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How to Build an Electric Bear Fence

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. Many beekeepers have no idea that a one lives in their neighborhood until hives are destroyed. If you live in a region that is commonly home to this large predator -you need to know how to build an electric fence for bears to protect your hives.

Electric bear fence installed around beehives image.

DIY Electric Fence for Bears and Bees

Bears are beautiful creatures. I love seeing them – at someone else’s house or in a wildlife park.  Beekeepers as a group are not in love with these large creatures.

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Yet, even 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 your bear fence.

Maybe you will never need one. But, it is much easier to install plan ahead in case you need one later. Thus avoiding having to move your beehives.

Cost of a Bear Attack on Your Hives

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.

Not only are bees killed but sometimes the parts of the beehive are managled to a degree that prevent reuse. These can be expensive to replace.

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Colonies suffering minor damage are still set back in growth and production. Queens are often killed and must be replaced.

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!

Black bear being stung by honey bees during attack on hive image.

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.

Frame of bee brood from a hive image.

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 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 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?

Yogi 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 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.

Black bear on game cam near my apiary image.

Does an Electric Bear Fence Always Protect Your Bees?

No, even a good electric bear fence is not always successful. You do want a strong charger – 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. They are strong and have thick fur to offer some protection from stings and shock. Your electric fence needs to be tight and strong with a good punch for the shock.

How to Protect Your Apiary from Bears

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. 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 them 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. 

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.

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 one that has never tasted honey/brood. An inexperienced bear may go on to easier pickings after getting a shock. 

Once a bear is successful, it will return 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.

Electric fence installed about beehives image.

Why an Electric Fence is Best 

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 it 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 bear 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 animal backs away.

Electric Netting for Bee Yards

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.

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.

Maintenance of Your Beeyard Fence

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)

A strong electric fence with warning signs image.

How to Install 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 :

  • a charger
  • wire or netting
  • insulators (with some post types)
  • posts
  • grounding rods

Time needed: 2 hours.

Building an electric fence using a charger and wire to protect beehives.

  1. Check your charger and wire

    Make sure you have a strong enough charger (or energizer) and suitable strength wire.

    Purchase a strong charger for a bear fence. 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 is suitable.

    Solar electric fence charger for bee yard protection from bears image.

  2. Choose your wire

    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.

    Polywire is also a good option. Any conductive wire will work. Some beekeepers use pieces of field fencing or cattle panels.

    Strands of electric fence wire on posts image.

  3. Prepare insulators

    Insulators 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.

    You will also need posts to hold your electric fence wire up. Posts (wooden, t-posts or fiberglass) should be installed every 8 feet.

    Plastic electric fence insulator image.

  4. Visually layout your apiary fence

    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 fence gate to allow access.

    Plastic electric fence gate to allow access to beehives image.

  5. Set Up your electric fence

    Install your metal t-posts – 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. 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!

    Five closely spaced electric fence wires for bear fence in bee yard image.

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 if very dry and there for as conducive to electricity. 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.

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.

Periodically, check the condition of your fence and clear away any vegetation that may be touching the wires.

Final Tips on Installing Electric Fences for an Apiary

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.

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.

Some beekeepers become so bothered by bear trouble that they move their hives to a new location. This can solve your problem but it often creates problem bears for other beekeepers in the area.

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!

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