Halfway House Hens

Our little jailbirds were doing just fine with their parole until a few of weeks ago, when I came home to find them completely absent from the backyard. Naturally, I started panicking, and scoured the neighborhood to no avail. Finally I heard some clucking behind our bushes, and found that they had decided to make a border run “North” this time, into our back neighbor’s backyard. Somehow Frances had even gotten behind the neighbor’s fence, and of course she couldn’t figure out how to get back. This seems to be the only lack of intelligence I’ve seen in my hens. They must go into panic mode when they feel trapped. So I had to climb over the fence to retrieve her.

Once they were safely back in their coop, I vowed to put up the electric fence the next day… but the morning light softened my resolve, and I decided to increase my efforts to block any possible openings I found behind the bushes.

This seemed to do the trick, as they seemed very content to stay in the yard… until the next Saturday afternoon. Once again, I couldn’t find them in the late afternoon, and started looking all over the neighborhood again. Finally, after much calling, I heard some clucks coming from our next door neighbor’s backyard, and looking up through the bushes under their fence, I spied 3 pairs of chicken feet. Somehow they must have jumped up on the wall between our houses and squeezed under her fence into her perfectly manicured backyard. Luckily, she wasn’t home to discover them.

The kids had helped me look for the girls this time, and they were very upset and made me promise to go ahead and try the electric fence. I agreed, and started installing it as soon as the chickens were safely in their coop once again… early… without their usual bedtime corn… and while I was still angry enough to strengthen my resolve.

I finished installing it the next morning. It turned out to be pretty easy, but I ran out of wire and had to buy some more. I was encouraged when I got up the nerve to touch the wire, and found that the shock felt very mild… like a small static electric shock, and my daughter even had to touch it 3 times before she felt anything at all. But perhaps it’s because we were wearing rubber-soled shoes and are quite a bit bigger than small animals? I had strung the wire about 9” off the ground to help avoid growing grass, but as soon as I let the chickens out, Frances slipped right under it without even touching it (the girls were watching the whole time from their coop, doubtless planning their escape), so I pounded all of the posts down to 6”. Frances tried again and this time caught on it enough to feel it, so she quickly started avoiding it. The other girls seemed to just instinctively stay away from it without touching it. (perhaps they learned from watching Frances?) They all spent the rest of the day surveying the boundaries of their newly shrunken domain, and settling most of the time under the tree and remaining bushes open to them along the house.

Sunday, they also stayed within the fence all day… so far, so good.

Monday morning, I went out to check the line for any debris touching it and found 2 tiny dead birds right next to the wire. I felt SO awful! I had no idea it would kill little animals! I guess I should have read the reviews more deeply. There definitely wasn’t a warning about this in the instruction manual. It sounds like it was because it’s a continuous shock instead of intermittent, which gives small animals a chance to pull away. It probably also would have been OK if I left it at 9”, because birds can sit on it safely if they don’t touch the ground, but they must have tried to slip underneath the 6 inch height and the shock must have been too much for their tiny bodies. Distraught, I disconnected the electricity immediately.

Luckily, it seems like the 2 days the electricity was activated were enough to teach the hens to avoid the wire, because they’ve stayed within it’s boundary for a couple of weeks now. Who knows if this will be enough in the long run, but in the meantime it’s been nice to have them always within sight, as well as off the patio, and they still have most of the yard as their playground. They seem to be happy enough, and are giving us plenty of eggs.

And this was a new one… the other day when I sat down in the yard, they all jumped up on my lap, instead of just the younger two. Gloria doesn’t usually do this on her own volition, unless the hammock is available. Gotta love my funny, cuddly girls.