I remember my mother reading me many stories when I was little. In a lot of the stories that included a fox, the fox is the bad guy. The fox has been included in many stories, cultures, songs and more from Jimmy Hendrix’ “Foxy Lady” to Dr. Seuss’ “Fox in Socks”. The fox has a storied past for all of us and brings to light many various characteristics. The fox may be admired by some, may be feared by others, and for some, like myself at the moment, may be on a hit list.
You may remember my past blog about our recent move and the care that went into moving all our animals, including many, many new chickens. I was thrilled to get to our new farm and eventually let our meat birds range within the grass pasture. I utilized a moveable coop that I gleamed from a visit to Joel Salatin’s place and loved seeing the meat birds out in the grass pasture. I built the moveable coop with a strong gauge of chicken wire and 2″ x 4″ boards. I’m not the best judge of weight but this coop was heavy enough to where it took some effort to move it over the pasture.
It was a nice night out with the stars shining brightly and the moon beaming like a beacon in the night. I walked out of my main chicken coop and took a route past the meat birds in the movable coop. They were settled in for the night, hardly making a peep so I continued into the house and turned off the lights. I am typically up pretty late at night working on this or that and this night was going to be just that – a late one. Later this particular evening I got up from my desk and walked out the back door of the house. The stars and the moon were still shining brightly and I could see just a little movement within the meat bird coop. Silent night – all is calm, all is bright.
When I woke up the next morning I headed towards the coops, as I always do. As I got closer to the meat bird coop, I couldn’t see the chicks immediately. Strange, I thought, they must all be laying down yet. As I got closer my mindset changed. Hmmm.. That’s weird, they must have gotten out somehow. Given my typical craftsmanship this certainly was a possibility. Maybe they are behind the coop. As I got to the coop itself, my worst fear was realized – my chickens didn’t just get out, something took them!
All 16 chickens, gone. The reality of the situation set in quickly and I began to scan around the coop. I noticed what looked like the beginnings of a burglar’s attempt but I had seen that same scratching marks the day earlier. At the time I dismissed it as being from our young puppy. Around the opposite side of the coop I spotted the point of entry the thief took. I was very puzzled as the “route” under the coop was only about four to five inches wide. This entrance/exit was also very shallow measuring only a few inches deep. As I scanned inside the coop from the top through the chicken wire I saw only one small drop of blood and two tiny white feathers.
The coop measures eight feet by eight feet so I have a four feet by eight feet sheet of plywood as part of the roof to offer the birds cover from the rain and sun. The coop itself is only about 24″ to 30″ high. It was there, on the half roof of the coop, in plain sight for all to see, the reason that I now wage war on bad, bad, Mr. Fox. I can understand a fox needs to eat. I can understand a fox needs to feed its pups perhaps as well. For this particular fox to leave his calling card atop of my coop was, quite honestly, rude.
I know I have said this before in my past chicken trials, but I should have known better. I should have known that bringing a bunch a chickens to the farm would make us the talk of the town amongst the predators in the area. I can just hear them now, sitting around the coffee shop in the woods, you the know, the regulars reminiscing about the good ole’ days when they had the run the land and now all these humans were coming in to their territory. I can just hear Roxy the Raccoon behind the counter, pouring coffee to Fred the Fox and Colt the Coyote, telling them she saw a new family move in with a bunch of chickens. Fred the Fox has always been trouble maker in town so he quickly decided he was going to be the first to introduce himself. Colt the Coyote was older so he was going to let Fred take all the risks he wanted to. “Thanks for the tip Roxy,” says Fred as he puts down not his usual one mouse as a tip, but two mice as an extra thank you. He brushes his black socks and struts out of the diner.
I have seen Mr. Fox five times now during different hours of the day with most instances from 1:30pm to 4:30pm. I have seen him on my bike and run route, I have seen him while driving through town and now, most recently, in my yard as he just took one of our layers that was taking a stroll around the front yard. Before he was sneaky – now he is bold. Well bad, bad, Mr. Fox, you, as Joel would say, are infringing on my chicken-ness. If you feel like taking more chickens from my farm, come and get them. Just don’t plan on leaving.
Chris’s story brings back a lot of memories. We live in an area of the country that brings predators in sizes from a garter snake (3 footer) to a 1.000 lb bear.
Have found the snakes in the hen house and in pens. Never have caught them with a small chick or egg. Do know that they will go after the chicks lf they can get access. I can remember seeing my mother and grandmother beating a couple of snakes with shovels inside the chicken pen on my grandparents dairy farm.
Have caught raccoons and skunks in our hen house. Didn’t see any dead chickens though. One raccoon sow had five or six kits with her and had gained access through a very small vent hole in the roof (2″ X 4″).
