Beekeeping is a wonderful hobby and every beekeeper wants to protect their hives. There are some risks involved though – especially if you live in an area with bears. Attracted to the smell of honey and bees, a determined bear can destroy your apiary. Learning how to build an electric fence for bears is essential in regions where they are prevalent.
Electric Fence System for Bears and Bees
No one wants to think that all the hard work put into your apiary can be ruined by a bear. But, this does happen all too often. In some cases, a simple DIY electric bear fence might have saved the hives.
Many beekeepers have no idea that one lives in their neighborhood until hives are destroyed. Bears are beautiful creatures. I love seeing them – at someone else’s house or in a wildlife park.
Beekeepers sometimes under estimate the damage potential of a bear attack – until it happens to us or someone we know. This is especially true for the new beekeeper who has so many new things to think about.
As you search for the perfect location for your apiary, think about how you will construct and power a bear electric fence. It is much easier to plan ahead in case you need one later. Thus avoiding having to move your beehives.
Why Do Bears Destroy Beehives?
While beekeepers may sometimes think that bears have a personal vendetta against them, that is not the case. They are just looking for food.
Do bears like honey? Sure, they do. We have all seen it on TV for years. Even adorable Winnie the Pooh was always in search of a sweet “smackarel” of honey. But honey is not the main attraction.
Bears eat bee brood (babies). This is a sweet protein source for the them. A little bee brood, some honey and chewy honeycomb. That’s a great meal to a bear in need of calories and protein.
While a bear problem can occur any time of the year, some times are more troublesome than others. Problems may be greatest during Fall when they are preparing for winter or early Spring upon waking up.
Even early June, before the natural berries ripen is a time of concern. How will they find your hives? A bear can smell a beehive from up to a mile away.
Protecting Beehives is a Wise Investment
One bear can wreck thousands of dollars of beekeeping equipment and bees in one night. And sadly, sometimes it is not just one – they may bring alone the whole family.
Even colonies suffering minor damage are set back in growth and production. Queens are often killed and the beekeeper may need to buy a replacement queen.
And, being attacked by a predator can make any surviving colonies very aggressive. Can you blame them?
You may not be the only one hoping to enjoy the harvest! A bear family just loves finding a group of beehives that are not protected by an electric fence!
Benefits of Using Electric Fences
Bears are smart and strong. You would have to construct a very strong regular fence or wall to keep them out. A solid fence or wall that tough will make access to the bees more difficult for the beekeeper.
Even a properly built electric bear fence will not keep a very determined bear out of the bee yard. All of that shaggy fur protects them from being shocked.
This is why we often depend on electric shock to deter bears. Otherwise, how could he eat a hive of bees! Our goal is to make it so unpleasant and difficult that the bear decides it is not worth the effort.
I always tie my hive tops down with ratchet straps for wind protection. I thought that might also protect my hive interior from a bear, until I saw pictures of a friend’s damaged hive. The bear peeled that hive top back like a banana.
Does Not Harm Bears/Wildlife
A properly installed electric fence does not really harm the bear. The unpleasant shock sensation stops as soon as the animal backs away.
Normally one approaches cautiously will hopefully come into contact with the electric fence by touching it with his nose or mouth.
This is more successful when dealing with a one that has never tasted honey/brood. An inexperienced bear may go on to easier pickings after getting a shock.
We aren’t trying to physically restrain the bear. We want it to slow down and take the time to see the electric fence and possibly stretch out its nose for a zap.
But, once a bear is successful, it usually returns night after night until all the hives are destroyed. Even a strong electric fence may not work once the bear has gotten a taste of the hive. Prevention is the key.
Easy to Install and Portable
Installation of an electric fence can be done without a lot of stress. If your bee yard is near your home you can use an fence charger that plugs into an electric outlet. Otherwise, there are solar and battery options available.
There are several configurations of electric fencing used for bear control in different regions of the country. The steps outlined in this article is the minimum steps to take.
