This article was updated on 27 Apr 2015 When I first built our chicken enclosure/pen I had to compromise quite a lot because of the number of large gum trees in the way.
This meant, I couldn’t build a conventional rectangle or box enclosure without cutting down a heap of trees and I wasn’t prepared to do that as the trees shaded this area perfectly in our hot subtropical climate plus felling large trees requires council approval, can be costly, and a damn hard job to do.
Therefore, I decided to use some of the trees as natural living posts to hold up the 2.5 metre high wire mesh fence essentially making them part of the chicken pen. I even made a large gum tree part of the door and main entrance into the enclosure. Inside this pen I have several shelters for the chickens and ducks plus a fully enclosed run for our quail. However, the whole pen itself does not have a roof of any kind and lately this has become a real problem.
Side view of the chicken pen (image above)
Initially, well, at least for the first 5 or 6 years not having a roof over our chicken enclosure wasn’t an issue – actually, it was quite a feature! But, over the past several summers the native wildlife has become aware of our little chicken haven and has started visiting it for a free feed of eggs and poultry meat.
The snakes, goannas, and possums simply use the trees as pathways to get in and out of the pen usually in the early morning or at night. The crows (and other birds) just fly right in and help themselves to the poultry feeders and eggs!
Mostly it is the eggs that are targeted by large goannas, snakes, possums, and crows, but in the last two years we have lost 4 birds to huge carpet pythons! Obviously, this carnage has to stop… Nevertheless, building a roof over our rather large chicken/poultry compound is going to be quite a task and I’m still working through how this can be effectively done.
I’m not going to completely start from scratch – I don’t have the appetite – but apart from the predator problem the rest of the setup is great so it’s really just a roof I need to retrofit onto the chicken enclosure.
Front view of chicken pen with large door (image above)
After thinking hard about it (including consulting friends and family) there’s really only two cost effective ways to cover our chicken enclosure and that’s with either nylon netting (UV resistant) or galvanised mesh. Both of these materials are relatively cheap, easy to work with, and will allow rain through, although, debris will collect on the roof over time no doubt.
The nylon netting is the cheapest but it’s also not as strong as wire and probably won’t last as long. There’s also a risk animals could get entangled in the net; however, if I keep it taught and by checking the net daily (as I would do anyway) the risk of animals entangling and dying as a result is minimal. Nylon netting would also be easier to wrap around tree trunks as there are several internal trees within our pen that I need to get around somehow.
The framework to lay the mesh or netting onto needs to be strong enough to hold and prevent the roof from sagging. High tensile wire strained taught over a central wooden frame spine running through the middle of our oddly kidney shaped chicken pen should do the trick, hopefully.
Anyway, I’ll ponder some more and make a decision soon about whether to use wire mesh or nylon netting for the roof. I guess I’m leaning towards galvanised wire mesh but we’ll see…
There is another plan I've been considering (and is the reason for updating this article) and that is to build an internal chicken run. For example, build a small fully enclosed mesh run as part of my main chicken house (shown on the right of the picture above) and install an automatic hen door which is timed to open after sunrise. This would keep all predators away from the birds and their eggs through the night and early mornings but still release the hens into the large outer pen automatically – I could even install another automatic chicken house door on the outer pen set for a little later in the morning to release the birds into the free-ranging paddock area.
Then my set-up would look like this: a totally secure internal run; surrounded by a fox and dog proof external chicken pen; surrounded by a dog proof free ranging area. This gives a three tiered poultry management protection system whereby the chickens are confined to certain areas depending on the threat level for that time of day/night thus allowing automatic management of the chickens to not only keep them safe but keep them happy by giving them access to larger foraging areas in a timely manner.
In the meantime, our eggs and birds will continue to be eaten by the wildlife around here until I get this roof or inner secure pen completed. So, if you are considering keeping chickens or other types of poultry please heed my lessons learnt and build your pen with a fully enclosed roof! Otherwise, it won’t be long at all before the native wildlife thinks anything in the pen is free for the taking and eating…
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Mark Valencia – Editor SSM
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