Of Dogs, Llamas, and Electric Fences

Llamas make great guard animals, protecting our sheep against coyotes. They ‘adopt’ the flock as their own, and because they despise canines, will scare off any coyotes or stray dogs tempted to stop by for a visit. So when our vigilante llama Zipper (Exhibit A)


first laid eyes on our new puppy last week (Exhibit B)


he let out a hair-raising cry of alarm. It’s very hard to describe this sound. It’s both a constant hooting of a deep-throated owl, and the sound your car makes when the battery’s almost dead and the engine barely turns over. It’s an animal sound with a harsh metallic edge to it. Very weird.

I was terrified the puppy would be attracted by this call and run to investigate. Luckily, she didn’t, but if she had, she would have encountered the electric fence. Every other wire is hot, and the electricity pulses on and off, so my hope is that the first time she touches the fence, she touches the hot wire while the electricity is on.

I know that sounds sadistic, but it’s best if a farm dog learns right away not to touch the fence (just as young boys growing up on farms learn not to pee on the fence.) It won’t kill or harm the puppy, but she will turn tail and run screaming for the house. I’ve seen it before when our border collie Robin (Exhibit C)


was a puppy.

Over the years Robin developed a healthy respect for the fence, and when jumping over the lower ones, always made sure he cleared them by at least a foot. It was an impressive sight.

One winter day Robin accompanied me on chores (This was before Zipper decided to start playing Stomp the Border Collie.) I asked Robin to jump the 3-foot electric fence he’d jumped dozens of times before. Unfortunately the ice or snow affected his launch, and as he headed over the fence, it became clear he wasn’t going to make it all the way over. I knew it. He knew it.

That’s why he started screaming in mid-air, knowing his tender belly (or his even more tender private boy parts) were about to land on a pulsing 4,000 volt fence. His front feet landed on the ground, and sure enough, his hips hung up on the top wire of the electric fence. The poor guy was really screaming now.

I just stood there, waiting.

I knew something he didn’t know. The electricity wasn’t actually on.

In a few seconds he figured it out and stopped screaming. He gave a few kicks to get off the wire, then walked over to a pile of snow and peed in a manly way.

We haven’t spoken of the incident since.

He’s a real trooper. Here he is wishing the little thing playing with his tail would just go away.

Robin is about to turn twelve. He no longer likes to jump high. He doesn’t hear very well. But he still loves to run, and he sits on the stairs waiting for his hug every day. I think he’s enjoying his retirement. He’s certainly earned it.

13 thoughts on “

  1. Hey, I found your blog through a link on Lynette’s blog (Big Ass Belle). I’ve really enjoyed browsing through your posts quietly, but I had to comment on this one. I’ve read it out loud to two people already, and that’s only because I haven’t found more victims.

    Thank you for giving us a peek into your life on the farm.


  2. Thanks! Big Ass Belle’s post sent LOADS of people this way…the power of blogging, I guess. I’m so sorry she took a sabbatical just after I found her blog. She’s great.

  3. I love this post! That llama looks intimidating, and I love that first shot of Robin. He sounds like a very good dog. And the little guy is adoroable, as puppies are wont to be.
    I just received your book in today’s mail. Unfortunately, I am not at home to read it. My husband informed me of its arrival. He read the blurb on the back cover to me and we both had a good laugh. I look forward to reading it when I get home.

  4. Lost in CO—

    See “Hit By a Farm: How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Barn.”

    I’ve thought about turning these posts into a book, but my editor’s not wild about it. She makes me write other stuff. :-O

  5. I’m going to be putting up an electric fence around a couple of bee hives to keep out the bears. Any suggestions? How difficult is it for the mechanically disinclined?

  6. Debbie,

    The fence itself is pretty easy—fiberglass or metal posts, then little plastic insulators that you attach to the metal posts (or little wire ones you slide over the fiberglass posts), then you run the high-tensile wire through the insulators, and that’s it. Even I can do that part!

    It’s the electricity that scares the %@#$& out of me. You’ll need some sort of charger (they used to sell solar chargers, which were cool. Just hook up to the fence and the sun does the rest.)

    If you need something more powerful than this (I have no idea what voltage will frighten off a bear!) you’d better chat with a farm supply store or fencing company about the charger you’ll need.


  7. Irene said…
    Hi C: We enjoyed our visit with Molly – and owners, of course. We are enjoying -15 deg. in EC today. Isn’t winter great. Love you all.

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