Keeping chickens at home in a garden chicken enclosure is never easy, but the prospect of all those fresh eggs (and, if you're a meat eater, all that free range meat) makes it a more than worthwhile endeavour for many home owners. However, waking up in the morning and finding nothing left of your prize flock but a few bloodied feathers can ruin anybody's day, and you should take thorough steps to protect your chickens from the various predators and opportunistic scavengers that may target your vulnerable birds.
It's not just carnivores you need to worry about though -- roving wild plant-eaters such as feral goats can obliterate a poorly defended coop just to get to the chicken feed and water inside. As such, an ideal chicken coop will have security measures in place to protect against all manner of animal invaders, and one of the most effective measures you can take is placing an electric fence around your chicken enclosure. This fence will also serve to keep any rebellious chickens firmly inside their enclosure.
Choosing a power source
Without a power source an electric fence is just, well, a fence. When it comes to choosing where your fence will draw its power from, you have three main options:
- Battery power -- An ideal choice for chicken coops set in large plots of land where mains electricity may be inaccessible. Battery fence energisers are slightly more expensive to run than mains powered ones, as the battery or batteries will need to be replaced every few years as they start to degrade. Make sure to house your battery pack securely to protect it from the elements.
- Mains electricity power -- Running an electric fence from your mains power is much less expensive than you might think. This is because electric fences have high voltages but draw low amounts of wattage. If you choose this option, make sure the power line feeding electricity to the fence is well protected. Burying it usually works well.
- Solar power -- A good choice for the environmentally conscious chicken farmer, a solar powered fence can be virtually free to run. However, they are expensive to purchase and set up, and each solar panel is capable of powering only a limited length of wire effectively.
Do you need a hot gate?
Most simple electric fences will need to be turned off before you can safely open the gates to your chicken enclosure. However, if you are willing to invest a little more, you can have a hot gate installed. These gates are still electrified, but have specially insulated handles to allow you to open them safely while the fence is still charged. Hot gates are suitable for larger coops from which chickens may escape unnoticed while the fence is powered down, or complicated energiser arrangements that are difficult to power up and down quickly.
Single or multiple wires?
The charge delivered by an electric fence is not delivered by the fence itself, but is carried through one or more horizontal wires attached to conventional physical fencing. How many electrified wires you install on your fences will depend on your needs (and those of your chickens, of course).
A single electrified wire, placed about halfway up your fence, is enough to stop your chickens from escaping, as they are generally poor fliers and will attempt to jump the fence instead, coming into contact with the wire in the process. Single wires are also largely effective at keeping out predators, as wires rigged halfway up the fence will usually come into contact with a predators sensitive nose, providing a very effective deterrent.
However, some potential invaders, such as dingoes and wild pigs, are intelligent enough to bypass this single wire, and will avoid it while attempting to dig under the fence or smash it down with brute force. If your chickens are at risk from these animals, multiple wires may be a more secure solution, and while they will cost more to purchase and install, they will not add a significant amount to your power bill.