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Building an Electric Fence for Bears
Many beekeepers have no idea that a bear lives in their neighborhood until hives are destroyed. A bear can wreck thousands of dollars of beekeeping equipment and bees in one night. If you live in a region that is commonly home to bears -you need to know how to build an electric fence for bears.
Bear are beautiful creatures. I love seeing a bear – at someone else’s house. Beekeepers as a group are not in love with bears.
Yet even beekeepers sometimes under estimate the damage potential until it happens to us or someone we know. In fact, most of us don’t realize that we have a bear in the neighborhood until it is a problem.
This is especially true for the new beekeeper who has some many new things to think about.
As you search for the perfect location for your apiary, think about how you will construct and power your bear fence.
Beekeeping Is Not An Inexpensive Hobby
Hundreds of dollars have been invested in your beekeeping dream. But before you relax too much, you have one more thing to consider.
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!
Why Do Bears Destroy Beehives?
While beekeepers may sometimes think that bears have a personal vendetta against them, that is not the case. Mr. Bear is 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 (baby bees). This is a sweet protein source for the bear.
A little bee brood, some honey and chewy honeycomb. That’s a great meal to a bear in need of calories and protein.
Bear 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 the bear find your hives? A bear can smell a beehive from up to a mile away.
Do You Really Need a Bear Fence?
Most regions of the United States have some type of bears in residence. Even the reclusive Black Bear can wreak havoc on a bee colony.
Many beekeepers in my region have an electric bear fence of some type around their bee hives. Others take the risk of not having a fence – its works for some but not everyone.
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 a Black Bear.
When I started beekeeping years ago, I thought a bear fence was unnecessary. Why go to the expense and trouble of maintaining an electric fence when I have never even seen a bear nearby?
Smokey Bear Visits My Apiary
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 the bear. 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 bear 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.
An Electric Bear Fence is No Guarantee
Installation of an electric fence can be done without a lot of stress. If your bee yard is near your home (as mine is) you can use an fence charger that plugs into an electric outlet.
You do want a strong charger if you want to make an impression on a bear. One of the small chargers meant for bunnies will not do the job.
And even a strong charger is no guarantee when a bear comes calling. Bears are strong and have thick fur to offer some protection from stings and shock.
Your bear fence needs to be tight and strong with a good punch for the shock.
Protecting Beehives From Bears
Bears are smart and strong. You would have to construct a very strong regular fence or wall to keep out a bear.
A solid fence or wall that tough will make access to the bees more difficult. This is why we often depend on electric shock to deter bears.
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 off like a banana.
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 the bear from being shocked.
Let’s face it, if that fur didn’t offer some protection, how could he eat a hive of bees! However, our goal is to make it so unpleasant and difficult that the bear decides it is not worth the effort.
A bear that approaches cautiously will hopefully come into contact with the electric fence by touching it with his nose or mouth. A sharp jolt here may deter him.
This is more successful when dealing with a bear that has never tasted honey/brood. An inexperienced bear may go on to easier pickings.
Once a bear is successful, it will return night after night until all the hives are destroyed.
Even a strong electric fence for bear protection may not work once the bear gotten into the bees. Prevention is the key.
Why Electric is the Best Bear Fence
A strong, determined bear is difficult to stop. It will jump over a low fence, nose under the bottom strand or push right through.
Bears have a great sense of smell but their eyesight is not so keen. The thick fur belt protects their skin and they are very strong. They are able to tear down most fence types.
We aren’t trying to physically restrain the bear. We want the bear to slow down and take the time to see the electric fence and possibly stretch out its nose for a zap.
Some 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 bears to sniff the food and receive a zap. ( I have not done this because we have always had barn cats!)
A properly installed electric fence does not really harm the bear. The unpleasant shock sensation stops as soon as the bear backs away.
Electric Netting for Bee Yards
Premiere fencing is a great option for someone who needs a portable electric fence. I have this fence that I use periodically for young chickens.
The fence includes the electric netting and attached posts. All you need to add is 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.
Bear Fence Requires Maintenance
An investment in a good electric bear fence is not money wasted. 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.
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)
How to Build an Electric Fence for Bear Control
There are several configurations used for bear control in different regions of the country. These steps outline the minimum steps to take.
For those of you living in areas with a high concentration of bear activity you may need a stronger fence with more wires.
Materials Needed For a Bear Fence
- a charger
- wire or netting
- insulators (with some post types)
- grounding rods
Purchase a strong charger for a bear fence. 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 or one that uses electricity is suitable.
Electric 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. Any conductive wire will work. Some beekeepers use pieces of field fencing.
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. Polywire is also a good option.
Wires 1, 3 and 5 would be “hot” or charged wires. Wires 2 and 4 would be ground wires that are not charges. The fence should be at least 42” tall.
Insulators are plastic pieces 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.
You will need posts to hold your electric fence wire up. Posts (wooden, t-posts or fiberglass) should be installed every 8 feet.
When 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! You will also need a gate to allow access.
Grounding 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 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.
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 often 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.
Final Thoughts on Electric Bear Fences for Bees
Bears are not out to get up. They are simply trying to survive in a world of declining habitat.
Some beekeepers become so bothered by bear trouble that they move their hives to a new location.
This can solve the problem but it often creates problem bears for other beekeepers in the area. The bear has already tasted the goods in your hive.
When properly designed and installed, an electric fence can be a valuable tool for the beekeeper trying to live in harmony with other wildlife.
If you know you have a bear population in your region, don’t wait for an attack to happen – learn how to build an electric bear fence for bee protection today!