Majestic Waterfowl Sanctuary, 17 Barker Road, Lebanon, CT, 06249

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How We Build Our Predator Proof Pens

The pen diagramed below measures 20' x 20', which is good for 2-4 ducks or 2 geese. Bigger pens with less birds in them tend to require less maintenance, are less likely to become parasite infested and they have a better chance of staying nice and grassy, which is good for webbed feet and also a great source of vitamin A.

Keep in mind, this is just how we build our pens. There are other ways of doing things.

 


Foundation

Our foundations go at least 18" down into the ground. We dig trenches where the perimeter fence will be set down. The trenches are at least 6 inches wide and 18 inches deep. Then, we pour cement into this perimeter ditch and allow it to set. After that, we use a nail gun to mount 2" x 4" pressure treated boards directly onto this cement foundation. These boards are the anchors for our perimeter fencing.

Did you know? In our larger pens, the cement foundations can be as large as 12 inches wide and go 4 feet into the ground!


Support Structure

Support beams should be placed 10 feet apart in a grid formation throughout the entire pen and around its perimeter. We utilize 4" x 4" x 8' pressure treated, wooden beams as our support beams.

Perimeter Fence Supports:

When pouring our concrete perimeter foundation, we insert galvanized 12-gauge 4" x 4" post bases into the wet cement where our perimeter fence posts will be positioned. Once the concrete is dry, the beams can be raised and screwed right into these embedded brackets.

  

Interior Pen Supports:

We make square moulds using left over lumber scraps and then pour cement into them. While the cement is setting, we insert the same galvanized post bases into the mix. Once the concrete is dry, we screw our pen's interior support beams right into these brackets, anchoring them firmly to the concrete pads.

  

Ceiling Rafters:

Cross beams are constructed using various sizes of pressure treated lumber and are bolted and bracketed, nailed and/or screwed together.

Remember to account for the heavy weight of snow in winter. If your supports aren't strong enough to hold the load, your roof will cave in.

A seemingly harmless cubic foot of light and fluffy snow can weigh as much as seven pounds; meanwhile, a more common and wetter snow can easily way fifteen pounds or more. Your 250 square foot roof may need to hold anywhere from 1750–3750 pounds of snow following a winter snowstorm.


Perimeter Fencing & Ceiling Wire

Your budget will likely determine the quality of your perimeter fencing, but more importantly, you need to consider the type of predators you are trying to keep out.

Option 1:  Double-Layer Perimeter Fencing (Affordable):

Although this system utilizes two layers of fencing to keep predators out, it's still very affordable.

The interior layer of wire provides you with a nice tight fence weave to keep predators from squeezing through or reaching inside while the exterior layer of wire prevents predators like dogs, coyotes and raccoons from gnawing their way into your pen.

Exterior Layer:

For your exterior layer of wire you'll need to purchase 14 gauge, PVC (Poly-Vinyl Coated) galvanized welded wire mesh with the smallest weave possible. Home improvement stores commonly carry 50' rolls of this wire with 1.5" x 2.5" grid spaces. While they tend to stock 3' and 4' rolls, you can sometimes special order taller rolls that are 6' high.

Interior Layer:

For your interior layer of wire you're looking for something that will fill the space of those 1.5" x 2.5" grid spaces of your exterior wire. This will help keep smaller predators out.

Option A:  (More Affordable)

You can purchase rolls of 6 foot high, 20 gauge, 1" hex wire (also referred to as poultry wire or chicken wire) for your inner layer of wire. If you look around online you can sometimes find this in convenient 100 foot rolls. If you can find PVC hex wire, all the better because it won't rust out and will last you a lot longer.

  

Option B:  (A Little Less Affordable)

You can visit Academy Fencing's website and purchase rolls of 19 gauge, 1/2" x 1/2" PVC welded wire mesh (hardware cloth).

If this price is too high for your budget, you can purchase thinner, 23 gauge 1/4" x 1/4" PVC welded wire mesh (hardware cloth) also available through Academy Fencing.

If this is still too pricey, you can purchase 1/2" x 1/2" welded wire mesh that's not Poly-Vinyl Coated from your local home improvement store, although you may need to special order your rolls if they don't carry large enough heights or lengths for your duck pen. If they don't have it, you can find this kind of hardware cloth online. While this is the most affordable option, it will eventually rust and need replacing.

