The Challenge of Stray Current

January 26, 2024 | Paul Bootsma, Member Relations Manager for the Christian Farmers Federation of Ontario

The Challenge of Stray Current

A persistent challenge for Ontario farmers still lingers across rural Ontario, particularly for livestock farming. In the 1970’s this was referred to as tingle voltage, which would cause health challenges for farm animals, particularly dairy cows. This issue has been debated for decades with Hydro One, Ontario Energy Board, and the Provincial Government, and the debate is still ongoing.

Many decades ago, when hydro became a norm for the population, delivering electricity involved a circuit, for the current to travel on, too where it is required and then a way for the unused current to travel back to the source. The system installed for this allowed some unused current to travel back to the source through the ground.

As the countryside became more densely populated, and buildings, especially barns with livestock, became more ‘connected’ to the ground, some of this current finds its way into the metal that is used in livestock housing. Animals that come into contact with this metal often feel the “tingle”.

For many years now, there are people who have studied this dilemma to come to a resolution for the sake of our livestock and the livelihood of farmers and their families. North America is the only jurisdiction that uses this form of delivery for electricity. The other system, which the rest of the world uses, is a three-wire system without a ground wire; compared to our two-wire system, the three-wire system eliminates the need for current to travel through the ground.

A working committee with members from Ontario farm organizations, electrical engineers, and veterinarians, with support from dairy farmers of Ontario have worked together for many years to provide evidence that this is a real issue and is an animal welfare challenge. It also is a huge financial burden for producers as production decreases at alarming rates.

In 2021, due to a private members bill in the Ontario Legislature, a working group was brought together by the ministry of energy which included members of the working committee and from the different organizations that are part of the energy ministry. Presentations were made discussing financial challenges, animal welfare concerns and mental health for the farmer and family. Recommendations were made to help improve or resolve the on-farm challenges in the report. The members representing the farm organizations were optimistic about the report and were hopeful that finally there would be help for farmers.

This did not materialize, two years later we still have little movement toward resolution.

This past September the stray voltage working group made another farm visit. This time there were more hydro personnel participating, some “on the ground” people were also present. This is hopefully an opportunity to get more people aware of the issue and cooperation in bringing resolutions to this long-standing challenge to Ontario livestock farmers.

Paul Bootsma, is the Member Relations Manager for the Christian Farmers Federation of Ontario. The CFFO Commentary represents the opinions of the writer and does not necessarily represent CFFO policy.