Fencing of some kind is essential around your coop and/or chicken yard to keep your chickens in and to keep pests and predators out. Pests (mice, rats, snakes, etc.) want your chickens’ dinner. Predators (dogs, raccoons, foxes, hawks, etc.) want your chickens for dinner. There are a several kinds of wire and fencing, and I’ll talk about a handful of them here:
Galvanized hardware cloth. This is the best material for enclosing a chicken coop or enclosed run. In particular, you want 1/2″ galvanized hardware cloth (usually 19 gauge). Smaller openings could be too brittle, and larger openings will not deter against rats or snakes. Hardware cloth comes in 3-, 4-, 5-, and 6-foot rolls—with 3′ and 4′ being the most common — and in roll lengths anywhere from 5, 25, 50 to 100 feet.
The mesh is made by weaving or welding steel wires together, then hot-dipping it in zinc (galvanizing it) to protect it from rust. It’s a stiff product, but you can bend it by hand, cut it fairly easily with a pair of wire snips, and attach it to your frame or posts with 3/4″ galvanized poultry fencing staples. Once bent into shape, hardware cloth holds its shape well. Avoid using staples from a hand-powered staple gun. They rust easily, and if/when they slip out, they will get pecked at. Galvanized staples shot from a pneumatic staple gun, on the other hand, work great.
See our online Buyer’s Guide for more specific recommendations on hardware cloth, wire snips, and air-powered staplers for your chicken coop project.
Chicken wire. Maybe because of its name, this is what most people think to use first on their coops. It’s made of thin wire woven together to create hexagonal openings. It’s relatively cheap but rusts quickly. And while it will keep your chickens in, it won’t keep the raccoons out. . . . Chicken wire could work fine as a fence for a daytime yard, where you can keep a watchful eye on your chickens. Some people use this on the upper parts of their coops/enclosed runs to save money. Just keep in mind that if a rodent climbs up there, it too can get through the openings.
Chain link. This type of fencing is strong and easy to come by. It will keep chickens in and a dog out, but the hands and arms of a raccoon can reach through and cause a terrible scene. So make sure your chickens have a place to retreat too should they be threatened.
Rabbit wire fencing. This is a heavy-gauge welded wire fencing with 3- or 4-inch square or rectangular openings. It works well to provide added security when attached to the floor of a chicken ark or tractor, like The Garden Ark. Because of the larger openings, it keeps predators from entering from below, but lets the chickens graze and scratch at the ground more naturally. Like chain link, rabbit fencing could also work to border a daytime yard—there are variations just for this purpose that have narrower openings at the bottom of the fence and wider openings at the top.
Electric net fencing. Some farmers let their chickens free range by creating a wide perimeter of electric net fencing around their henhouse. You hook the fencing up to a portable power source, and it provides a shock to any creature that touches it, effectively keeping them on their side. If you have the space, this is an economical option for defining a large run and protecting from ground predators.
Basically, I’d suggest attaching 1/2″ hardware cloth to all open-air sides of your coop and enclosed run. Secure it so that there are no gaps larger than 1/2″, and bury it at least a foot — or flare it out in a 2-foot skirt around the base of your coop, staked above the ground and buried under a layer of sod or mulch. The other materials could come into play for the chickens’ daytime run.
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- Is the zinc coating on galvanized hardware cloth harmful to chickens?
- Will hardware cloth rust if I bury it?