To many predators such as foxes, dogs, and coyotes, chickens are an all-you-can-eat buffet. Keeping chickens safe from these animals is a challenge, which is why electric fences offer a safe and effective means of protection. The goal of an electric fence is simply to keep chickens in a certain area and predators out of that same area. I’m often quite surprised at just how effective this method can be.
Many chicken owners worry about electric fencing harming to their flock. Thankfully a pulsing electric fence is a low-risk option – simply delivering a momentary shock which prompts the hen to retreat. While there’s risk of serious harm if the chicken becomes tangled in the fence, there are ways to mitigate this risk.
Note, in particular it’s best to install a new fence as some older electric fences can have a higher voltage than recommended.
Training the Chickens
Once you’ve gone through the process of selecting and installing your electric fence, you then have the task of teaching your chickens to avoid it. It might seem counter intuitive, but the best way to do this is simply to allow them to touch it, rather than trying to block them from coming into contact with it.
By doing this, you’ll actually be keeping them safer. With some experience, they’ll avoid the fence which will lessen their chances of being caught in the wires for any reason.
One strategy to speed up the process is to feed the chickens from outside the fence by throwing their feed over the fence for a few days. Initially the chickens will just see the wire as a random obstacle and run blindly in the direction the food is coming from. Naturally this will result in them making contact with the fence a few times as they overshoot.
Use this method of feeding for a few days, allowing the chickens to run into the fence if needed (their feathers are good insulators, so they won’t get zapped every time they run into the fence). After just a few days of this they’ll still run up to the fence, but they’ll know to stay a safe distance away and will treat it as a true barrier as they approach more carefully.
Why Choose an Electric Fence?
So now we know that chickens can easily be trained to keep their distance from an electric fence, let’s answer another question; why is an electric fence necessary in the first place?
The primary reason why you need to have a fence for your chickens is safety. As anyone who has kept chickens understands, they are highly desirable to any number of predators. Regardless of where you live, your chickens are going to be at risk. There’s also a risk of them escaping and running away from the area. Chickens tend to stay closer to home but if you let your chickens roam freely, you can expect to lose some of them.
You may already have a non-electrified fence in place and wonder if you need an electric fence. The answer to this question depends on the circumstances. Are you losing chickens to predators each year? If you find your animals are being kept safe with your current safeguards, then you may not need an electric fence. However, if you’re losing chickens, struggling to keep animals away from them, and your other methods aren’t working, then an electric fence offers a simple solution.
It’s also worth noting that an electric fence is a great idea if you need a fence for the chickens and don’t want to install a more complex fencing system. Most electric fences are easy to set up, much easier than other fencing options that rely on being strong and sturdy.
The benefit of electric fences is that they are effective against the most common types of predators that chase down chickens. Dogs are extremely common and will eat a chicken but are completely terrified of electric fences. Coyotes and Foxes will likewise quickly realise what they’re up against and won’t want to get close to one.
Raccoons are slightly more tenacious and may inspect the fence periodically to see if there is a place of entry, although of course, this should make little difference to their chances of success if the fence is on permanently.
Bobcats are usually deterred although they are known to occasionally leap fences, even taking the risk when the fence is electrified.
These are the most common predators for chickens although you may not have to worry about each of these.
Advantages of Electric Fences
Why exactly should you consider installing an electric fence, notwithstanding the unlikely, but still possible risk of harm to your chickens?
- Practicality- although electric fences can greatly vary in their complexity, the most common types are double or single strand. They are easy to install and you can even step over them.
- Customizable Area- depending on the area that you want the chickens to roam, you can make this as large or as small as desired. You may want to choose a larger area so that the chickens are less likely to escape.
- Inexpensive- you’ll certainly pay in order to install an electric fence. However, the cost for this type of fence is low compared to other options. Also, many electric fences can use solar power which may cut down on some of your costs.
Types of Electric Fences
There are three primary types of electric fences available today. Keep in mind that there is not one right option for this type of fence but each has its own features.
Single Strand Fences
A single-wire fence is exactly what its name implies. The wire is located about five inches off of the ground with a charge running through it. This height is ideal for both chickens and predators.
Since most predators are likely to keep low to the ground when sneaking around, they are deterred pretty well with just one wire. This type of fence is usually made up of fence posts with aluminum fence wire.
The advantage of this option is that it’s easy to install and it can be stepped over easily. Also, if you’re driving a tractor or other vehicle over the land, and want to make a b-line via your hen enclosure, you can simply uproot a few posts and re-install them without having to have a major job on your hands.
Double Strand Fences
A double-strand fence contains two electrified wires. The first is about five inches from the ground and the other ten inches from the ground. The set-up is almost identical to a single strand fence and this method is also easy to install. It’s also an easy fence to step over and can be moved as needed.
What makes a double strand fence stand out from the single strand variety is that it may be more effective at preventing chickens from escaping as well as predators from entering.
As you likely know, chickens can fly (after a fashion anyway!) and may not be deterred completely by a low level single strand fence. With a double strand, escape is still possible but less likely. Also, predators who are on the larger side will have a harder time crossing the fence.
The key for success with both single and double strand fences is to use plenty of fence posts. If your yard doesn’t have level ground, you’ll want to do this as well. If the wire is too high or low, then it’s easier to breach, and having many posts enables you to adjust the height of the wire at regular intervals to ensure it stays at a useful height.
This third option may be necessary to stop very stubborn predators or keep chickens enclosed when, for whatever reason, they have to be fenced tightly.
The main disadvantage of this type of fence is that it is more expensive than a simple single or double strand wire fence. Also, if left in place for an extended time period, the grass will grow through and entangle the very bottom of the netting, making it more challenging to remove should the need ever arise.
I also suspect (though I have no hard evidence to back my theory up) that a loose electric netting fence may be more dangerous to a hen given the increased chance of becoming tangled up in it. Correct installation and maintenance is therefore essential to keep it as safe as possible.
The advantage of a netting fence is that it creates a more substantial physical barrier that makes a real difference, even to predators who might otherwise be able to outsmart a single or double strand fence. Though of course it will also be a barrier to humans who may not be able to cross over it quite as easily either.
Incidentally, broiler hens who don’t require a great deal of space often are better protected with this type of fence given the need for less of it than the more simple but versatile single/double strand design.
Installing an Electric Fence
Once you’ve decided to install a fence, you’ll want to gather the key components and get started. You’ll need at least these basic materials:
- Galvanized wire or electrical netting- aluminum is a popular choice
- Fence Posts – either install from scratch, or if you already have fencing posts in place, you can use insulators that clip or nail-on to install the wire.
Electric Fence Charger
The charger or energizer is probably the most important part of the set-up, converting mains electricity into a high voltage pulse that shocks, but does no serious damage. It is possible to use a battery-powered charger but this option isn’t usually powerful enough to be effective. However, battery or solar chargers are available if you wish to go down this route.
Make sure you store this item in a sheltered area or cover it from the elements to increase its lifespan. Use an energizer with a built-in voltmeter so you have an idea of where the voltage falls.
After you’ve obtained the components, install the fence posts if needed and then string up the wire or electric netting. You can then hook up the wire to the charger, although always use caution in this process.
Although many people wonder can an electric fence kill a chicken, the answer is that it’s unlikely with the correct set-up and by taking the time to train the chickens. Having an electric fence can do wonders for keeping chickens safe from predators, so for me the benefits far outweigh the negatives.