We have had two bad raids on our flocks. One by a very hungry bear. It tore a three ft X three ft hole in the wood framed side (2X4s with 1X8 siding) of the chicken house. We had a half dozen ducks, several geese and sixteen plus chickens and all that was left was beaks and feet.
The worst was from several local dogs running wild that got in to the pens. They didn’t eat any bird. Just killed them all. Found the owners and was able to receive some payment for the damage. Had one hen left and she lived for many more years.
A somewhat funny story about a friend who decided to start raising chickens. He barrowed a book on constructing chicken pens and coops. Built a beautiful 6 ft high pen. Stocked it with about 24 chickens and was ready to start washing eggs. Most of the chickens were eaten by a bear. He did NOT build a top on the pen it was open.
I think for us we have enjoyed having the chickens and waterfowl and maybe the best was when one morning the chickens were visited by very young (fledglings) Red Tail Hawks. There were 4 of them milling around with the chickens, peeking at the ground and seemed not to be a threat. We have 40 ft tall evergreen (pine) tree by the chicken house and for years we have had a mating pair of Hawks nest there. In all of that time we have never had a problem with them.
Enjoy your birds.
We struggled with a fox all last summer. We even called in a predator expert to catch him when our attempts failed. We set up a wildlife camera and found that he came around 3:30 a.m. and p.m. We could set live traps with food. He would eat all around the trap, up to the trap and partially in it, but knew enough not to go in and step on the trip plate. He was much smarter than we were, but we consoled ourselves with the notion that he had all day to figure out how he was going to get his next chicken and we had other things to do. The predator expert couldn’t catch him with his specialty pheromone scents and favorite food baits. We found that he never came or left in the same place. If he came in from the north, he left going south. The holes under the fence that he used were so small, it was hard to believe a full grown fox could squeeze through and how he managed to pull our fat hens through was a real mystery. I ended up keeping all my chickens in. We have pens alongside the chicken houses for winter use, but during warm weather for 17 years, they have been free range birds with nothing ever bothering them. We are set up for any nocturnal predator and have safe areas the birds can get under when a hawk or eagle flies over. A predator that showed up in the middle of the afternoon threw us for a loop. We ended up fencing the whole big area that surrounds our house, barn and buildings. So far this year we have had no birds disappear with only a trail of feathers and sad memories of what a good bird that one was. I’m not about to say that we have found the end-all solution to fox problems, I’ll just say that 4 ft chain link fencing has him baffled for right now. I think that he realizes that my hens are heavy and if he can’t pull them under a fence, he can’t take them out of the yard. He tended to choose the younger ones, taking all those eggs they would have laid in the future with him which really raised our ire all the more. Taking old girls past their prime might have been a better choice if he had thought the whole thing through. We might have even thought he was doing us a favor thinning the herd of the old weak ones so to speak.
We have been careful to keep anything that he could use to come over the fence back away from it. I believe that with this particular fox, not having the ability to come from one side of the yard and leave from the other has deterred him as well. We remain hopeful.
I loved Terry’s story!
One year I had gotten a straight run order of chickens and along with it, too many roosters. When they all started hitting on my hens, I kicked them out of the coop to free range. One afternoon I heard the chickens raising a ruckus, looked out the window to see a fox running off with one of the four young roosters. I yelled to my Labs “Get him, get him!” and they all ran out the door, running in the opposite direction of the fox/rooster. So I chased the rooster, yelling “Drop him, you %&$#!” And while running down into the valley, the fox let the rooster go. I checked the rooster and he seemed to be OK.
I put the four roosters back in the chicken yard for a couple more weeks, until the hens couldn’t take them anymore! Then I let them free range again. Wouldn’t you know it! The fox came back and grabbed the very same rooster and ran into the valley. I yelled to the Labs, “Get him!” and they ran out the door…in the opposite direction once again. Umph! So I took after the fox, yelling for him to release my rooster, and he complied. The rooster returned to me with little harm done.
But one of the other roosters just had too much of this frightening experience. While I tried to round them up and put them back in the chicken yard, he ran off in fear. With the help of my husband, we circled around him and got him almost to the yard gate…when fear struck him again and he took off across the yard, across the road and headed for the railroad tracks. Fortunately for him…or not…the fence by the tracks was crushed down and he got caught with his head in the fence and could not move. We had to do some fancy maneuvering to get him out without harming him. After that we “donated” the extra roosters to another farmer who needed them.
I never heard what happened to the rooster that was “chicken”, but later in the season I did see the fox again. He was following two hen turkeys and their broods…at a safe distance. But these turkeys were all old enough to fly up into the pine trees…if an emergency arose.
I’ve had several foxes over the last few years. A red fox was first. He scaled my 7 foot fence with ease. He was very brazen and would run out in the yard and grab a hen or at least try to. He managed to get 4 before the day he came into the yard for the last time. I ran out after him and almost hit him with a short board. He ran about 40 feet and stopped. Refused to leave and would just come right back from a different angle. That was his last day. ..
