Electric Fencing for Chickens

An electric fence can be the perfect solution to keeping chickens safe from predators such as foxes or badgers.

electric fencing chickens energiser

A Small Electric Fence Energiser

An energiser is used to generate a high voltage somewhere around once per second. This is somewhere in the region of 5000 to 7000 volts which is sufficient to give predators (or your chickens) a shock when they touch the live wire (usually a galvanised strand of wire, tape or rope with small electric wires woven into it) and make contact with the ground at the same time. The electrical circuit is completed and they experience a muscle contraction which is unpleasant but does not harm them if they only receive a short shock like this. Why do we need such a high voltage when electric fencing chickens? Well fur and feathers are good insulators so we need the higher voltage in order to jump across the gap, to make sure the animal receives the shock. Both chickens and predators learn fairly quickly that it is unpleasant and will avoid the fence in future.

Caution: Take sensible precautions to make sure animals like hedgehogs cannot get trapped in the electric fencing.

The circuit is completed through the fox to ground when the live wire is touched. The fox learns not to touch the fence again.

The diagram shows how the circuit is completed when an animal touches the fence. It is important to have a good earth rod, to make good contact with the soil. Energisers usually state how many Kilometres they are able to power so for most electric fencing for the average chicken run, there is ample power available in even the smallest units

Electric Fencing Chickens – 3 Wire System

A Powerful Energiser (powered by 12V leisure battery) 400 meters of Polyrope, Stand-off insulators and an Earth Stake

If you have an existing fence that won’t keep foxes out, a 3 wire electric fence could be the answer to keep your chickens safe. You will need screw in insulators to hold the wire, tape or rope. Tape and poly rope is good if there are horses on the other side of the fence because they can then see the electrified conductor more easily. If the fence wire is on the same side of the posts as the electrified wire, use stand off insulators to prevent the two touching in the wind or when the fence sags.

What height should you put the wires? Well one about 6 inches off the ground, high enough to avoid getting shorted out by the grass but low enough to stop digging, another around knee height which is nose height of a fox and the last one at the top of the fence to deter climbing.

keeping-grass-short-under-electric-fencing-chickens

Strimming under the bottom of an electric fence that uses highly visible flat tape

How does it work? Mr. Fox will investigate a fence, looking for the easiest way through. He will usually touch the nose high wire or the ground wire but if he did find something to stand on or try to climb over, the top wire stops him.

Because of this, even an electrified fence that is only waist high will keep him out. Most electric poultry netting is only this high.

You will need to strim underneath the bottom wire regularly to prevent grass or other vegetation from short circuiting the bottom wire of the fence. The photo to the right shows an electric fence using green electrified tapes that are more visible to horses and people.

Electric Fencing Chickens – Poultry Netting

A simple solution if you have a large lawn, field or other area.  Electric poultry netting is good for temporary fencing too if you wish to move your hens around onto fresh pasture from time to time.

Poultry netting can be expensive however you won’t need insulators or any other type of fence. Out of the box, you can fence an area, add an energiser and away you go.

When choosing an energiser, remember electric poultry netting has multiple strands of electrified wire running through, (usually 12) so a square run with 25m sides or 25 x 4 = 100m perimeter fence becomes 100m x 12 strands = 1200m or 1.2KM. It soon adds up! Check the maximum distance that is recommended for the energiser and ensure there is a little in hand.

This suppliers page offers 25m and 50m electric poultry netting kits – you can also see the difference in price between mains and battery operated kits. If you take into consideration the cost of a leisure battery, a charger and the worry of it going flat (and yes, the fox can tell when a fence isn’t working) the extra cost of a mains energiser may look more attractive but you also need to weigh up the cost of having a safe electric socket outside.

Just like the 3 wire electric fencing, the wires running close to the bottom of the netting must not be shorted to ground by the grass.  This is usually done in one of four different ways.

  • Slide it up the posts and strim underneath.
  • Move it and mow underneath on a low cut (ideal if you are moving your birds around to fresh pasture)
  • Use black plastic strip to lay on the ground first (a little ugly)
  • Use a weed killer to kill the grass under the fence.

Don’t worry, the very bottom of the netting doesn’t have an electric wire running through it, the wires usually start a ‘rung’ or two up.

Electric Fencing Kits

There are a number of kits available online from specialist suppliers such as this one that contain everything you need. The supplier has chosen the right size energiser, earth stake and provides other bits and bobs such as insulated high voltage cable that carries the energy from the energiser to the fence.

Warning Signs

electric-fencing-chickens-warning-signIf the fence is likely to be in an area where people might touch it, don’t forget to add some warning signs to alert passers by of the danger of touching the wire. They can get quite a shock and become quite alarmed if they touch the fence accidentally and you don’t want to upset people. This is especially important if your fence borders onto a public footpath or even your own garden. Remember visitors will be looking at the birds inside the run and won’t realise the wires are electrified.

Is the Electric Fence Working?

electric-fencing-chickens-tester

An Electric Fence Tester

The first fence we installed gave me lots of confidence that my birds were safe but after 6 months, I became complacent, believing the fence was working and I was leaving my chicken houses open at night. One day I decided to check the fence was working and discovered that the live wire had come out of the bottom of the energiser in the wind! Luckily, I didn’t lose any of my chickens to the fox…

There are some products on the market that flash a bright LED periodically when the fence is working. We invested in one of these for piece of mind and now a glance at the fence in the dark tells me that everything is in order. This is especially useful at dusk when I’m locking up the birds and checking everyone is safe and where they are supposed to be.

