Managing Poultry on Pasture with Electric Net Fencing: Part Two

Setting Up of an Electric Net Fence

Setting Up the Net

The first step installing the net is to lay it out flat along the perimeter of the area to be netted. Start with one of the end posts (the ones with the twisted ends of the horizontal wires attached) and, holding the other posts in a bundle in one hand, play out the netting along the perimeter one panel of mesh at a time. Then start at one end again and stand the post up, push the spike its full length into the soil, go on to the next post, and repeat. (In moist soil, it is easy to push in the spike. In dry, tight, or gravel soil, I use a 12-inch piece of re-bar and a small sledge hammer to make a hole for the spike.)

Once I have the fence standing in place, I use my small power mower with bagger (set to one of the lowest settings for the blade) to mow all around the perimeter. I then lay the fence down flat again—on the inside of the perimeter and out of the way of the mower—and make an additional couple of passes with the bagging mower. The result is a mowed swath defining the perimeter of the netted area. I re-erect the fence along the center of that swath, then tie off all corners to additional free-standing power posts to secure a tighter, upright fence.

Note that you can use more than one roll of netting to enclose a fenced area. The twisted-together horizontals on both ends of a roll of net end in a special clip that attaches to the companion clip on the next net. The end posts are also equipped with cords for tying them together, leaving no loose gap in the fence.

I like a nice tight fence—to ensure better contact with a potential predator—so I take any “sag” out of my fence by adding a 7/16-inch coated fibreglass rod in the center of each panel; and using a screw-on fence insulator to lift up on the top string, creating additional tension on the fence.

You can set up the fence to conform to the perimeter of any area you need to net. One configuration to avoid, however, is a part of the enclosure that is too narrow. I once set up a fence that was anchored on the poultry house, but led via a narrow corridor to a wider pasture area. Not a good idea! A couple of smart dogs (having apparently gotten wise to the fence) learned to “rush” some geese in the corridor, causing them to panic into flight. With one dog feinting at the fence, and the other on the opposite side, ready to receive, the attack cost me one young goose before I figured out the problem and re-configured the fence (that is, with a bigger interior space into which the geese could retreat).

Note that I never set up any sort of “gate” in my nets. For the 42-inch net, it is easy to swing a leg over the net to straddle it, then follow with the other leg. (Watch that trailing heel. That’s the one that catches the top of the net, after you’ve moved your attention on to the next thing.) If I’m carrying something like a five gallon waterer, I set it down by the net, straddle, then practice proper knees-bent lifting to transfer it to the other side of the net, set it down, then swing the other leg over. Of course, we want to be certain we’ve killed the power before straddling that fence.

Moving the Net

The great advantage of putting one’s birds on pasture rather than in a static chicken run is that they are always on fresh growing grasses, clovers, and “weeds.” But the longer the flock remains on a given piece of ground, the closer it approaches that “surface of the moon dotted with chicken poops.” To maintain the advantages of pasturing the flock, it is necessary to rotate the flock to new ground before the plot they’re on begins to “wear” from the activity of the birds. (Frequency of rotation depends chiefly on stocking density and the point in the growing season—e.g., lush spring or dry summer.)

It is easy to move electronet and set it up on the next plot in the rotation—unless it gets tangled! A seriously tangled net will make you weep with frustration. Begin by pulling up the support posts and laying the net out flat. Then, starting at one end, pick up the end post and move it in a folding motion to the next post over, pick up that post, fold over to the next post, and so on to the end. Let me emphasize that the panels of mesh between posts must be folded neatly, and that they must remainflat. Do not try to roll the net, and do not continue folding if the mesh becomes “kinked” or off-center in any way. Imagine the net, gathered up for moving, as a book: The flatly folded panels of mesh are the pages, and the bundle of posts—now all in one hand—is the spine. Now you can carry the net (holding the bundle of posts above your head so the trailing mesh doesn’t catch on anything—netting loves to catch on things) to the new location, where you lay it out around the perimeter of the new area and proceed as above (“Setting Up the Net”).

Moving the birds to the new netted area can be a challenge, and how you do so will depend on the specific situation. If I am moving the flock to a new plot not adjacent to the old one, I have learned that chickens don’t “herd” very well to the new enclosure. (Ducks and geese, on the other hand, are usually easy to “herd.”) I work early in the morning, feeding the birds inside their pasture shelter and then shutting its door. Next Ipop on the wheels for which all my pasture shelters are designed. Now I can roll the shelter into the new enclosure—carefully, watching that birds don’t get caught under the back rail of the frame—and release the birds.

If the new plot is adjacent to the old, I set up the new net(s), using one side of the previous enclosure as a side in the new enclosure. I then open a gap in the fence and tempt the birds into the new enclosure with their morning feeding.

Note that you can always shut the flock up in the pasture shelter while you set the net(s) of the existing fence around the new plot. However, I have found it a good investment to have extra rolls of netting available. Thus I can set up the new enclosure, while allowing the birds to continue foraging in the old one until I’m ready to move them. With this option, if the birds resist moving, I can pull in the old fence, confining the flock into an increasingly small space, until they are forced to enter the new enclosure.

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