If you have chickens that free range, you’ve probably discovered that absolute ravaging they can do to your garden.
After weeks of planting out seedling and coming back two days later to no plants (except onions), I decided something had to be done.
To give you an overview, I semi-free-range my chickens in a large area enclosed by 3′ fencing (you can see on the right hand side of this picture. The pullets can easily fly 6′ even with clipped wings. No matter how big of an area they are in, they will always want to get out. So, I figured instead of spending more time trying to keep them in (they are in a forest and do climb the trees, so it was not feasible to completely cover their area, which I want to rotate around), I would attempt to keep them out of just my gardens, so if (when) they escape, my precious vegetables will survive.
I had a couple goals in mind toward what I wanted.
- Lightweight and movable: I wanted the fence to just enclose the garden and not any walkways, so I had to be able to move it out of the way when I wanted to garden. (I’m actually not sure anymore why this was important, but I’m happy with this fact still…)
- All the materials had to fit in my car when I bought them. (I have a Scion XD, hatchback where the back seats can fold down)
- Inexpensive-ish: Not a driving factor, but I did want to keep the cost down.
- Easy to build: I didn’t want to have to cut any wood or other dangerous power-tools
To that end, the lightweight factor brought to me the idea of PVC, and after lots of time on google image search and a couple youtube videos, I came up with my plan.
Using PVC, PVC Connectors, and various chicken netting I had lying around I was able to enclose 2/3 of my garden beds, with the raw materials to build the third (I wanted a break).
The Materials (for 3 beds of vary-ing sizes)
- PVC Pipe cutting tool (highly recommend over a saw): $8
- 18 3-way elbows 1/2″ (Originally bought on amazon for $1.20 each, since could not find at home-depot, but later found for $.83 each at home depot): $20
- 21 1/2″ 10′ pvc pipes (buy 15+ for discount at home depot): $44
- 10 1/2″ pvc 90* elbows. 10-pack at home depot: $2.30
- 10 1/2″ pvc T’s. 10 pack at home depot: $2.50
- 100 pack of 8″ cable ties(you can probably get smaller) at home depot: $8
- wire cutters (optional to cut the cables after attaching): $7
- PVC Pipe glue (you will want this), I had some lying around
- Chicken Netting 3′ 4″ high, enough to cover all, more on this later.
Total cost: < $100 for: 4’x4′ bed, 16’x4′ , and 14’x4′ with a foot extra of space for wiggle room.
First carefully measure all your beds to caculate all the PVC and connectors you will need. Here is what I did:
- Everything will be 3’4″ high, because that is was 10’/3 comes out to.
- all the widths and lengths will be a multiple of 5′ (you can use a 3’4″ section if needed)
I had one 4’x4′ bed which simply used 5′ panels. by 16’x4′ bed I used 5′ panels on the ends, and 3 5′ panels and 3’4″ panel, each of these panels are connected by T’s with a support, the ends are the 3 way elbows, and 90* elbows at the very ends, since I made one side of my fence a pre-existing trellis I already had in.
Once you’ve figured out how much of each material you need, and how many pvc lengths of each size, go to home depot (or wherever really) and buy your pvc and pvc cutter (bring along a tape measure and pen, you will want it).
Now if you have a sedan, and not some fancy large truck or mini-van, you will quickly realize (hopefully you already knew this) that a 10′ pipe will not fit in your car. I spent the next hour carefully measuring and cutting 21 pvc pipes in the parking lot. Surprisingly no-one who walked by said a thing (or even looked at me funny), I guess cutting massive amounts of pvc in a Home Depot parking lot is an every day occurrence. I realized some of my pieces were 1/2″ different in sizes (maybe more), everything still worked out great, so don’t worry too much if your cut is off a bit. I learned that measuring very carefully (from both ends) the first cut I had to make, and then using that pipe to measure all the other pipes was the easiest.
Finally, once you have all your pipes, connectors, and glue, put everything together!
If you have a friend willing to help you (I didn’t), it would definitely be easier with some of the larger panels. Hopefully with all these pictures you can figure out how to connect things.
One thing I learned early on (or way too late), was: glue the pieces as you put them in. If you don’t, you’ll think they are solid and ok, lift up your fence only to have one side pop out, so you glue that on, and another side pops out, so you go to glue everything in, but you can’t pull them out by hand, but they keep popping out whenever you lift it up. So don’t be like I was with my first fence. I didn’t want to glue anything until I needed to in order to make sure my plan worked, but really: just glue it, you’ll probably be right. (though with the angled connectors make sure you don’t have one T facing in the wrong direction for example, as the glue sets pretty much instantly). Anyways, you already cut the pvc, so it’s not like you can return it!
Another hint: 1/2″ pvc is pretty flexible (5′ panels are probably a good idea even if you have a 10′ car), so if you do all the tops and all the bottoms, you can then easily flex in the heights.
I suppose you could make gates, and add in paths inside, but I instead chose the ‘movable’ option. In the above picture you can easily see how I’ll move the fence out of the way when I want to enter. Even with a 16′ bed, I was easily able to drag it open and closed.
So now you have a fence!
Actually you’re probably looking at me and saying ‘no I just have a bunch of frames’. That’s because you now have to cover those frames.
For my first two beds I tried two different materials, and here are my thoughts:
- Connect the netting/chicken fencing/etc using cable ties, this worked great for me.
I used thin netting for the 4×4 bed:
- con: It’s thin, and hard to see and really time consuming to role out, and a pain, especially if the dimensions of the netting are very different from the bed you are covering. I used netting I had lying around that was all tangled, so maybe if you bought new it would be easier.
- pro: it looks nice?
- pro: it’s light weight (though my other choices were light enough too)
For the next bed I used some plastic netting I had lying around.
- Con: it was 3′, and my height was 3’4″, so it was shorter which looks weird, but functionally still serves well.
- pro: has more structure than than the netting so was way easier (and quicker) to install.
- pro: sturdier than the netting, less likely to tear.
Conclusion: use what you have around, but if you are going to buy, go for plastic chicken wire or similar, it will be easy and still light weight.
Final Note: you may notice I said the fence was only 3′ and my chickens can fly 6′, my thinking is they aren’t likely to fly into a cage, after escaping a larger one, to that end, I decided I didn’t want to cover my bed, but if I wanted to, that could be easily added later I think. (unless my plants get too tall) (covering may protect from squirrels and birds if that’s your problem).
Total time: probably around 3 hours for 2 beds.
Happiness: It’s been one day, but so far escaped chickens have no desire to jump in another ‘cage’, even though they could easily fly in. The vegetables I planted yesterday are still growing, and nothing has been eaten.