Wire in the Blood

The ori­gins of chicken wire, by Julie Moore

Your Chickens - - Contents -

There is lit­tle doubt that chicken wire is a ver­sa­tile ma­te­rial. It is used to build in­ex­pen­sive cages for small an­i­mals, while those who are creative make sculp­tures, bas­kets and pic­ture frames. Chicken wire is gen­er­ally in ev­i­dence in schools, at sports fa­cil­i­ties and at air­ports, embed­ded in molten glass to cre­ate tough, al­most bul­let-proof, fire-re­tar­dant par­ti­tions.

To­day there are few signs left of Nor­wich’s in­dus­trial past, nei­ther its im­por­tance as the cen­tre of the tex­tile in­dus­try nor for the in­ven­tion of chicken wire.

The town was renowned for pro­duc­ing fine woollen cloth for ex­port to Europe and Rus­sia in the 1760s. As the In­dus­trial Revo­lu­tion gained mo­men­tum, the in­creased mech­a­ni­sa­tion, first with wa­ter and then with steam, un­der­mined Nor­wich as a man­u­fac­tur­ing cen­tre. The tex­tile trade moved north­wards to the York­shire woollen towns.

Iron works, shoe fac­to­ries, an elec­tric­ity gen­er­at­ing com­pany and brew­ery moved in to pro­vide em­ploy­ment for the for­mer tex­tile work­ers. From the mid 19th Cen­tury to the mid 20th Cen­tury, Barnard, Bishop & Barnards’ Nor­folk Iron Works was a ma­jor part of the in­dus­trial land­scape of Nor­wich.

In 1826, Charles Barnard (1804-1871), the son of a farmer, left his na­tive vil­lage of Bra­con Ash and set up as “an iron­mon­ger, oil and colour­man” in Mar­ket Place, Nor­wich. By 1842, Charles had es­tab­lished re­tail work­shops in Pot­ter­gate mak­ing iron­work for do­mes­tic and agri­cul­tural im­ple­ments. Hav­ing lived on the land, he was aware of the havoc an­i­mals could cause to crops and he wanted to find a way to keep small an­i­mals and chick­ens penned in an area. In­spired by the now de­funct cloth-weav­ing looms, he be­gan ex­per­i­ment­ing by weav­ing wire net­ting on a ma­chine and went on to de­velop a way to man­u­fac­ture a mesh fence out of thin, flex­i­ble, gal­vanised steel wire twisted into hexag­o­nal pat­terns on a pow­ered loom. The idea took off and chicken wire is still sold world­wide to­day.

Fol­low­ing a part­ner­ship with John Bishop in 1846 and his own sons, Charles and God­frey, in 1859, the firm of Barnard, Bishop & Barnards was es­tab­lished. The pro­duc­tion of wire net­ting re­mained a core ac­tiv­ity of the firm well into the 20th Cen­tury, in­clud­ing sup­ply­ing 7,000 miles of wire net­ting for road build­ing in Egypt dur­ing World War I. By 1928, the com­pany had worked to di­ver­sify its fencing range to in­clude the chain-link va­ri­ety.

The chicken wire that we are fa­mil­iar with is thin wire — usu­ally 18 to 22 gauge — that is flex­i­ble and woven into a hexag­o­nal pat­tern. It can be gal­vanised or PVC coated. Be­ing easy to work with and its rel­a­tive cheap­ness mean that it is at­trac­tive to many new poul­try keep­ers.

PEN­NING IN AND BROODY BUSTERS

As a gen­eral rule, you should only use chicken wire to keep chick­ens in, not to keep preda­tors out. One of the best ways to use chicken wire is as an in­ter­nal bar­rier in the coop or run area to sep­a­rate flock mem­bers when there is a need to: for ex­am­ple, when in­tro­duc­ing new flock mem­bers or to iso­late an in­jured hen.