Two more came up within a couple days, always together. One got hit by a car and the other got brave and that was his last day.
Then came the hawk, She swooped down and hit a hen killing her. I went out and picked up the hen and waited . Sure enough the hawk came back. Landed right where it hit the hen and looked confused. That’s when I fired a shot over its head from where I was hiding about 30 feet away. Unlike the fox the hawk learned from this and did not return. ( Hawks are a winter time problem down here) For the most part anyway.
Then came the raccoon. Killed six hens and ate their egg tracts out. Left the rest.
It caught our Dark Brahma rooster, Hurt him really bad and left him for me to put out of his misery. I installed a motion detector right outside the coop. Sure enough that night twice I got an alert. The second time was the end of the coon.
A couple weeks ago our rooster of 5 years disappeared with only feathers left behind.
I figured another fox, And was right. Last week a grey fox almost got our favorite hen in the yard. Luckily we saw it and were able to scare it off with only a mouth full of feathers. After that I just went out at night a couple times and sure enough… There he was and another one too… One down and the other hasn’t been seen since…
I have the coop and yard protected pretty good. But I like to let them be able to roam the yard. I just make sure we are around and have a source to provide termination for any predator close by.
I feel your (fox) pain! We lost 8 white Jap bantams almost exactly the same way. No calling card though! Put out the game camera and found two well fed foxes headed back to the coop for another free meal. Coop had been reinforced though after the loss and the pair of thieves hasn’t been successful since. Was surprised how small of a hole they can get in and out of.
You’ll be much farther ahead getting an electric fencer! Predators are easily trained with this method. All of ’em: raccoons, Opposums, cats, you name it. I put little fence wire insulators screwed on the base wood about ‘nose high’ to a cat, or fox, or ‘coon. I only run my fencer at night, so nobody should get a zap surprise. And, it has eliminated all my troubles, without poisons, frustration on my part, or dead chickens.
The best part is that once you’ve run the fencer for a few weeks, the local predators have all pretty much decided that chickens are dangerous! and they seek sustenance elsewhere. You can take the smirk off Mr. Fox’s face pretty quick with a fencer.
I agree with the fencer route. I have been on my farm for 14 years with having to deal with coyote, bobcat, hawks, eagles, coons, possums, rats, and large snakes. Word seems to get around pretty quickly to the predators to stay away from our place as the shock isn’t much fun. I just basically run it around the perimeter of the property and also have a 2nd level up just high enough that no one can jump over, roughly between 12-18 inches up from the ground. All my critters know it is there for their safety and steer clear of it too. No more having to check out any ruckus going on after dark and everyone at our place can sleep more peacefully.
Darn Fox :( :( Know how you feel. A few years ago I watched a fox stroll down the road past our house, make a detour into our yard, snatch a chicken, walk through the pasture past the chicken coop with dead chicken in its mouth, walk into the neighbors yard, plop down and eat the chicken. The next morning it was sitting on the neighbors driveway looking at the chicken coop waiting for me to open it up to let out the chickens.
I hope you get him, Chris. I feel the same way about predators. If it is on my property killing my birds and I catch it, it’s gone!! I don’t care what it is. I know people say it’s just nature or instinct, a [whatever] being or acting like a [whatever], but by the same reasoning, a mosquito is just being a mosquito when it bites you. I don’t know too many folks who wouldn’t swat one just the same! Nor do I imagine that the same folks who scream and shout that these things should be protected would be willing to pay you for the loss of your birds! Have you considered electric fence around the pasture where you have your moveable coop! Having had similar losses over the years (I have been raising poultry most of my life), I can sympathize.
WE HAVE DOZENS OF VARIOUS CHICKENS PURCHASED FROM YOU FOLKS. ALL ARE HARDY, HAPPY, AND BUSY ROAMING OUR WHOLE YARD. WE HAVE NEVER HAD MR FOX, SINCE WE LIVE IN THE COUNTY, BUT WE HAVE HAD MR. RACOON. WE ARE SURE HE IS A NEIGHBORHOOD PET, AS HE SHOWED NO FEAR OF US. ONE NIGHT HE FINALLY GOT ONE OF THE CHICKENS. HE DIDN’T KILL OR HURT IT, JUST CAPTURED IT AND HELD IT. GUESS HE DIDN’T KNOW WHAT HE WAS SUPPOSED TO DO WITH IT. FINALLY HE JUST LET IT GO, AND WENT ON HIS WAY.. TOO FUNNY!
good luck on getting that fox, we had a problem with foxes about a year and half ago, in the winter of 2012. we lost 1 young rooster, 1 male duck, and 13 laying hens before we were able to get Mr. fox. any fox comes around our place, he is not leaving… alive!!!
Also worth reading some of Harvey Ussery’s insights on predator control.