The Challenge of Containing Chickens
Containing chickens is perhaps one of the biggest challenges to raising free range chickens. Our farm is a testimony to the wonderfully destructive nature of chickens. Chickens have a natural tendency to scratch as they forage. This behavior seems to give them a natural homing beacon for flower beds and the vegetable garden. The best time of the year for our ladies appears to be immediately following the distribution of mulch in our flowerbeds. It seems the the nice mulched look quickly gives way to the “mulch-all-over-the-yard” look. Or perhaps it is better known as “mulch-on-the-walkways” look.
There are many opinions on containing chickens. One opinion (which we have not tried partly due to cost) is that a six foot high fence system will keep the birds in their pens. I do think this will work well, however the cost of this fence structure is very prohibitive. The installation would likely need to be done by a professional. A downfall of this system would be removal once the metal finally degrades. I would suspect a 30 to 40 year lifespan, which would help to offset the cost or at least spread it out over the many years.
Another option for containing chickens is to put up woven wire fencing. This typically comes in 48 inch high rolls that are in 100 or 300 foot lengths. 8 foot wooden posts are usually placed very 10 feet adding to the cost of this system. I also believe that this system requires some poultry netting in addition to the woven wire, as the holes near the bottom are large enough for a hen to climb through. (I have witnessed this firsthand). Some people add a hot wire toward the bottom for both predator control and to encourage the chickens to stay contained within the fence.
Alternatively, people have used snow fencing. Snow fencing should have close enough slat to contain chickens and to keep predators out. Snow fencing would perhaps be a little unsightly. There are two types of fencing that I refer to as snow fence. The first is a combination of wire intertwined around one inch vertical slats. The second is an orange, grid-shaped/ diamond patterned roll of flexible plastic. Both would work well for chickens.
I suppose that some sort of high tensile could be used as well. The wires would have to be numerous and spaced every inch or so toward the bottom, gradually increasing the distance in between the wires as the fence is built higher. If electrified, this fencing system would perhaps keep chickens in and predators out. The big downfall to this system would be the need for frequent weed control to keep the grass and weeds from contacting the lowest electrified wire….resulting in a short.
A traditional approach is to mount hexagonal chicken wire onto posts. The posts can be either metal T-posts, or more permanent wooden posts. This chicken wire has very small, hexagonal-shaped holes. The holes are small enough to keep even the smallest peeps inside the pen. The problem with this fencing system is the weakness of the wire itself. If the posts are places close enough (6 to 8 feet apart) and the fencing is stretched fairly tight, the weakness may be overcome.
As seen in the picture above, we have elected to try a system called electric poultry netting. We purchased two, 110 foot long rolls can a charger to electrify the fence. We do have an occasional chicken that performs its own fly over, but the system has held up well so far. One nice feature is that the fence is easy to move. This allows us to change the range area that the chickens can access. This allows the grass to recover from being eaten and trampled. It also helps to spread the chicken manure around, thereby spreading out potential parasites and keeping the burden down in any one area. We have yet to attach the electric fence charger, due to lack of time (well actually simple laziness). Even without the charger, the chickens stay in for the most part thanks to wing clipping.
On a side note: We have likely had some coccidia, as we so not utilize coccidiostats. We feel that this allows for a natural immunity once the birds have been infected. By moving the pasture access. the coccidia does not concentrate in any one area.