apply a small amount of peanut butter on the inside of each tab and secure it with a staple. Alternatively, treat the entire length of the polytape with a peanut butter mixture using a paint roller. Prepare a sticky liquid by mixing vegetable oil and peanut butter in a tray, then apply it to the fence with the roller. A single application of peanut butter should suffice for the entire summer season.

Enhancing the effectiveness of any electric fence system involves installing it before the initial signs of wildlife damage appear. Preventing critters from breaching the fence is much simpler if they are unaware of the enticing food within. For those who have experienced plant losses previously, installing the electric fence early in the growing season, before damage occurs, is advisable. With diligent fence installation and maintenance, one can relish in a garden free from deer intrusion.

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