If you have an un­wanted broody hen, you can make a sim­ple tim­ber-framed cage us­ing chicken wire in con­junc­tion with a plas­tic mesh floor (this is kinder on the feet) as a broody buster, equipped with wa­ter and food. The cage and mesh floor does not pro­vide a con­ducive en­vi­ron­ment for get­ting com­fort­able; there is no

dark hid­ing place; while the el­e­vated mesh bot­tom al­lows cool air to cir­cu­late around the hen’s body, cool­ing her belly.

Chicken wire can also be used as tem­po­rary fencing in or­chard ar­eas and around the veg­etable plot dur­ing the grow­ing sea­son. It can then be eas­ily re­moved in the au­tumn to al­low your flock to help clear and pre­pare the beds for win­ter and feast on any wind­fall fruit.

If your chick­ens free range, chances are that you need to pro­tect cer­tain in­di­vid­ual plants and seedlings. A sim­ple col­lar of chicken wire can be placed around small, del­i­cate plants. This is nor­mally enough to dis­cour­age chick­ens, pro­vided they have plenty of other food on of­fer.

If you use the ser­vices of your flock in the veg­etable gar­den, plac­ing a home-made por­ta­ble pen (chicken trac­tor) made from tim­ber and chicken wire over a spe­cific area means that your feath­ered work­force are able to ‘work’ where you want them to while the ad­ja­cent beds re­main un­scathed. The pen can dou­ble up as a cold frame by be­ing cov­ered with hor­ti­cul­tural fleece or clear plas­tic sheet­ing when it is not be­ing used as a trac­tor.

THE DRAW­BACKS

Chicken wire does, how­ever, have lim­i­ta­tions. It is thin and lacks ro­bust­ness. It should never be used in iso­la­tion as a sin­gu­lar preda­tor pro­tec­tion, but al­ways in con­junc­tion with other ma­te­ri­als. The size of the weave cre­ates op­por­tu­ni­ties for preda­tors, such as snakes and rats, to pass through. A very de­ter­mined fox can tear or bite through the wire. The holes are also small enough for small chicks to get caught in.

When­ever work­ing with chicken wire, han­dle it care­fully. When cut, the sharp edges can cause dam­age to a hen’s foot­pad and even an eye if the sharp edge is not prop­erly se­cured. Avoid re­peat­edly bend­ing the wire sharply as this will weaken the gal­vanised coat­ing and over time it will be the first area to rust and fail.

Although it is called chicken wire, it does lit­tle to pro­tect your flock on its own. What type of

pro­tec­tion you need will de­pend on your set up and the type of preda­tors you are deal­ing with.

AL­TER­NA­TIVES TO CHICKEN WIRE

So what are the al­ter­na­tives for pro­tect­ing your flock?

Gal­vanised welded wire mesh is the best ma­te­rial for keep­ing your poul­try safe and se­cure. Man­u­fac­tured from steel, it is welded at each joint, which in­creases the strength and dura­bil­ity of the mesh struc­ture. The mesh is then hot-dip gal­vanised (im­mersed in molten zinc), which makes the mesh cor­ro­sion/rust free.

Gal­vanised welded wire mesh rolls are avail­able in var­i­ous lengths, heights, mesh aper­tures (square and rec­tan­gu­lar) from ¼in (6mm) up to 2in (50mm) and in gauges (wire thick­ness) rang­ing from 6 to 23 gauge.

Although the best ma­te­rial for pro­tect­ing your flock, it is ex­pen­sive. To min­imise costs, you could use ½x½in for the bot­tom 3ft (1m) of your out­door run and to seal off any open­ings in your coop, such as win­dows and vents. For the top 3ft of the run and ceil­ing (if you are pro­vid­ing a to­tally cov­ered run), a larger mesh size of 1x1in would sig­nif­i­cantly lower costs. To de­ter dig­ging preda­tors, such as foxes, dig a 12in (30cm) trench around the perime­ter of the run and ei­ther bury the mesh, or fill the trench with con­crete blocks, or rocks, or both op­tions as an added de­ter­rent.

Take care when cut­ting the wire mesh as any small pieces of wire left be­hind can cause zinc poi­son­ing if in­gested by chick­ens.