You can build an electric fence to protect your beehives that is easy to move if needed. In fact, migratory beekeepers often have portable fencing that moves with the bees.
What You Need to Set Up An Electric Fence
- electric fence wire
Electric Fence Wire
Wire is available in different gauges (weights) and types. Chose a wire or electric tape that is labeled as strong enough for horses (at minimum). Hi-tensile wire is a popular option because it is able to be pulled tight over longer spans.
Premiere fencing is a great option for someone who needs a portable electrified fence. I have this net fencing that I use periodically for young chickens. It includes the electric netting and attached posts you add a charger.
Providing a visual barrier, hopefully the netting would slow the bear down enough to experience a shock. The main benefit of this type of fence is easy portability and a good option for situations when you can not have a permanent fence.
Posts & Insulators
Today many of use use fiberglass posts for fencing in beehives. They are light weight and portable and easy to install.
For a longer span of wire, you may opt for metal fence posts or even installed wood poles. You will need the proper insulators to go with the posts that you select. The small plastic structures hold the wire in place against the post.
You have many choices for charger selection. This is the unit that uses stored energy (joules) to power your fence. It hooks to an energy source and creates the pulse of electricity that goes through your fence.
Be sure to select a strong charger. We are not trying to keep bunnies out of the garden. Look for one that is recommended for bulls – 5000 to 6000 volts.
If you live in an area with a high concentration of bear activity you may need a stronger fence with more wires that are placed closer together.
A strong, determined bear is difficult to stop. It will jump over a low fence, nose under the bottom strand or push right through. Don’t have your bottom wire too high off the ground.
Beekeepers in troubled regions will bait their bear fence with a piece of bacon (or scoop of peanut butter) on a hot wire. This encourages the bear to sniff the food and receive a zap.
If possible, avoid placing bees near the edge of the woods. Hives that are out in the open (300 ft) away from cover are less desirable to a bear, but still not safe.
Finding a bear in your bee yard is enough to make any beekeeper loose it. Know your state laws. In my state it sometimes seems that the bears are more important than the beekeepers. Don’t put yourself in a position to face fines in addition to the sting of losing beehives.
Always read and follow the manufacturer’s directions when working with electric chargers.
Grounding Your Bear Fence
Properly installed, electric pulses generated by the charger will go through the system. When something touches the energized wire – while standing on the ground – the circuit completes and causes a shock.
This does not always work as strongly as we desire if the soil is very dry and less conductive. The short pulses may not be strong enough to stop the bear.
Ground rods are driven into the soil and attached to the grounding wires or terminal. The amount of grounding needed is determined by your soil composition and moisture.
The bear must touch a hot wire and a ground wire for the zap to occur. Proper grounding is essential for good fence performance.
The video shared in this post was taken by a friend in another state. This was the second night that the bears returned. His small electric fence was being tested.
Bear Fence Maintenance
This type of fence usually lasts for years with little repair. Maintenance will consist of testing the charge on the fence and keeping weeds from growing up under the wire. Keep the wires tight and in good working order.
Periodically, check the condition of your fence and clear away any vegetation that may be touching the wires.
And for heavens sake, keep the fence charged. If the current is off, a bear will know. ( And if you have goats – they will chew on it too – just sayin)
There are many options to consider when building an electric fence to protect your apiary. Be sure to consider the safety of humans and pets.
Electricity is a useful tool but can be deadly. Follow all directions that come with the modern energizers (chargers).
When properly designed and installed, an electric fence can be a valuable tool for the beekeeper trying to live in harmony with other wildlife.
Don’t wait for an attack to happen – learn how to build an electric bear fence for beehive protection today!
Bear Visits My Apiary
Though I rarely see one, I know that I have Black Bears in the area. I had lived in upstate South Carolina all my life without ever seeing one.
When I started beekeeping years ago, I thought an electric bear fence was unnecessary. Why go to the expense and trouble of maintaining an electric fence when I have never even seen one nearby?
