If you’ve wondered how to keep free ranging chickens safe, I have a solution that might work for you and your flock. Ever since getting chickens, I have struggled with this question: would chickens rather be safe and confined, or free but at risk?
Our Modern Chicken Coop & Predator-Resistant Chicken Run:
When we first got chickens, we built a little “barn,” with a coop inside, and an attached, covered run. We were deeply concerned for their safety and added all kinds of safety measures. For example, the coop is a separate structure within the barn, with big, thick, insulated doors. Even if an animal makes it into the barn, they still haven’t reached the chickens yet! As another example: the run is covered in sturdier hardware cloth – not chicken wire – and it’s buried to prevent predators from digging under. The run also has a roof, to protect from the elements but also airborne threats, with hardware cloth closing off the soffit from intruders. When we spotted racoons in the area, we switched the door hardware to combination padlocks. We worked so hard, and spent so much money, to keep the chickens safe from predators! (See how we built the coop and run here).
Nothing is 100% Safe:
These seemed like great choices, but the chickens very quickly turned the run to muck and it became a poopy mess they were trapped in. They spent all day confined in this mud pit and that made me really sad – plus I worried for their health. I had lost a few chickens, and didn’t know why, and I wondered if they died because they just weren’t living full, healthy lives? I decided that I wanted to free range my chickens, but with neighboring dogs running loose, and wild foxes, bears, and geese roaming the yard, it just wasn’t safe. But then last year a bear tore into their safe little run – allowing a fox to get in with it. Luckily all the chickens were unharmed, but it made me realize that no system is 100% safe and that they were giving up their freedom for a false sense of security.
Electric Fencing to the Rescue!
That’s when we added electric fencing around the run and barn. WOW – did that work wonders! I hate to jinx it, but the bears and foxes that used to be so curious about the chickens stopped coming around after a single snoot-zap. So it got us thinking that we could maybe give the chickens some more freedom to free range with a portable electric fence:
Why We Chose a Portable Electric Fence for Chickens:
We liked the idea of a portable fence because chickens can very quickly “till” a green spot and turn it to dirt. So we thought it would be better for our yard if we could easily move around their “free ranging” area. We chose the tallest poultry netting fence we could find (surprisingly only 48″ tall), set it up, and hoped for the best!
How to Set Up Portable Electric Fencing:
It was easy to set up: there are poles that easily stand in the ground and we can choose whatever shape or layout we want. So you just unfold the netting and then push in the poles where you want them positioned. The electric part is just hooked onto our existing fencing. If you don’t already have electric fencing to tie this into, you need a minimum 2 joule energizer (also called a “fence charger”) to power this. They come in different kinds, including solar and battery powered, if you don’t have electricity nearby to power it (this kit has the poultry netting and solar energizer all in one). For maintenance, we try to make sure that the grass underneath the fencing is kept short, otherwise it will ground out – which makes it less effective. We also check it daily to make sure there aren’t any leaves, sticks, etc., caught in it, which also grounds it out.
We have to unhook and move it over to access the run with the current set up. I thought it would be a hassle, but it isn’t. In the morning we open the man door (which we secure open with a hook) and let them into the extended run. If this works out, we’ll build another entrance from the run to the portable fencing so we can access the man door without having the move the fence.
Which Portable Electric Fence for Chickens Did We Buy?
We got this exact model (this one from Amazon is very similar) with one easy modification: we added more posts. With the number included in the kit, the fence was a bit wobbly and wouldn’t stay taught and upright. Our super uneven and rocky yard didn’t help. The matching posts were out of stock so we just got these locally. They’re a bit shorter and square, but do the trick. We bought one for every section of fencing and it’s helped a lot.
Sort of like a tent (I’m guessing – I don’t camp, lol), you can also use cord to help secure the tops if they want to lean over:
Do The Chickens Love Their New “Run”?
The one strange thing is that they aren’t out here all day long! We’re so surprised, but many of them hang outside for a bit and then seek shelter back inside the run. I think they feel very exposed, having only ever experienced a sheltered run with a roof, so we’re going to plant some more trees for them to hang out under. They do tend to loiter under my lone rose bush:
Can the Chickens Fly Over the Electric Fencing?
We did have one “incident” with a chicken flying over the electric fencing. Some of ours are excellent flyers so we were worried about this, but none of them have tried on purpose to leave. Instead, before we had secured the man door, it started to close on one of our chickens as she was leaving the run and it spooked her. She flew into the fencing, was shocked, and then flew over it and out in her panic. Then she tried to get back inside and got shocked again. I caught her and she was quite traumatized but okay. But that was the only chicken who has flown over. Since discovering it can shock them, they keep their distance of the fence and don’t make any effort to escape. If anything, they are too timid to explore beyond the confines of their safe space.
Time will tell if this holds to be true – but I hope they stay safely contained in here. I like to hope they’re safe from overhead predators, because there are many trees overhead and the sheltered run is attached and always available to them so they have a safer place to flee. I’m trying to relax and not worry, and just be glad that they have a new space to enjoy. I have watched them dust bathing and sun bathing out there with enthusiasm, and seeing that makes me so happy! I’m glad we found a way to (mostly) keep free ranging chickens safe!