Raising Chickens/Building a Pen
Taking care of your Chickens:
Building a pen can be easier than you think. You will need to know what type of chicken you are getting before you begin construction.
If your chickens are going to be larger, heavier, and less prone to flying away (like mine) then a simple post and wire design will work. However, most chickens are more airborne and you will need to design a pen with really high fences (if not with a wired roof) or get used to seeing your chickens on your roof.
No matter what design you choose, you will need to customize based on chicken type, local by-laws, and geography. Before proceeding, it is recommended that you check with your municipality to see how many chickens you may keep. In rural counties you will probably find that keeping livestock (including chickens) is OK. However, in more urban areas there may even be TOTAL restrictions on chickens. It should be noted that as recently as the 1960s people have been allowed to keep reasonable numbers of chickens in urban areas.
Choosing an Area
A very important factor in choosing an area to raise chickens should not be overlooked. There are many predators out there who want to get to the chickens as an easy meal. You might come out one morning and your chicken have been scavenged by night predators who enjoyed a big feast. This can be devastating. Therefore it is imperative that they are locked in at night. Predators also can come during the day. For example Hawks like to snatch chickens. And they can shoot down from the sky very fast. You need to make sure you have a tight mesh on top of the roaming area, where they are fenced in. I have seen large mirrors placed in the roaming area too, which serve to distract the predators very well.
Post and Wire Design
A post and wire design is the simplest way of building a pen. Just as the name suggests, all you need are some fence posts, the right kind of wire, fence staples, and appropriate tools (a regular hammer, sledgehammer, crowbar, and wire cutters will do). Do a simple survey of the area you want your chickens to live in, measuring the distance on all your fence lines. Anyone using a fence pounder should replace the next few steps with ones for a fence pounder as appropriate.
Once your survey is complete, it is time to buy your materials. Fence posts can be purchased from a variety of lumber stores. You may find that you can only order them in large bundles as the primary consumers of fence posts are farmers who need a lot of them. If this is the case, don't worry; you will find that fence posts are incredibly useful for many purposes including support beams for storage sheds and the chicken house.
Although you could use chicken wire for containing your chickens, I recommend stucco wire. Stucco wire is usually used for holding stucco to the sides of buildings. It is stronger and taller than chicken wire. You will also need fence staples for attaching the wire to the posts. These can be found at most hardware stores. If you can't find actual fencing staples, then staples used for attaching electrical wire to walls will do. I must stress that you shouldn't skimp on your staples. You will need a lot, even if you have a small pen. Not only do you need lots during construction, you will need a supply for emergency repairs.
Now that you have your fence materials, you will need tools for building the fence. You will need a regular hammer for the staples, a crowbar for making holes for the posts, and a sledgehammer for pounding the posts in.
When selecting a sledgehammer you should keep the weight in mind. It should be heavy enough so that you are doing less of the work for pounding the post in and more is done by the hammer. However, if it weighs too much, and you have trouble lifting it, then you might not be able to pound as efficiently as with a hammer that has a more comfortable weight. A crowbar is needed to dig a hole to start the post. You should select a pole that comes to a point at the end. Now we have all the materials and tools needed; let’s get to the actual construction.
Building the pen is very simple to do. There are, however, some tricks that aren’t obvious that are only learned from experience. Some hidden tricks that are specific to chickens (cattle don't need these on fences to contain them) will be covered here.
If the ground is dry or frozen you should bring a bucket of water along to soften the ground. Use the pointed end of your crowbar to pound a hole in the ground. When a hole starts to form, pour water into it occasionally to soften the soil. You should also leave your crowbar in the hole and use it to widen the hole by pulling you body weight against it. A 20 cm deep hole should be sufficient. The hole should be wide enough to hold a post. When you have finished making your hole, put your post, pointed end first, into the hole. Use your sledgehammer to pound the post into the ground until it is firm. On days when the soil is dry, having the post a little loose might work as the soil will slowly soften around it. To stabilize the post and allow the energy of your pounding to be used more effectively, it may be useful to have someone on the side opposite yours to hold the post while you pound. Be CAREFUL as, if you miss the post, you could injure your assistant. Space your posts about a meter apart. You should add two posts that are about a wheelbarrow width apart. This will be your gate later.
Once you have enough posts to put a fence around the area you choose to build your pen at, you can put wire up around it. To do this bring your stucco wire to a corner post. You should probably have more than one person do this as stuco wire is heavy. Hold the end of the wire to the post and hammer in with fence staples. Once your end is secured unroll your wire to the next post in line. Don't wrap your wire around this one. Instead unroll the the wire a little beyond the post and staple what wire touches the post. Continue doing this until either the pen is complete or you run out of wire. If you run out of wire then you can continue on with another roll. If the first roll ran out just after a post then wrap it around the post as best you can and move on. Do not wrap the second wire around this post instead have it share the last post of the roll that ran out. Once that is done then continue in the same way as before.
If the wire runs out before reaching a post then you should probably pound a new post in so that the end of the wire can be attached. Then continue with the next roll sharing this new post.
To make a gate all you need is some particle board, hinges and a latch.
Cut the particle board to fit between the gate posts, and attach the hardware appropriately. Get a heavy-duty latch and lock for your gate. Animals are not the only predators that may helps themselves to your birds or their eggs.
It is also possible to raise free range chickens. If you do that, you might want to mix in with the regular birds several Guinea hens. They are not that large a bird and are not that good a meat producer or egg producer, but are good 'watch dogs' for the flock. The bugs and greens the free ranging birds get make very good eggs and meat. Guinea hens are good collectors of bugs. Free ranging birds also need protection at night.
- "poultryOne's Guide to Building Chicken Coops" - Comprehensive article on constructing your own chicken coop.
Urban chickens A great poultry web site
|Some excellent sources for supplies|
|Alberta||United Farmers of Alberta (UFA)|
If you have any suppliers to add (even if they don't have a website) feel free to add them to the list or to the discussion page for this section. You can also suggest alternative methods of fence construction over there as well.