Us­ing gal­vanised welded wire mesh on out­door runs cre­ates a preda­tor-proof out­door space if prop­erly con­structed. But if your birds free range out­side of the run, you will need to con­sider other forms of fencing.

Gal­vanised welded wire mesh should not to be con­fused with green PVC coated, bor­der gar­den fencing mesh, which typ­i­cally has large 10-15cm aper­tures. The gauge of the wire is not sub­stan­tial and the weld nodes are dis­trib­uted so far apart that, from ex­pe­ri­ence, they are eas­ily bro­ken by snag­ging, strim­mers or dogs.

Chain-link fencing, while not specif­i­cally made for chick­ens, if prop­erly erected, will pro­tect your flock from ma­raud­ing neigh­bour­hood dogs and keep your neigh­bour’s prized flower beds out of reach of any scratch­ing feet. As chain-link fencing is ex­pen­sive, it could be put to dual pur­pose use, dou­bling up as your bound­ary fence and that of your chick­ens.

Elec­tri­fied poul­try net­ting is a por­ta­ble, elec­tri­fi­able pre­fab­ri­cated fence. How­ever, it does have a num­ber of short­com­ings. From per­sonal ex­pe­ri­ence, it is not ap­pro­pri­ate for every sit­u­a­tion. Be­ing ex­pen­sive for its rel­a­tively short life­span, it is not low main­te­nance. It is nec­es­sary to weed and keep the grass cut short around the perime­ter of the fencing on both sides to pre­vent the elec­tri­cal cur­rent from short­ing out due to over­grown plants on the lower ‘hot’ wires. The net needs to be prop­erly se­cured to pre­vent it from form­ing gaps or sag­ging, which larger preda­tors could eas­ily jump over. It is hard to drive fence posts into rocky, dry soil and they will be prone to fall­ing over. It will also not pro­tect your flock from over­head preda­tors.

To be ef­fec­tive, it must be elec­tri­fied and it is sus­cep­ti­ble to power out­ages if run off the mains. In­vest­ing in a so­lar­pow­ered bat­tery will keep the elec­tric­ity bills down while pro­vid­ing a more re­li­able source of power. Re­mem­ber that you will need to reg­u­larly check the volt­age of the bat­tery and recharge as nec­es­sary.

To com­plete the sys­tem, you will re­quire an ef­fec­tive earth­ing rod or earth re­turn wires back to the bat­tery. This needs to be checked reg­u­larly, too, to en­sure that the fence is ac­tu­ally op­er­a­tional and ca­pa­ble of pro­duc­ing the de­sired shock.

De­spite its name, chicken wire has lim­ited uses in keep­ing your flock safe and se­cure. Gal­vanised welded wire mesh is, with­out doubt, the best de­fence against preda­tors. It is also im­por­tant to en­sure that your coop is prop­erly se­cured at night with no op­por­tu­nity for preda­tors to gain ac­cess for a mid­night feast. Never rely on one thing alone to pro­tect your pre­cious chick­ens.

ABOVE: Ver­sa­tile chicken wire was in­vented and ini­tially made in Nor­wich

TOP: Gal­vanised welded wire mesh is the best ma­te­rial for keep­ing your flock safe and se­cure ABOVE LEFT: Chicken wire is flex­i­ble wire woven into a hexag­o­nal pat­tern ABOVE CEN­TRE: Gal­vanised welded wire mesh used in a brooder ABOVE RIGHT: Green PVC coated bor­der gar­den fencing mesh typ­i­cally has large 10 -15cm aper­tures

TOP LEFT: Elec­tri­fied poul­try net­ting is not low main­te­nance TOP RIGHT: Chicken wire can be used as an in­ter­nal bar­rier to sep­a­rate flock mem­bers when there is a need to — for ex­am­ple, when in­tro­duc­ing new mem­bers ABOVE LEFT: Chicken wire can be used to pro­tect in­di­vid­ual plants ABOVE RIGHT: Chain-link fencing dou­bles up as Julie Moore’s bound­ary fence and also that of her chick­ens.

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