You’ve put a lot of time and effort into raising your own backyard chickens. Of course, part of raising your own flock is protecting them from other animals and predators (dog, cats and racoons alike…). Whether your preference for your birds free-range or live inside an enclosure, fencing is imperative to their protection from the outside world. Below we will discuss a few different types of fencing, and their pros and cons.
Although chicken is in the name, this is one of the least successful fencing materials to protect your backyard chickens. The thin wire is easily bendable and breakable, and predators and pests can fit or reach through the wide gaps. It may not provide the best protection on the ground, but it can be useful in preventing aerial attacks from raptors and it’s easy to use. That being said, it is less than ideal.
Hawk netting is the ideal fencing material to protect your birds from aerial predators. Its strong nylon strands resist hard impacts. It is easily cut to size with scissors and easy to attach to your coop. Since predators such as raccoons and foxes can easily rip the strands, other materials provide better protection on the ground.
Among the best options for protecting your backyard flock, hardware cloth consists of square welded wire mesh, either from galvanized or stainless steel. This fencing material cuts easily using tin snips or medium duty wire cutters. You can attach it to lumber using a staple gun or to other materials using baling wire. You can also use baling wire to join multiple pieces of hardware cloth and mend holes. Though it costs more than chicken wire, its strength and durability most than makes up for the difference. ¼” to ½” square hardware cloth provides your birds the best protection from most, if not all potential predators. Burying the bottom of your hardware cloth fencing 6” or more underground will assist in keeping out digging animals and protect your flock even more.
Portable Electric Fencing
Portable electric fencing is not cheap and can be hard to maintain, but it can provide an extra layer of protection as an outer fence for ranging to your inner coop fence. Depending on size and power source, poultry electric fencing kits range in price from $169 – $429. This is the best option for free range flocks that need additional room to roam. They often use posts hammered into the soil, which makes them very easy to install. They can run off of solar power or a 12 volt rechargeable battery system, such as a car battery. Poultry electric fencing uses a smaller shock compared to other common electric fences; enough to keep predators out but not harm the birds. Still, be sure to put up signage to prevent accidental electric shocks.
The biggest downside to using electric fencing is the difficulty of protecting your flock against aerial predators, as the area contained by the fence is quite large. That being said, if you use it as an outer layer of fencing to protect birds during the day, and then the birds have a more secure fenced-in coop at night. This can be quite effective, and its portability is a big plus.
While not a fencing material, using gravel at the fence line can improve the overall quality of your chicken run. Using gravel on the floor of your coop creates great drainage and prevents puddles from forming in the dirt. Small, pea-sized gravel will not harm the feet of your flock , and it doubles as grit for the birds. If you are concerned about harming the feet of your backyard chickens, cover your gravel with wood chips or sand. Using hardware cloth and burying the bottom end with gravel can help to further prevent digging predators from entering the coop and keep any escape artists in your flock inside.
There are several options for protecting your backyard flock with fencing, many of which will accomplish the task at hand. Often times a combination of several materials will be best. Consider the needs of the birds you tend to, your current setup, and the resources available to you before deciding. If you have any further questions on fencing, ask us a question on our Ask a Question page!
This article was written by Brock Riggs, Joseph Gendreau and Dr. Maurice Pitesky at the UC Davis School of Veterinary Medicine.