Ask the Vet

Hard-Headed Calves

Stray voltage off of electric fencing can sometimes lead to abnormal behavior. (Progressive Farmer photo by Jim Patrico)


I had a couple of calves that would not go through the gate when we were rotating pastures. All the rest of the herd would go through, but they would get to the gate and just stop, and then run off. We finally took them through another gate. We have never had this happen before. I know young calves can be hard to handle, but these just acted very strange. Any ideas on why?


Calves, especially when they get old enough to become "independent of mama," can make herding cattle difficult at best. The rules often just don't seem to apply to them—kind of like teenagers.

While I can't tell you what those calves were thinking, I'm wondering if the fence that gate connects to is electric. If so, consider the possibility of stray voltage.

Use your digital voltmeter to check the ground for stray voltage. If you find any, check connections, underground wire and/or the line for any shorts. Make sure you have adequate, properly installed ground rods. If there is nothing obvious, call the company that made your charger, or talk to the folks who sold it to you for help in troubleshooting.

Stray voltage is a more common problem than many farmers realize. It often arises from the electrical supply and wiring around barns, water troughs and lines, and feeding areas. To some degree, it is always present at low levels that don't cause problems. But, if livestock are behaving abnormally for no apparent reason, it would be one of the first things I'd check.