One evening I was preparing to go speak at a beekeeping association meeting about 45 minutes away. A neighbor called and said “Charlotte, are you home? A bear just walked up your driveway!”
I ran outside and did not see it. I frantically looked in the bee yard – all seemed well. It was time to leave because I was the guest speaker. I could not stay home and disappoint the beekeeping club that had asked me to visit.
Luckily, the bear did not return later in the night. Guess what I did the next morning? I installed an electric fence to protect my bee yard. I made a note of the sighting in my beekeeping journal but it was years before I saw another one.
Then, a few months ago, guess what I saw on my game camera in the edge of the woods. Yep, big bear. Am I nervous? You betcha! But, so far so good.
This is a fencing system that is designed to protect beehives from bears and other types of wildlife. An energizer or charger sends an electric pulse through wires that cause a shock to the animal.
Maybe. Do you live in an area that is home to any type of bear? If so consider a electric bear fence to protect your beehives.
No, even a good anti bear electric fence is not always successful. Even a strong charger is no guarantee when a bear comes calling. They are strong and have thick fur to offer some protection from stings and shock.
Permitting requirements vary due to local regulations. Installing the fence is relatively easy but you should always add a warning sign advising caution – electric fence to warn visitors.
DIY Install a Electric Bear Fence
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- 1 roll electric fence wire (or tape, netting etc.)
- 8 electric fence posts (or wooden poles)
- 1 bag wire insulators (type depends on posts used)
- 2 grounding rods (more if larger area)
- 1 electric fence gate (optional)
- Select a Strong ChargerMake sure you have a strong enough charger (or energizer) and suitable strength wire. This is not a job for a unit designed to discourage bunnies.A high voltage is necessary to have any chance of success. Most beekeepers use a charger with a minimum of 5000-7000 volts. I always look for one with a picture of a bull on it – you want a “bull tough” charger. A solar charger (one that uses batteries) or an electric model – either is suitable.
- Choose WireElectric fence wire is not very expensive. The most common size is 14-15-gauge wire. It can be ordered online or picked up at a local farm supply store.Polywire is also a good option. Any conductive wire will work. Some beekeepers use pieces of field fencing or cattle panels.
- Prepare InsulatorsInsulators are plastic pieces (or ceramic) that hold the wires away from the post and are necessary for the fence to work. Plastic insulators can be purchased to use on t-post, fiberglass post or wooden post. Make sure you purchase the type of insulator that goes with your post type.Of course, you will also need posts to hold your electric fence wire up. Posts (wooden, t-posts or fiberglass) should be installed every 8 feet. The number needed of course depends on the area you hope to protect.
- Visually Layout Your Apiary FenceWhen you are laying out your fence perimeter, be generous. The fence should be 4 feet from the hives. You do not want to encourage the bear to reach inside. Also, leave plenty of room for you to work in your bee yard! It would not be good to bend over and have your – posterior hit the fence.Also consider how you will access the yard. Unplug and step over or create a gate area that allows access.
- Setting Up the Electric FenceInstall your metal t-posts (or other – usually the best choice- (every 8 feet) and at least 4 feet from the hives. Wooden posts are acceptable too if installing snuggly in the ground.You can use plastic posts to hold wire but they will not stand up as well to bear attempts. Still, they are easier to install -especially in rocky soil. Be sure they are not spread too far apart – we do not want the wire to sag at all – but rather be tight.Attach wires or netting etc – using the proper insulators if needed. The plastic insulator keeps the current in the wire instead of following the post to the ground.The most common recommendation is to use 5 wires 8-10 inches apart. The lowest wire should not be more than 8” off the ground. Wires 1, 3 and 5 would be “hot” or charged wires. Wires 2 and 4 would be ground wires that are not charged. The fence should be at least 42” tall.Attach your wires and grounding rod to the fence charger. Install the grounding rods and you are done!Now power up the charger. Use an electric fence tester or voltage meter -to safely test your fence – don’t touch it with your hand!