Perimeter Instructions:

1)  Mount your interior wire around the outside of your pen's 4" x 4" perimeter poles using "U" shaped fencing nails.

2)  Then, layer your thicker, exterior 14 gauge galvanized wire over the top of your other wire and mount it securely in place using "U" shaped fencing nails.

Tip: If you can't find the exact wire height you're looking for, you can add different heights together to reach your ceiling.
For example:  If your pen is 8' high and you can only find 4' high fencing rolls, you can mount one length of 4' high fencing on top of another 4' of fencing to cover the span from ground to ceiling.

Ceiling Instructions:

Do not use two layers of wire on top of your pen. Mount ONLY the 14 gauge galvanized wire on top of your ceiling rafters. The wider holes in this fencing will allow more snow to fall through the wire in winter rather than piling up on top (even so, you'll need to check it during snowstorms to make sure it's holding up properly. You can clear the snow off by tapping the roofing wire with a broom handle).

Option 2:  Super Strong Perimeter Fencing (Expensive):

More expensive perimeter fencing requires only one layer of fencing.

We use black, vinyl coated, 16 gauge, 1/2" x 1/2" mesh that we buy in 100' rolls, but other color and size options are available. Visit Louis Page Inc or Academy Fencing to order. We mount this fencing to our wooden support structure using "U" shaped fencing nails.

Tip: Keep in mind that this option is not only more expensive, but it is also pretty heavy and harder to cut (you'll need very good, heavy-duty wire cutters or a small dremel-like saw tool).

  

In the below photo, you can see we used this same material for our pen's ceiling.

 

Option 3:  Pre-Existing Perimeter Fencing (Inexpensive):

We had a pre-existing dog kennel already in place on the property. We purchased roles of 19 gauge, welded wire mesh also known as hardware cloth (Poly-Vinyl Coated is preferable and available relatively inexpensively through Academy Fencing)

You can simply zip-tie this wire mesh into place over your existing chain link pen using heavy-duty cable ties. This will keep your ducks and geese from poking their heads through the holes in the chain link while also preventing raccoons from reaching into your pen and pulling at your birds.

Do not use this small weave wire mesh as roofing material over the top of your pen. Instead, mount 14 gauge, PVC galvanized welded wire mesh with 1.5" x 2.5" grid spaces on top of your ceiling's support frame. The wider holes of this kind of fencing will allow more snow to fall through the wire in winter rather than piling up on top (even so, you'll need to check it during snowstorms to make sure it's holding up properly. You can clear the snow off by tapping the roofing wire with a broom handle).


Flooring

We utililze anti-fatigue mats to cover up the hard, concrete floor of the pre-existing dog kennel because it isn't safe for webbed feet. Soft grounds is key when it comes to waterfowl.

We use Soft Floor Interlocking Tiles, Item #FM28, Green (other sizes and colors are available). Visit Mat Depot to order.

Caution:  This product is not always ideal for geese who may pluck it apart. It is also not idea for long-term situations because it can eventually lead to foot and toe pad callusing. It's best used in problem areas rather than throughout entire pen spaces.


Doors

Be sure to avoid dangerous gaps between your door and your door frame. The fit must be snug to keep predators out.

Remember:  Doors should be padlocked with lock and key. Raccoons have agile fingers that are very good at opening even the trickiest latches (neighbors have also been known to get past latches).


Digging Predator Barriers

Digging predator barriers are buried underground and skirt around the entire perimeter of our pens as a further preventative to keep predators from burrowing underneath and into our enclosures.

We use PVC, 19 gauge 1/2" x 1/2" wire mesh that we buy in rolls of 36" x 100' for our digging predator barriers (other sizes are available). Visit Academy Fencing to order.

1)  Standing outside of your perimeter fencing, dig a trench that goes 6 inches down into the ground and 2 feet out and away from your perimeter fencing.

2)  Unroll your PVC wire mesh along each side of your pen. Allow for a couple extra feet of mesh to extend out from each corner of the pen before cutting the mesh. This makes for a good overlap that blocks corner entry.

3)  Position the wire mesh so that the top 6 inches of the 3 foot mesh overlaps the base of your perimeter fencing. Mount this top 6 inches of mesh to your perimeter fence posts using "U" shaped fencing nails. In between the posts, zip-tie the mesh directly to your perimeter fencing using heavy-duty cable ties. 

