Why Beekeepers Should Build a Bear Fence
Bears are so cute and cuddly looking – on TV, in a picture and maybe in live view – from a safe distance. But bears can destroy thousands of dollars of beekeeping equipment and hives in one night. Every beekeeper that share space with bears should build a bear fence!
I love seeing a bear – at someone else’s house. Beekeepers as a group are not in love with bears. And we under-estimate the damage until it happens to us or someone we know.
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.
After finding the perfect location for your hive, you need to ask yourself one more question. Should I build a bear fence now?
Beekeeping Is Not An Inexpensive Hobby
Hopefully, you are fulling prepared for the arrival of your bees. After months spent learning everything you can about honey bees, you don’t want to mess up now.
If this is your your first experience with bees you have enough to fret about already – without thinking about problems with bears.
Once all the bee related prep work has been done, you are ready to sit back and anticipate the joy of having your own bee yard. You are ready!
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! And the bear family just loves finding a group of beehives that are not protected by a bear fence!
How Do You Know If You Need an Electric 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. I have seen the damage done to the bee yards of local friends. It is a very sad sight.
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 bear fence – its works for some but not everyone.
Though I rarely see one, I know that I have Black Bears in the area. The risk is present for an attack on my beehives.
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 Comes to Town
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.
Then, a few months ago, guess what I saw on my game camera in the edge of the woods. Yep, big bear – this is the shot from the game camera – look at those big claws. Am I nervous? You betcha!
An Electric Bear Fence is No Guarantee
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.
Not Having a Bear Fence is a Risk
If bears live in your region, you need to consider some type of protection. I know of many beekeepers who had never seen a bear in their area.
Then, they awake one morning to beehive destruction. This is very upsetting and expensive.
In fact, this is the case most of the time. Don’t wait until a bear has destroyed your hives before installing a fence.
And not a wimpy fence either! Even strong fences won’t do the job sometimes. Make it “pig tight, horse high and bull strong”!
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.
Prevention is the Key to Beehive Protection From Bears
Bears are smart and strong. You would have to construct a very strong fence or wall to keep out a bear. And a fence that tough will make access to the bees more difficult.
This is why we often depend on electric shock to deter the bear from destroying our hives.
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 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
It is hard to stop a strong, determined bear. 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.
Again, 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 fence with a piece of bacon on a hot wire.
This encourages the bears to sniff for the bacon and receive a zap. ( I have not done this because we have always had barn cats!)
Even temporary bee yards may benefit from a good emergency bear fence.
Bears and Beekeepers
I think it is important to remember that the bear does not have a vendetta against beekeepers. This is nothing personal. They are simply trying to survive in a world of declining habitat.
I “bear” them no ill will. However, I am not willing to sacrifice my beehives either.
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.
One Option For Beekeepers
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. I like my fencing and it works rather well.
Providing a visual barrier, it would hopefully slow the bear down enough to experience a shock.
My fencing is durable and easy to use. (I do not have this around my beeyard – I used it for chickens.) I have the white and it is “very visible”.
Electric Bear Fence Requires Investment & Maintenance
Beekeeping is not an inexpensive endeavor. Spending a few hundred dollars on an electric bear fence may seem unnecessary. Until, that is. You awake to destroyed hives.
How much is a beehive (and bees) worth? An investment in a fence usually lasts several 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 Your Electric Fence for Bear Control
Beekeepers construct many different kinds of electric fences for bear deterrents. A simple, portable netting is used for a small number of transient colonies. Or an elaborate permanent fence structure is used for a home yard.
Your choice will depend on the concentration of bears in your region, your bee yard location and how much money you have to spend.
Materials Needed For Your Bear Fence
- a charger
- wire or netting
- insulators (with some post types)
- grounding rods
A strong charger is required for a bear fence. Most beekeepers use a charger with a minimum of 5000 volts. Your charger can be powered by electricity or you may use a solar charger.
Electric fence wire is not very expensive. The most common size is 14-15-gauge wire. 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. Any conductive wire will work. Some beekeepers use pieces of field fencing.
Insulators 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. I dislike the nails that come with the plastic insulators for wooden post. I throw them away and use screws instead.
You will need posts. 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.
Beekeepers in Bear Country Have Special Considerations
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, 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.
The video in this post was taken by a friend in another state. This was the second night that the bears returned.
No electric bear fence 100 percent guaranteed to work. When properly designed and installed, it can be a valuable tool to the beekeeper trying to live in harmony with other wildlife.