Uncontrolled Electricity

The Stray Voltage-Uncontrolled Electricity Agriculture Working Group is a coalition of members from Farm & Food Care, Ontario Federation of Agriculture, Christian Farmers Federation of Ontario, interested farmers, electrical experts, and consultants. The working group intends to address uncontrolled electricity issues in Ontario by bringing together stakeholders, academia and policy makers to direct research into the scope and causes of uncontrolled electricity in order to develop solutions for electrical distribution systems.

As the demands for electricity have grown and the load placed on the capacity of wires has increased, the amount of electricity that uses the ground as its return path back to its source (rather than the primary neutral) has increased, causing unintended and often unpredictable consequences. For the past 45 years, farms across Ontario have dealt with uncontrolled electricity and its impacts. The issue of uncontrolled electricity affects all forms of livestock. Dairy cattle have been proven to be particularly sensitive to uncontrolled electricity.

What causes stray voltage?

Stray voltage can be produced by a wide variety of off-farm and on-farm sources:

Off-farm sources
In a properly functioning electrical distribution system, some voltage will always exist between the neutral system (ground conductors) and the earth. The level of this neutral-to-earth voltage (NEV) can change on a daily or seasonal basis, depending on changes in electrical loading, environmental conditions and other factors. For safety reasons, Hydro One’s neutral system is connected to a farm’s grounding system. While this bond protects people and animals from shocks caused by faulty electrical equipment and lightning strikes, it can also result in a stray voltage equal to a fraction of the NEV appearing on grounded farm equipment, such as feeders, waterers, metal stabling, metal grates and milk pipelines.
On-the-farm sources
Poor or faulty farm wiring, improper grounding, unbalanced farm system loading, defective equipment or voltages from telephone lines or gas pipelines are all possible sources of stray voltage.

2023 Update

In response to the concerns raised by the farming community regarding stray voltage, the Ontario Legislature carried a motion on May 3, 2021, to “create a working group to examine the issue of ground current and to provide recommendations about developing best practices in order to protect people and livestock from stray voltage.”

Animals can be highly sensitive to the effects of stray voltage. Even at low voltages, animals can experience tingling sensations that may affect their behaviour and health. Through the consultation process and written responses, the SVWG heard that despite existing regulatory frameworks and resources, stray voltage continues to impact farmers. The SVWG developed a list of 10 comprehensive recommendations to the Government of Ontario for developing best practices to protect people and livestock from stray voltage.

Read the report here

Stray voltage and farm animals

Stray Voltage can have a detrimental effect on farm animals, particularly dairy cows. Reported symptoms of dairy cows being affected by stray voltage include:

  • Reluctance to enter milking parlour
  • Reduced water or feed intake
  • Nervous or aggressive behaviour
  • Uneven and incomplete milk out
  • Increased somatic count
  • Lowered milk production

Note: These symptoms can also be the result of other nonelectrical farm factors such as disease, poor nutrition, unsanitary conditions or milking equipment problems.

Tell us your story:

If you believe uncontrolled electricity is impacting your farm, we want to hear from you. Your story could help the working group develop practical solutions. You can submit your story by emailing info@farmfoodcare.org, or by mailing it to the Farm & Food Care Ontario office.

Farm & Food Care Ontario ATTN: Uncontrolled Electricity

660 Speedvale Avenue W, Unit 302

Guelph, Ontario N1K 1E5

The information provided on these forms is shared with the working group including the Ontario Federation of Agriculture, Christian Farmers' Federation of Ontario and Hydro One. The information will encourage influential policy to deal with issues of stray voltage on Ontario farms.

***Warning: Identification and diagnosis of uncontrolled electricity problems requires expertise. Persons without special training must never attempt investigation of the electrical distribution or farm electrical systems. Professional knowledge and proper equipment is required to carry out a proper investigation of electrical sources on a farm.