The old fencing closer to the road was something Dan and I put up shortly after we married, it was both a place to keep birds and a way to get out of mowing a part of the yard that had lots of tree roots. The fence behind it was even older. If you've been to the farm, you know that there was pretty much always birds on the loose. While it does look charming to be greeted by inquisitive chickens to many folks, it's scary to others. The chickens would go onto the road or play in the parking lot. The hen turkeys would go into the woods across the road in the spring to lay eggs, resulting in many lost eggs (those nests are difficult to find!!) when forest critters found and ate them, and the same fate unfortunately befell some hens sitting on nests as well.
Completely free range poultry also wreaks havoc on the farm's plant life. One day, I went into the garden to pick tomatoes only to find a small hole in each ripe one down an entire row- apparently the rooster did not like them well enough to eat one, but sampled every one he saw just to make sure, rendering them all unsellable. Flower beds and perennial herbs suffer when chickens scratch the plants away to look for tasty bugs and grubs. The rhubarb bed and area under the pine trees looked like small bombs went off as a result of the birdies taking dust baths and creating craters big enough to twist an ankle.
This year, we replaced all the fencing. I've helped a bit, but mostly the credit goes to Dan and his brother who dug the holes, pounded in new posts, and strung the wire. A couple small runs seem like a minor project, but fencing is expensive- the wire and posts cost about $1,000. But it's money that feels well spent to me. The birds are safer- reducing the chance of being hit by cars or eaten by coyotes is no small thing. It also makes for a better experience for our stand visitors, as the birds are less scary when they are not able to come right up to you. The new fence is about 7' high, meaning I should never again have to deal with kids who are throwing pine cones or rocks at the birds while the parents pay no attention. However, we will still offer bird food and folks can still go up to the fence to feed and photograph our flock. I hope at some point to create signs with the names of the breeds of birds in each run to make it a bit more educational. The run closer to the road has also been altered- it is a bit wider but not as long, so we plan to add a few more parking spaces. It also makes my life easier, I'll be spending less (or no!) time chasing birds off the road, corralling them back into where they should be at night, and have not had to secretly watch the turkey hens as they venture into the forest. It should eliminate the number of duck eggs wasted at the bottom of the creek or stepped on by livestock in the barnyard. It's a game-changer to be able to simply collect eggs from the coop in the evening. This will honestly add hours to my week that were previously spent herding birds.
Another huge advantage to fences the birds cannot go over is that we can maintain completely separate flocks. This is a huge deal during hatching season. Any chicken can breed with any other chicken, so unless I isolate the Barred Rocks from the Ameracaunas, I can't be sure of what I'm hatching to offer purebred stock to others. Not surprisingly, a purebred chicken, like any other livestock, is worth more and easier to sell than a mixed-breed mutt. One of my passions, and a big part of what I feel is my life's work, is raising endangered heritage breed livestock and offering these wonderful creatures to others. It's also a welcome way to generate some income during the spring months, when we have lots of expenses but not necessarily a lot of products to sell. Having multiple separate areas means I can raise and offer several breeds. Currently I have a decent flock of Ameracaunas and Barred Rocks. My favorite chickens are Delawares, and sadly this is the second season I've not had a rooster to offer purebred chicks. I'm also trying to upgrade the quality of my flocks, and having good fences that reduce mortality will mean that I can honestly evaluate which birds show the characteristics of what the breed is supposed to represent, and breed only those. I'm already excited to improve my flocks as I have fertile Delaware eggs on the way to add new blood and a rooster to my crew, and am considering once again adding Polish chickens, both for their egg production and their crazy feathers that look like an out-of-control wig! I'm also anticipating getting some heritage breed duck eggs soon locally. While I have always had ducks around, they have either been Pekins (not a heritage breed) or mixed breeds. So I'm extremely excited to be able to improve what we are already doing here, add new varieties of poultry, reduce my workload, and have a more visually pleasing place for our birds and our visitors!