More and more henkeepers are using electric fencing to surround their flock, which is not as shocking as you think

One of the joys of keeping chickens is to see them wandering around the garden going about their chicken business (or destroying your flower beds depending on your point of view!), and there is nothing more satisfying than watching a group of stately Orpingtons sailing across your lawn like a determined armada. They become pets, companions, a source of amusement, so naturally you want to protect them.

While fencing will normally provide a satisfactory level of protection, unless it is six foot high with an angled top and buried to a depth of at least 2ft, a determined fox is still going to be able to get into the enclosure.

The solution? Well, more and more people are using an electric fence to surround their chickens which, contrary to popular belief, is neither cruel nor dangerous as it provides a short, sharp, harmless shock to the inquisitive nose of the intruder which will both deter predators and keep your chickens where you want them.

Don’t be concerned that children, cats and other household pets will be harmed, as, like the fox, they get a shock which keeps them away, otherwise there is no injury. Do keep an eye out for hedgehogs, however, if you are using electric netting, as they will curl into a ball once shocked and invariably curl around the wire.

Which set-up is best?

It can be as complicated or as simple as you wish, and can consist of either single wires or netting, and you will know from your situation which is best. Nets tend to be the easier option and normally come as kits, whereas the wire strand option tends to need more setup on your part and usually relies on the existence of an internal solid fence.

There are many internet-based suppliers when it comes to solutions in these respects, and it is always worth calling them to discuss your requirements beforehand as many are established firms who know their stuff and many will have had experience with poultry.

When deciding on your setup, consider:

• The size of the area you want to enclose

• Whether it is a permanent area

• Whether you wish to rotate grass

• How close your setup will be to public areas

• The number of chickens you have

• How inconspicuous you want it

• Ease of entry

• How exposed the area is

• Access to mains power

• Cost

• Ease of set-up

• The age/size of your chickens

• Ease of maintenance

• What you need to keep out/in

• Whether you have an permanent fence

How does it work?

Most keepers (and indeed poultry farmers) will set up electrified netting and a basic set up will consist of a net, an energiser, a battery and an earth stake.

The net itself which surrounds your chickens, house and all, will consist of a net of electrified nylon and comes in a variety of lengths to suit your situation. This is ideal to keep larger breeds and hybrids from wandering as well as keeping unwanted visitors out, plus it is moveable should you need to relocate your birds. The bottom strand is plastic to prevent shorting, and successive strands of twisted wire get further apart. You can get closer spaced netting to contain smaller growers, and there are several colour options available. Nets come in different heights and lengths, so the options for the home enthusiast are endless!

Once in place, the energiser, which converts the power to a brief high voltage pulse of electricity, is connected to the net with one cable and to the earth stake with another and also to the battery with the two terminal cables.

When selecting a battery, a leisure battery suitable for caravans is the best option as it is designed to be constantly on as opposed to a car battery which is just used to start the engine.

The final part of the circuit is supplied by the animal itself when it comes into contact with the net where it grounds the pulse through its feet and the shock is felt. Depending on the energiser settings, you may be able to increase the frequency of the pulse for training the birds to respect the net, which means that as soon as they touch the electrified wires with their heads, the current is grounded through their feet and the shock results.

It may be distressing for you at first, and certainly the chickens get a shock from the power, but they usually only touch it once and then keep their distance from the unpleasant experience.

When you first turn on your netting, make sure you stay around to keep an eye on things as a frightened bird may run forward, trapping herself in the wires, in which case you will need to turn off the energiser and release her. A really determined bird will run straight through the netting in her bid to escape the electric shock so again you will need to be on hand to catch her (a large landing net used for fishing is ideal to catch escapees as the birds do not judge the extended reach too well and can be caught with a deft swipe and then released back into the run).

Like anything else where chickens are concerned, the change to their normal routine is likely to upset their laying and you may also find an increase in sniffles as the birds will be stressed and their resistance to illness reduces. This is normal and the birds will soon return to normal habits.

Tips for Setup:

• A length of rope is useful to mark out your proposed placing before starting

• Lay the net out before trying to place it as it is a cumbersome thing to manoeuvre

• Mow, or if you have time (7-21 days depending on brand) apply a weedkiller to a 12in wide strip where the net will sit – weeds etc will cause rapid power drainage and reduce the effectiveness of the net.

• Velcro tie wraps are ideal to secure the two ends of the net to make a gateway that is easily secured and opened

• If the soil is dry, wet the ground before inserting the earth stake to provide better contact.

• When erecting, two people are best to hold either end to tighten the net while a third inserts the stakes.

•Invest in a circuit checker to ensure your fence is always at maximum power.

• If you must, a blade of grass held between the thumb and forefinger and touched against the net will give you a (gentle) indication that the fence is working

• Read all of the manufacturer’s installation precautions

• If the fence can be touched by visitors to your property, ensure the correct warning signs are on display

• Check the net daily for breaks – rabbits will chew through the strands if the power is off.

Enjoy your secure chickens!