Finally

Electric fencing chickens is a very effective way to keep chickens in a given area and protect them from predators.

Electric fencing does require maintenance, especially during the summer months when the grass is growing but once installed, an electric fence should give you years of protection.

36 Responses to Electric Fencing for Chickens

  1. Ruth says:

    Having now lost our last girl to a fox in broad daylight on our front garden we have come to the sad conclusion that they can no longer be completely free range round our farm. I have four chicks which we hatched from another lovely girl who the fox had. I wasn’t too sure about electric fencing, however, having read all the comments I am going to get some this weekend and hopefully that will keep them all safe until we sort the fox out.

    • Rita says:

      sorry for your loss. but it is are responsibility to keep the chickens safe, the fox will always try to find a way, he needs to feed like all animals. i keep chickens and i also love the fox.
      the fox will learn that he can’t get past your electric fence and your hens will be safe.

  2. jo says:

    I too have just lost another free range chook to the fox at 7am. We frightened it away with the sound of the gun (no time to load!) but my girl has gone. 4 nil to the fox. 2 girls left and one on the nest. I have a lot of horse electric fencing tape so will make their enclosure larger with that just need to buy an energiser & battery.

  3. Beth says:

    how do you keep chickens in that fly to the top of the fence or over the fence? What happens if there is electric wire at the top of the fence and the chicken lands on it?

    • Keeping Chickens says:

      Chickens can have a wing clipped to stop them flying but some lighter breeds can be tricky to keep on the ground.
      Electric fences can keep chickens IN as well as predators OUT. Commercial free range producers often have 12 or so electric wires that do this and electric poultry netting does this too. It takes quite a powerful energiser to give them a shock through the layers of feathers but once touched, they learn not to touch it again.

  4. Jenny Gage says:

    I am in the process of erecting electric poultry mesh. We have a 50 m length but do not require the total length at this time. We have about 5 m in excess of our needs. Can we roll that up and what happens when the live wires in the mesh touch?

    • Keeping Chickens says:

      That should be fine. When the wires touch, nothing should happen because they are all at the same voltage. What you must do is make sure these wires don’t touch the ground. That is when there is a difference in voltage and you’ll get a spark / short circuit.

  5. jonny says:

    I am new to the chickens and have been reading thought all this and found it very helpful thank you and wish me luck 🙂

  6. barbara headrick says:

    I have a 4 foot chain link fence that my chickens hop onto then out of the yard. Is there a kind of electric fencing I can install on top of the fence to keep them from leaving my yard?

    • Keeping Chickens says:

      You would need to install insulators and then run a galvanised wire around the top – but electric fences are usually to keep predators out rather than chickens in… I would go for an extension in the height of the fence and clip one wing to make it more difficult for them to escape.

      • Renee says:

        Just use the black mesh on top of the fence that doesn’t have a firm landing area. They won’t land on something that sags. I keep it up with sticks and taped it with duct tape. Cheap too.

  7. Jan adams says:

    I lost my chickens this year to a fox which ripped open the electric fencing. This fencing was connected to the mains so the fox must have stood and just taken the shocks. I’ve had fencing for 5 years without any mishaps but now at a loss to know what to do.

    • Keeping Chickens says:

      Foxes won’t do this. But.. they know when a fence is turned off or weak. Either the electric failed, the fence was shorted to ground so was not effective, or the fox found another way in. Can you test the fence with a tester?

      Some of the energisers are fairly weak and with a little vegetation shorting a wire out, will not work. I have flashing fence testers around the perimeter of my enclosures so I can check they are working when I lock up at dusk. There are testers that you can buy to check the voltage on the fence.

  8. Bronwen Dermody says:

    We used electric fencing and the fox simply jumped over the top and killed a drake. When it hopped back out, our only female: Moriarty, had her head stuck in the fencing So the fox finished her off from the outside with intentions of coming back later. This had been done within a two minute time period, as we had walked straight past to put the dogs away, before heading back up to put the ducks away. We have fox traps set out, but they do not work, so we are replacing the tripwire constantly in case they go rotten. To protect our only drake, we use Harris fencing (the kind outside building sites) which is cheap, strong, and tall and one-hundred percent fox proof. Simply dig it into the ground, plant flowers to make it look pretty and it protects anything. We are now hopeful in using this fencing to protect our new ducks, chickens and turkeys.

    • Keeping Chickens says:

      Sorry to hear of your loss to the fox, I’ve used electric fences for years and never had trouble. I test it regularly to ensure it’s effective.

      I would add a single wire about 1ft off the ground (fox nose height) on plastic insulators about 2ft back from the fence. I’ve seen this used on waterfowl collections and gives the fox a better chance of touching it when he tries to get into position to jump.

      It is unusual for the fox to jump the fence without having touched it first. I would double check it’s working and there is an obvious wire close to the fox’s nose level, sticking out from the fence.

      For the fox trap – it needs to be fairly big and the bait needs to be good. If there is other food around, they won’t usually bother with it. Fish guts are great but bodies of the birds they left will also work. It can take weeks for them to build up enough courage to go inside. 4-5 weeks is not uncommon.

      Another successful method I’ve seen used (although it’s not so nice for the birds) is to put the back of the trap against a modified poultry shed door or pop hole. The fox thinks he can get inside the shed through the trap to get to the birds.

Leave a Reply