Electric Bear Fences

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Any beekeeper living in an area with a bear population should know how to build an electric bear fence to protect their bees. But, bears represent a serious threat to beehives. Attracted to the smell of honey and bees, a determined bear can destroy your apiary-in one night. Though it can be a bit of a hassle, constructing an electrified fence can offer some protection to apiaries.

Electric bear fence installed around beehives.

No matter how good a job you do in caring for your beehives, they are still subject to various predators of honey bees. This is the circle of life and a rule of nature you can not change. Our only recourse is to attempt to mark our beehives – off the menu for visiting bears.

The Need for Electric Bear Fences

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.

It is common to underestimate the damage potential of a bear attack – until it happens to us or someone we know. This is especially true for the beginner beekeeper who has so many new things to think about.

So, as you make plans for how to set up your bee yard, consider how you might construct and power a bear fence. It is much easier to plan ahead in case you need one later. Thus avoiding having to move your beehives.

Bear tumbles a beehive over - damaged hive parts after an attack.

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 are 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.

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Materials

  • electric fence wire
  • posts
  • insulators
  • charger

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.

Electric Net

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.

Plastic electric fence insulators on metal post.

Posts & Insulators

Today, many of us use fiberglass posts for fencing around 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-without allowing electricity to flow through.

Solar electric fence charger.

Charger

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.

Electric fence installed about beehives 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 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. While it would not keep out determined bears – it did give his visitors a scare.

A strong electric fence with warning signs image.

Expert Tips

  • use a stronger fence (stronger charger with more wires) in areas of high bear activity
  • don’t have bottom wire to far off ground – bear will go under and push through
  • may have to bait the fence with a piece of bacon or peanut butter on a hot wire
  • no fence (that a normal beekeeper builds) is bear proof – we hope for a deterrent
  • if possible – avoid placing hives near the woods – 300 ft from cover is less desirable to a bear

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.

Black bear with bees on face infographic about risks of bear attack.

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)

Safety

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. Always read and follow the manufacturer’s directions when working with electric chargers.

I recently made changes to my small apiary bear fence. With little threat from bears in recent years, I decided to reduce the number of electric wires.

I was concerned about the safety of my mini-donkeys – who might run into the electric wire in the night. My current set up does not offer as much bear protection – you have to weigh the pros and cons.

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. Our goal is to make it so unpleasant and difficult that the bear decides it is not worth the effort.

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 as one approaches cautiously – they will hopefully come into contact with the electric fence by touching it with his nose or mouth – a tender spot. This is more successful when dealing with an inexperienced bear that has never tasted honey/brood.

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.

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. 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 equipment and bees in one night. And sadly, sometimes it is not just one hive – they may bring alone the whole family.

Not only are bees killed but sometimes the parts of the beehive are torn to a degree that prevent reuse. These can be expensive to replace and there are already enough costs involved in beekeeping.

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?

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.

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.

Black bear on game cam near my apiary image.

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.

FAQs

What is an electric bear fence?

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.

Do you really need a bear fence?

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.

Does an electric bear fence always protect your hives?

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.

Do I need a permit to install an anti bear electric fence?

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.

Final Thoughts

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!

Many beekeepers have no idea that a bear 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. 

Resources

Electric bear fence installed around beehives.

DIY Install a Electric Bear Fence

Charlotte Anderson @ Carolina Honeybees, LLC
Learn how to set up an electric fence to deter bears and protect your apiary.
4.41 from 5 votes

This post may contain affiliate links. As an Amazon Associate, I earn from qualifying purchases.

Read my Disclosure.

Supplies
 

  • 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)

Instructions
 

  • Select a Strong Charger
    Make 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.
    Solar electric fence charger for bee yard protection from bears.
  • Choose 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.
  • 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.
    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.
    Plastic electric fence insulator.
  • 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! 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.
    Plastic electric fence gate to allow access to beehives.
  • Setting Up the Electric Fence
    Install 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!
    Five closely spaced electric fence wires for bear fence in bee yard.

Notes

Always read and follow the manufacturer’s directions when working with electric chargers.
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