Ontario farms, like any industry, rely heavily on electricity to operate. And while the use of electrical energy can make the job of farming much easier, it can also create an unwanted by-product.
All grounded electrical equipment has the potential to produce what is known as tingle voltage' or stray voltage". This is the low-level electrical current that exists between grounded equipment and the earth. Tingle voltage can be caused by equipment in the barn or even by overloaded wires in and outside the stable. In most cases, people are unaffected but for livestock, tingle voltage can be a different story altogether. In fact, it is a problem that has been affecting Ontario farmers and their animals for decades.
Here is how it occurs. When electricity is grounded, the ground' disperses the electrical charge through the earth. However, the electrical charge can resurface if it comes into contact with a conductor such as water lines, metal or wet concrete floors. Feeders, water bowls and metal stalls - common fixtures in most barns -- are a few possible contact points for livestock.
While humans rarely feel stray voltage below 30 volts, large animals are especially sensitive to stray voltage and can react to as little as 0.25 volts. Because of their bulk, dairy cattle in particular seem to show the most visible symptoms as they are 50 times more sensitive to tingle voltage than humans.
In June 2007, the Ontario Government announced that standards would be established for acceptable tingle voltage levels. Welcome news as tingle voltage can impact both the lives and the livelihood of 4,500 Ontario dairy farm families and another 15,000 farm families that raise livestock.
How can a farmer tell if the tingling effect is alive and well on the farm? Some of the more obvious symptoms for animals suffering from the effects of tingle voltage include lower milk production in dairy cows and weight loss.
Just imagine the feeling when a cow touches a metal feeder that is charged with stray voltage. The feeder gives her a shock as the current passes through her body and it is likely not long before she begins to avoid the water or reduces the amount of time and feed she takes in at the feeder. And when cows drink and eat less, milk production decreases as does the farmer's income.
Pigs can display other symptoms from tingle voltage, including ear and tail biting and higher death rates for piglets. Horse farmers may notice their animals pawing the ground and shying away from water or feed troughs. Even a horse's behaviour pattern can change, making handling it more difficult.
Pets too are not immune to stray voltage. Cats may leave the farm, become ill and produce small and unhealthy litters. Dull and shaggy fur or runny eyes can also be telltale signs of tingle voltage.
Unwelcome electricity does not need to be a fact of farm life. Through the use of a tingle voltage filter, farmers can cut down the amount of stray voltage that comes into a barn on wires. Farmers have also recently been involved in consultations with the government and hydro companies to explain and suggest solutions to the issue.
To learn more, visit www.ofa.on.ca.