4)  Press the next 6 inches of mesh straight down into your excavated trench.

5)  Bend the remaining 2 feet of mesh out and away from your perimeter fence and press it down, so that it's laying flat at the bottom of your trench.

6)  Do any necessary cutting and/or folding at each of your corners as you work your way around your pen. Secure overlapping layers of mesh together with heavy-duty cable ties.

7)  Refill the trench and bury the mesh underground (except for the top 6 inches that are mounted to your perimeter fence).


Aviary Netting

Ducks and geese need top cover to prevent owl, eagle and hawk attacks in addition to keeping raccoons from climbing over the perimeter fencing and into your pen. While I recommend PVC galvanized wire roofing mounted to rafters, it doesn't always work in every application.
 
Extra Heavy Weight, knotted 2" mesh, with a 125 lb breaking strength can be purchased in rolls of 52' x 155' (other sizes are also available) through Louis Page Inc. if cared for properly, this netting lasts about 8 years before needing to be replaced.
 
 
 
 
Tip: The weight of snow can stretch out or tear down aviary netting. It must be monitored during snowstorms and cleared frequently by tapping it with a broom handle.
 
Tip: In this photo the tree-top sprouts weren't pruned yet, but we do keep them under control to prevent them from stretching or damaging our netting.

Solar Powered Electric Fence

We utilize electric fencing around the top border of our perimeter fencing to keep climbing predators (like raccoons) off of our pens. This is especially important if you're using aviary netting or predators can easily chew their way inside.

A solar-powered electric fence charger will prevent any increases in your monthly electricity bill.

Be sure to purchase an electric fence tester (voltage meter), a back-up battery and a plug-in electrical charger to keep your fence functioning properly during the winter when there's less direct sunlight. 

    

An electric fence monitor light is ideal to monitor your electric fence function. You just mount it over any area of your electric fence. The light flashes red when the fence has shorted out or has run out of charge.

If you have an existing metal-framed or chain-link pen, you can construct your own jigs to support the electric fencing and then zip-tie them into place using heavy-duty cable ties.

 

Tip: It's not uncommon for electric fencing to short out during snow and ice storms. Fortunately, predators aren't usually out in this weather. Remember to always shut off your charger before you start clearing snow and ice from the electric fence.


Water

When we first opened our sanctuary we utilized kiddy pools. Always sink pools into the ground, so your ducks and geese won't not trip over the lip. Their legs are especially vulnerable to accidents and very easily injured.

We upgraded our pools to cascading concrete ponds and pumped stream water up into them. They worked very well, but had to be re-faced every year because they crack in cold weather. This was fine in the beginning, but after a while we had too many ponds to work on every spring and it became pretty inconvenient (and costly).

Tip: The one foot lip around the edge keeps ducks from pulling dirt and mud into the ponds while they are floating on the water.

We upgraded once again to preformed McCourt pond liners with built in plant shelves for the ducks to use as steps to get in and out.

Tip: If you are going to use sheet pond liners, do NOT lay rocks or pour round stones around the edges. They can lead to serious foot and leg injuries and aren't ideal for waterfowl.

Tip: Many garden stores display the most expensive brands, but can often order the less expensive version. Our bean-shaped, pre-formed pond lingers hold 50 gallons while our larger ponds hold 220 - 270 gallons. They usually cost between $1.25 - $1.50 per gallon.

We constructed our own concrete pond in our largest enclosure (The Courtyard). The excavator rental for this kind of project costs about $1000. We built our own concrete forms for a few hundred dollars more. And the cement cost about $500. I know this sounds like a lot, but when we attempted to cost this work out through contractors they gave us an estimates ranging between $10,000-$25,000 dollars! By doing the work ourselves, it only cost us about $2000 dollars.

Stream water naturally comes into one pipe and drains out the other (the excess piping was cut off after this photo was taken).

We have a few natural water sources on the property. Only human-imprinted ducks and geese are led to these fun places and they are chaperoned closely at all times.


Pump

We use a Savio Water Master 6500 GPH, 750-1000 watt, solids handling submersible pump, to move water from our main Courtyard pond through piping to all of our other smaller ponds throughout our enclosures. You can find this product at Webb's Water Gardens.

 

 


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