I built my first bear fence earlier this fall. Interestingly, it is not in any of my bee yards that are in heavy black bear territory. But the farmer was worried about a bear seen in the area, and wanted a fence. She agreed to allow even more hives if I did the fence, and it is a great bee yard, so in went the fence.
I have lived and kept bees, goats, and sheep on land that we share with black bear, cougar, coyote and a range of other species. The four-legged livestock has always been fenced with woven wire – to stop them from eating all the foliage, more than keeping predators out (cougar, coyote and bear can all cross woven wire fences). No bee fences have ever been needed : the bees are welcome to go wherever they want.
Livestock Guard Dogs
We don’t worry about natural predators, and enjoy sharing our land with them because it was, after all, their land first, plus we have always had livestock guard dogs. These sweet, big, loud dogs maintain a noisy peace : they allow the wildlife to use any area of our land, as long as it is about 50 feet or more from our hives and pastures. So, although the bears use our property, we don’t fear them. (Here’s a link to more about the wide array of Livestock Guard Dogs in the world)
Thus, this bear fence was a whole new learning experience for me.
I visited a friend’s bear fence last year to see how he constructed them. Then I got on the web and started reading and downloading everything I could find. This may sound familiar to you, but it seems if you put 5 bear fence builders in a field you’re going to get 6 or 10 different ways to build a bear fence.
I finally went with a basic plan from a fellow in Alaska. I figure he was keeping Grizzlies at bay, so that should work on our smaller black bear as well. I’ve filmed, grizzlies, so I have a pretty good idea of their strength, leg/paw/claw size, and what they can do when determined.
Wire spacing seems all over the place with everyone. So I took the average, keeping in mind advice from one source that said top wire should be at least half the height of the predator.
It is 32 feet X 32 feet – this would allow me to put in 30+ hives.
The fence wire is a three-wire fence 14 gage steel wire.
The wires heights, from the ground, are set at :
10 inches, 20inches, and 30 inches (25.5 cm, 51cm, 76 cm – approximately)
The top and bottom wires are hot
The center wire is grounded
This was a bit of a hodge-podge. I had some gear already, but needed to add to it.
Solar Panel and Battery Controller: I went with a solar panel and a solar charge controller from Ken Cove fencing supplies (KenCove.com)
The controller is to keep the battery from over-charging. Since the battery is the most expensive component of this set up, a Charger is a good thing.
Battery: The battery is a 12 volt deep cycle battery
Fence Charger: The charger is a Gallagher B80
Grounding Rod: The grounding rod is a 10 foot (3 meter-ish) rod – driven 9 feet into the ground (thank goodness for fence post pounders.
I also bought a nice little fence tester to make sure it’s on. Of course I knew it was working when I mistakenly leaned on the positive clamp while the charger was on (ouch).
Fence Tester is just a simple electrical tester that has hooks that fit over the wire. It’s nice to know it’s all working without getting zapped.
The battery, battery controller, and charger all sit on a solid bottom board left over from my first year of beekeeping (finally, I had a use for it), then inside of a double stack of western boxes, a hive top, and piece of asphalt sheeting on top to keep it all dry.
Putting it together:
I used t-posts that were at our farm, which means they are of different heights. Then I popped on the plastic wire clips, and ran the wire. At the ten-foot wide “gate”, I extended the two hot wires and one negative wire across to insulated gate hooks, which each hooked to its corresponding wire loop on a corner post.
What confused me:
When running woven wire fences, you stretch the fencing to make it tight.
In electrical, you don’t do this.
You can use little fence tighteners (metal or plastic). I had some but I didn’t need them.
Baiting the Fence:
I did not bait the fence. There’s a lot of do it / don’t do it advice on this. I figured that if the bear was going to detour through a number of homes, cross a field, and by-pass 4 green houses, it was going to be one determined bear.
It seems to me that to bate a fence is just to attract trouble. The smell of brood beyond the fence is enough of an attractant.
Flagging the Fence:
I did put flagging tape on the fence. Red tape, because I had a roll of red flagging tape. This was more for the folks who work the farm and the kids who come to play with the farmer’s son.
All Ends Well
In the end it was a good, if expensive, learning experiment. Over all costs were about $600 US, which is what my friend with the bear fence said it would run. But think about it, if a bear did get one hive, that’s a 300-400 dollar loss between the gear, the bees, and all the wax and honey. So if it saves two hives it pays for itself.
What’s Needed. A Short Recap for anyone building a first solar bear fence:
Steel T-posts (8-10 feet apart)
Plastic wire clips
Wire: 14 or 12 gage steel or aluminum
3 Wire tighteners (although you might not need them)
Solar Panel (match to your fence charger)
Battery (deep cycle or marine)
Insulated wire of the same gage as your fence wire
(To jump your hots and connect negative to ground)
Or a lot of electrical tape to wrap the bare wire you’re using
This MUST be the same gage as your fence wire
Ground Rod (or three short rods if this works in your area)
Ground Rod clip.
Enclosed, water tight box for the electrical components
Remember to check the angle to set your solar panel – this changes by latitude.
So far it’s staying charged, which is something since we’ve had nothing but rain for over two weeks – we’re in a sunny patch now.
Which takes me to “what’s happening now”at Brookfield Farm Bees And Honey: I’ve been making beewax/herbal salves and lip balms, pouring the honey Ian (the husband) picked up from Stan Kolensnikov (K Brothers Pollination and Honey) last Friday, and even finding time to print pinhole photographic images – that really means it’s winter if I’m in the digital darkroom.
That’s the news from Brookfield Farm Bees And Honey, in Maple Falls, Washington. What’s happening your bee world?