Almost all livestock fencing is ultimately a psychological ploy. This is obvious in the case of a single strand of flimsy electric twine successfully containing a few dozen beef cows, but the five strands of high tensile wire around the perimeter would not stop a cow for too long if they didn’t also have a charge. We have one section that the previous owner had surrounded with woven wire mesh so dense groundhogs and rabbits have to tunnel under it, and a few years back one of our neighbor’s Holstein heifers got loose and ended up jumping it. (Well, she got her front legs over, and the rest of her sort of followed as a matter of course, but the point is that it didn't stop her.) Obviously, there’s a significant gradation. An animal has to be highly motivated to attempt going over or through a fence, but simple curiosity or carelessness can put it on the wrong side of a portable line.
I was forcefully reminded of the necessity of having well trained animals this past week. I drove a couple hours up north to buy three young pigs, and while the seller assured me that they were familiar with electric fencing, I have seen no evidence to suggest that this was the truth. Last year I trained our piglets to electric wire by building a paddock of hog panels within which we strung up the temporary fence. But for only three pigs this seemed a bit excessive, so they ended up in a somewhat flimsier pen beside the area in which our older pigs live. Things looked okay for the first day or so, but then our neighbor drove down to tell us that they were out, and that he’d last seen them headed into the woods.
There’s a very specific sort of gnawing dread that sweeps over me whenever an animal is out. I imagine them getting hit on the road or wandering up into the state forest, never to be seen again. It’s bad enough with the cows and pigs that have been here a while, but these at least usually return to the places they’ve lived and been fed. The new pigs, having just been moved into a new, unfamiliar environment, did not know us or it, and it struck me as a very real possibility that they would strike out on their own. Ed and I found them in the woods, but they took one look at us and vanished again.
But we had fed them a few times, and apparently this was enough to encourage them to return to the general vicinity of their pen. It took an hour or two of slow movement and patient coaxing, but we managed to encircle them in a couple pieces of tied together hog panel. Keeping them within this makeshift pen we walked them half a mile down the road, me carrying one side and Ed carrying the other. It worked, but I don't think it did anything to disabuse our neighbors of the notion (which I'm sure many of them have) that our approach to farming is eccentric. They are now where they should have been in the first place. That is to say, they are now in a small pen constructed of hog panels and t-posts, which in turn is inside a good permanent fence.