One of my favorite tools for containing chickens and ducks is electric poultry netting. This type of fencing goes by several names, such as “electric poultry fence,” “electroplastic netting”, or “electric mesh netting”.
One of the things I like about it is that it is incredibly easy to move. One or two people can easily move a section of netting to a new location and set it up in about 30 to 45 minutes. Since it doesn’t take long to move, we move it to a new area when the poultry need fresh forage.
A single poultry net is about 160′ long and can enclose about 40′ x 40′ = 1600 square feet if formed into a square (various brands and styles may come in different lengths). The nets are easy to connect together, and we usually connect two nets for a total perimeter of 320′. Using two nets together more than doubles the area you can enclose. We lay it out in a rectangular pattern, so that it encloses about 5,500 or more square feet. We currently keep about 20 chickens and 30 ducks in that pen, and there is room for plenty more.
The netting is supported by fiberglass rods approximately every 10 feet, each of which has a metal spike at the bottom that can easily be pushed into the soil, except in very dry or very rocky conditions. Polywires, which are made from a thin rope with interwoven copper wires, run horizontally and are all spaced several inches apart. These are what carry the electric charge.
It is easy to set up the netting to allow the chickens temporary access to the garden or other areas. We planted cover crops of oats, alfalfa, and wheat in our garden last Fall, and now that it is Spring, we are using the netting to let the chickens forage in and eat down the cover crops. This lets the chickens benefit from the cover crop and lets the garden benefit from their manure. Later this summer, we will dig or plow the area under in preparation for our Fall garden.
We’ve also set up the netting in our fruit tree orchard. This allows the chickens and ducks to eat many of the caterpillars that would otherwise harm the fruit trees and their fruit, and the poultry can benefit from the shade of the fruit trees and can also eat any fallen or low hanging fruit.
The electric netting does a good job of protecting chickens against predators when used with a good quality fence charger. We use a solar charger that is designed for compatibility with electric net fencing and that is capable of supporting up to three 160′ sections of netting.
There are a few caveats with electric netting. For one, poultry can fly over it. When this starts to happen, clipping their wing feathers properly solves this problem and does not harm the poultry. Second, the fence will not keep small poultry such as baby chicks or baby ducks contained. They can easily squeeze through the openings. Keeping them in chicken tractors until they get larger solves this problem. Usually, we keep those chicken tractors inside the electric netting, so that the chicks get additional protection against digging predators. Third, the netting offers no protection against airborne predators, but though we have plenty of hawks in our area, in the entire 4 years that we’ve used the electric netting, we’ve never lost a chicken to a hawk from within the fenced area. I think the large meat ducks that we keep penned with the chickens help deter the hawks. We always pen up the poultry after dark, which protects them from owls.