As a chicken mama who lost a few hens before I got the predator-proofing down, this is great information for new coop owners/builders to make sure you keep your lovely ladies safe and sound from rascally rascals! Thank you to my new friend Liz Greene for writing this post! ~Katie Stemp
While fencing your chickens may seem like a no-brainer, there are some surprising intricacies at play when choosing the best material and set-up for the job. Playing catch-the-runaway-hen isn’t much fun, keeping the flock out of your garden is even less so, but finding one of your prized birds torn to shreds is absolutely heartbreaking. Ultimately, the most important aspect of fencing isn’t keeping your birds in — it’s keeping the predators out.
The majority of chicken keepers choose hardware cloth — also known as wire mesh — as their fencing material of choice. Easily shaped and sturdy, half inch hardware cloth provides excellent protection for chicken runs, as it deters predators of all sizes. Hardware cloth with smaller openings (quarter inch size) can be used to cover openings on the coop, such as the windows or vents. Not only will this keep mice from nesting with your chickens, it also provides a secondary line of defense should the run be breached at night.
Although it’s cheap and prevalent, chicken wire should be avoided at all costs. While this lightweight wire does an excellent job of keeping chickens contained, predators find it to be no challenge at all. Raccoons in particular are infamous for deftly unwinding the wire until they can get in — or in cases where they become impatient, simply reaching through the octagonal openings and tearing apart the chickens piece by piece.
When building the walls of the run, it's best to bury the wire mesh down into the ground and out away from the wall at a 90 degree bend. Place bricks, gravel, or other stone fill over the turned out wire before covering it back over with soil. This will deter any digging predators from accessing the run. Furthermore, chicken runs should always have a roof, whether it be made of corrugated metal or more wire mesh. Netting will keep hawks and other birds of prey out, but it’s no deterrent to raccoons.
Last, but certainly not least, is the gate lock. Raccoons are quite capable of unlatching locks and turning door handles. Install a lock that requires multiple steps to unlatch — such as a spring and barrel-style lock — and secure it with a carabiner. This will prevent raccoons from simply letting themselves into the run.
You’ll find that some predators will be relentlessly determined to get to your chickens. After all, you’ve practically set up a buffet for them — they just need to figure out how to get around the sneeze guard. The best way to deter the more tenacious predators is to add some electric fencing to your run. Simply attach a ground wire four to six inches from the bottom of your current fence, and another wire along the top to deter climbing predators. Experts recommend a 5,000 volt charger to simultaneously keep chickens in and predators out.
If at all possible, your run should never be your first line of defense. If you can afford it, build a six foot privacy fence around your property as a way to stop some predators before they ever make it to the run. If privacy fencing is too pricey, go for more welded wire. The more barriers there are to get through, the less likely you are to lose a chicken.
While constructing and maintaining fences isn’t the most exciting of prospects, it’s much preferred to suffering the death of your flock. When you’ve put so much time and love into those amazing, clucking balls of fluff, the last thing you want to do is sacrifice them to a wily raccoon.
Liz Greene is a dog loving, beard envying, pop culture geek from the beautiful city of trees, Boise, Idaho. You can catch up with her latest misadventures on Instant Lo or follow her on Twitter @LizVGreene.