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. Paul says:

    Hi I have just moved to Brecon & am about to keep chickens for the first time We have a field adjacent to our property but not with direct access i.e. we have to walk a short distance down the lane to get to it. I have bought a really good coop which includes an electric timed door opener. My question is do you think I need electric fencing as well (which is damned expensive, plus I dont have electricity to the field and even though I could use batteries I would need 2 etc etc) as I am worried about foxes. My neighbour has kept chickens for 20yrs and are free range in her garden with just a normal coop. She says that apart from one night when they forgot to put the hens away they have never had problems with foxes. Am I worrying too much? Also re the timer on the coop what is/are the best times to set them and will they go in automatically? Cheers Paul

    • Keeping Chickens says:

      Foxes are normally around at night time, however they will still visit during the day, especially if they are feeding young, or are youngsters learning to hunt and have less fear. It is impossible to say whether your hens will be safe. As foxes will take young lanbs, I would imagine around Brecon, perhaps farmers keep the number of foxes down but it does of course only take one visit from a fox to kill all of your hens.

      My timers are set for 7.30am opening. They close just after dark.

  2. jane cross says:

    where can i buy it from

  3. Sue says:

    I would like to use electric netting for the hens that I intend to buy but their coop is about 1foot from a 6foot hedge of Box. The hedge is quite thick and it will have wire fencing round it. Would this do or would it be safer to electrify a fence with a top to it?

    • Keeping Chickens says:

      I can’t really say to be honest. It’s a difficult question without seeing the fence / height and whether buried in the ground.

      To be safe, I would use the electric netting and stay clear of the hedge. Foxes will use branches or anything else around to stand on to get a good leap at a fence.

  4. Alex says:

    Hello,

    I was hoping to run a energised cable along an existing brick wall to stop Mr Fox from jumping over, but now I’m not sure because he wouldn’t be making contact with the earth.

    Would it work if I ran two cables in parallel on top of the wall, one energised and the one connected to earth?

    Thanks for the info on electric fences!

    Alex

    • Keeping Chickens says:

      Because electric fences are high voltage, you don’t normally need much of a math to earth for them to give the fox a shock. You are right though, walls are not ideal, a wire fence conducts to earth but a second earth wire would be more effective.

  5. Amanda Burchell says:

    Hi,
    I wish we had got electric fencing for our 6 bantams before we had the bad experience of a female badger in our garden. People only ever go on about foxes, rats and mice but there nothing compared to a badger. It ate my neighbours animals next door then came for our girls the night after and both times it was caught in the act. We opened the nest box lid to find it in there because it had got in the auto pop hole and it was trapped inside, had killed 3 girls and badly injured the other 3 so had to be put down, also it has kept coming back since.
    Would just like to let as many people know how dangerous these animals are and not to underestimate them so that this can stop happening. These weren’t just chickens, these were our pets and we loved them and miss them so much.

  6. Linda Mackintosh says:

    Hi – you mention badgers and foxes …… we lost our 3 much loved hens and bantam to a pine martin last week. We thought they were safe in a close between the house, large stone shed, brick wall to the back and high fence with a sloped front but still the pine martin managed to get in and out – ours used to free range during the day seemingly safely. Now planning to put a roof on the pen if we can bring ourselves to replace our hens. Can you recommend the best sized fencing – we have double chicken wire on the front but are paranoid now about stoats too. Thank you.

    • Jonathan says:

      I lost all my hens this week and am installing a multiple earth and live wire system, google ‘DEFRA Electric Fence Reference’ it pops up in a Natural England publication and is a good guide, albeit a bit technical in places. Should be of use. Jonathan

  7. Christine says:

    I thought I might use a 16m mesh kit and was planning to run it off a leisure type battery topped up one day maybe with a solar panel. Has anyone any experience of this?

    • Keeping Chickens says:

      The bigger the energiser, the more current it will take and the quicker a battery will discharge.

      My energiser is 1 Joule, uses around 400mA and I need 2 x 100Ah leisure batteries and 3 x 80W solar panels to keep it going. The problem of course is the darkest winter days when there may be no sunshine for a week and the strength of the sun is weak. I see my battery voltage dip to 12.2V on such days.

  8. Anna Lonsdale says:

    How do you prevent hedgehogs from getting stuck in the electric fence.?I have saved a few by having to cut the fence but also found a few dead ones sadly.

    • Keeping Chickens says:

      If there are hedgehogs around, I would not use netting – a standard rabbit wire with 3 electric strands on insulators at 6 inches off the ground, fox nose height and along the top of the fence is effective.

  9. Jon Smith, Dumfries says:

    I have kept poultry all my life. The badgers round here are agressive brutes, they think nothing of chomping through thick wooden coops to get at hens, I’ve caught them at it and been growled at! I think that foxes often get blamed for the badger’s sins. The evidence that a badger did the crime is normally persistent visits, night after night, taking one or two at once, and the badger normally dines on the spot, where as a fox takes his victim away.

  10. Hannah Giddens says:

    how would a flash trap keep foxes out of the chicken coops

    • Keeping Chickens says:

      Foxes don’t like flashing lights – nor the clicking of an electric fence. I quietly watched one the other evening and he got within 20 metres of my fence and then turned around and ran off when he noticed the flashing light.

      I wouldn’t rely on this but if he associates the flash and the clicking with the electric fence then it’s not a bad thing.

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