15 May 2015

Chicken fencing, or, Get out of my garden!

A crazy pattern has begun to emerge in our backyard. When I go away for a few days, my chickens escape! If my husband's at home I get an angry phonecall: "You have got to sort out the chickens' fencing!" I grieve my latest batch of seedlings, which has been ransacked. I long for my emerging radish seeds, scratched to bits in my hens' foraging forays.

Munched lettuce

I suppose they miss the daily supplements of greens I chuck them when I'm there, because when I'm at home they stay put. Whatever the reason, the lure of our lush vegetable garden becomes too much for them in my absence, and they squeeze out of their pen through gaps they wouldn't consider breaching when I'm at home.

I know several people who have given up on chickens because they were sick of having their silverbeet reduced to stalks and their doormat become a poo platter. What every urban chicken-keeper needs, of course, is to embrace their chickens within a Good Fence.

Home-made solutions

I'm open to suggestions, because obviously I haven't got it completely sorted. Here is what I use. The posts are a combination of bamboo, long slim pruned branches and extra-tall electric fence pigtail posts. I tie garden mesh to them. It works quite well to start with, but sags with time.

Here is my neighbour's set up, but she too has escapee problems (it's not a very high fence):

Commercial options

I've spotted some commercial offerings that tempt me greatly. One is the Omlet chicken fencing from chooks.co.nz, which at 1.25 m is a better height than the standard garden mesh at 900 mm - 1 m high.

Picture of Omlet Chicken Fencing
Omlet chicken fencing
There's also the Chickin-out fencing available here. It's only 850 mm high, but because it's got metal spikes on top, apparently even flighty breeds don't fly over it. This squares with my experience of them needing to have a little sit on top of a fence they are attempting to cross.

Move it

To me it's important that fencing can be easily moved. This is so your birds can regularly have fresh ground and don't have to forage too much in their own poo. It may seem like they don't have to forage if they have pellets constantly available in a feeder - but they do, they're chickens and it is quite simply what they do.

(One way to avoid having to move the pen is to constantly put large amount of straw, weeds, leaves etc into it, so it's a minimum of about 15 cm deep. This is sometimes called the straw yard or deep litter method. It creates an on-site compost that keeps the muck less yucky.)

Free range

I know my hens would be much happier free-ranging. However, with a smallish urban section and a commitment to growing most of our own vegetables, that just isn't an option. I believe that our eggs are still more welfare-friendly source than probably any commercially produced egg.