VETS have been encouraged to speak to their livestock and equine clients about their use of electric fences, to ensure that the technology is always used responsibly and safely.

The British Veterinary Association position on the use of electric containment fences in livestock and horses, launched this week, recognises that containment fences are currently a 'necessary option' for many clients – but makes several recommendations on how to limit their potential harm to animals and humans.

Electric fencing systems, particularly in their mobile form, have enjoyed a resurgence in Scottish agriculture of late. The old concept of 'paddock grazing' – subdividing a field of pasture to restrict grazing stock to a smaller portion of it, while the remainder regrows – has been revived as a key grassland management tool, with much vaunted positive impacts on soil health and animal productivity.

Several high-profile and award-winning farms now make extensive and successful use of temporary electric fencing to rotate their stock around the available grass, with no reported problems to the animals involved.

However, the BVA position appears to be that electric fencing is a problem that needs fixed, as it has called for further research into 'non-harmful' alternatives for containing livestock and horses. Until such technology arises, the BVA has laid out the following guidelines for the responsible use of electric containment :

• Make sure the strength of current is appropriate for the species to avoid severe shocks;

• Carefully maintain batteries used to power electric fences to avoid any damage that could cause leakage, environmental hazards or potential toxicity in livestock;

• Attach flags to fencing or other visual markers to make sure that the fence is visible to livestock and horses;

• Use highly visible tape- or rope-like electric fencing for horses;

• Train livestock and horses so that they can get used to fencing in a controlled environment. Guidance on training livestock is available in the AHDB Electric fencing for livestock guidance;

• Quickly identify, monitor and remove animals who do not respond to training.

BVA president Simon Doherty said: “As vets, we know that electric containment fences are often a necessary part of rural life to allow animals to graze safely and efficiently. But we also recognise that they can harm or injure animals, especially if not correctly designed, installed or maintained.

“In our newly published position, we’re encouraging further research into alternative, non-harmful ways to contain livestock and horses. Until then, we’re supporting the responsible use of electric containment fences by providing vets with some top tips and references to kickstart conversations with their clients.

“We would also like to again remind members of the public about the importance of ensuring their dogs are kept under control around livestock," he added. "Chasing and attacks can lead to serious injuries, fatalities and spontaneous abortion for sheep and other livestock due to stress. We would encourage dog owners to ensure that any location where their dog is kept is secure and to keep their dog on a lead near livestock.”

The full BVA electric policy is available at