Fox as a symbol for recycling?!#?
In my hotel, last week, there was a hang tag with a fox on it to encourage recycling. Really?!? Using a predator to encourage recycling what was the ad company thinking when they made this?? Have we gotten so far away from nature that people do not know that a fox is not some warm fuzzy animal. I know that right now I am a little tainted in my view of foxes, but seriously I think that they could have found some cute “nice” animal like a rabbit or fawn. Some sort of “helpless” creature that needs our help. A fox for the most part is smart enough to take care of itself.
Timing is everything. This well-intended, well-placed reminder caused shake my head in wonder. Not the good kind of wonder either.
Tonight we had the local fox visit our chicken coop. It is one of the backyard chicken wrangler’s worst nightmares – predators. We had lost chickens before and each time took another step to protect them better based on what happened. This time unfortunately the fox actually got into the coop. It was not a case of them finding our free range chickens.
We lost five birds, one of the bigs (last year’s hen) and five of the littles (this year’s 8 week old chicks). I am sad and mad at the same time. A fox came in and cleaned house literally. They were taken from the coop this time. Yes the gate to the run and coop was open. The fox took more than he could use at one time and ended up burying carcasses for later use. I am mad because as the keeper of livestock, my job is to ensure they are fed, watered, kept healthy and safe. We failed them. I am sad because being a victim to a predator is not a nice way to go out.
Now the battle is on. We are looking at options to improve how we allow our hens to have outdoor time without putting them at risk. This fox hit the jackpot today and we are fairly certain that he or she will be back soon. There are lots of options for us to explore. We are looking for something that can be done relatively fast, easy and inexpensively. We will keep you posted as we work through solutions to this problem.
On of the common phrases in the American vernacular is phrase pissing match. It is one of my favorites to use to describe when that contest of wills kicks in between two parties, most often men. Recently I have been reminded of how this phrase may have come into being in a very primal way by my dog.
One of my local foxes.
Ten of the last 12 years we have had a family of foxes have their kits on our property. It seems that the family of foxes is back again this year right on time. The foxes have been busy scouting out the chickens and marking their territory in our pasture and yard. Our dog, Harley, though likely no match for Mr. & Mrs. Fox, is out there squatting the same place the Fox Family left their mark. He is determined to make sure his is the last calling card in the pissing match between the fox and the dog.
This dog Vs. fox pissing match has resulted in some restrictions on Harley. He suddenly has gone from a dog who has free range to a dog who is on a leash and to a dog who has an owner with him at all times. He desire to remark everything has made he travel too far from home, have complete disregard for commands and in general practice reckless behavior. A Cairn Terrier is likely no match for a single fox, let alone two. It has become a burden to us because we no longer can open the door and let him out. Now every time he goes out it is a twosome effort and we have to leash him up as well. In so many ways this pissing match has so many of the same characteristics that we humans demonstrate when we get into pissing matches. We get so caught up in the one-up-manship and having the last word that we don’t think about is this really right or worth the effort. Pissing matches often impact others on the periphery of those who get caught up in pissing matches. I always thought pissing matches were testosterone gone awry, but I have decided that hormones may have a part in all this, but more likely this is more about our animal instincts resurfacing.
Today I had a visitor. Mr. Fox came into my yard at 11 and by the time he left 15 minutes later I had lost three of my chickens. I can’t tell you how frustrated and angry I was. After years of having a working rule that my chickens never free range before 10, I learned that life happens. It made me frustrated. I also was reminded to listen and that life and death are only a few breaths apart. It made me angry.
Today I was busy with work and I did not spring the birds until quarter to 11. My little terrier went out with me. He was constantly sniffing the air, and spending time marking. I became impatient with him. I had work that was waiting and scolded him telling him I had no time for this doggie nonsense. (in retrospect these were signs I should have recognized as something not right that I missed.) The dog and I headed inside and settled in my office. Just 15 minutes later I heard what sounded like my chickens heading by my office window making noises that told me something was not right. I headed out leaving the dog inside, instinct told me this was not a place for my little dog with a big heart. I found the chickens all in the coop on high roosts. I counted them up and realized I was missing three birds. I would find two of the three carcasses. The fox spent the rest of the day coming back and challenging me for more birds. I kept them in their run, but was constantly checking on their safety to ensure the fox did not breach that barrier. To be honest if I could have ensured a clean shot I would have eliminated the varmint. Unfortunately I did not have the skill or tool to do so. So I am going to be fighting this battle for days to come fox vs. chicken safety.
We were planning on butchering this weekend. As a result of the birds I lost, my plans for what I will keep and what will go to the freezer has changed. The fox got the barred rock, the dark Brahma, and the Norwegian Jaehorn. I now plan to butcher the leghorn, the austrolorp and the silver laced wyandotte. We will keep two speckled Sussex, buff Brahma, buckeye, buff orpington and Easter egger. A couple of them look like they may be going into a molt. If so I may keep less than six.
I wish I had felt I had the time to photograph Mr. Fox. His coat was beautiful and truly a handsome specimen. I would love to be sharing that with you. But my job was to protect my little flock of livestock. So I screamed, chased and threw rocks. My dog barked and marked. I suspect that this will be my job for days to come. My plans for my flock have changed all because of a visit from Mr. Fox.
Look closely my chickens are out in the pasture.
Recently I wrote about not being happy with a white chicken. If I kept my chickens confined then this would not be an issue. Lucky for my chickens I let them free range. Free range is a natural method of raising chickens. It allows them time to range out in nature, eating bugs, slugs, seeds, grasses as they naturally would. Free range chickens produce eggs that with yellower yolks, have a creamier taste, and are naturally higher in Omega-3! Unfortunately running around free range also has some serious risks. Predators love chickens. Predators can be what you all think of, foxes and coyotes. There can be some not so common predators from the air hawks or an occasional eagle. It can also be the neighbor’s dog. When a pet kills or maims your livestock this can create some serious conflict. Everyone in this picture has some responsibility. As a chicken keeper I have an obligation to reduce the risk of running in to predators, by picking chickens who blend in with my landscape. I also reduce the likelihood they will meet a predator by keeping them in the chicken run until the sun is up and confining them as the sun starts to set. I have lost one to a hawk. I have added some more cover for them after that loss. I have had to called the neighbor two pastures over when her dogs decided to do a long-distance adventure and came pouncing into my chicken run. Occasionally I have found the chickens further from home than I would like. When that happens I haze them and then reward then with food treats when they come home. Those birds are my responsibilities. It isn’t a perfect science. but it works well enough for me.
Now you know why a white chicken wasn’t my first choice. One look at my photo of my pasture this spring with my existing flock tells you she would have a bull’s eye on her. I suspect I will have to make some adjustments to how I manage my flock for her safety when she grows up.
Everyone knows what a bad hair day is. Well chickens have bad feather days. It is when they are molting. When my chickens are swapping out old feathers for new they look terrible. They have the chicken equivalent of a bad hair day. Just like the millions of women who know when they are having a bad hair day, chickens know it too. On the worse days they stay in the coop embarrassed to be seen out and about half feathered.
They look like they had a fight with the fox and left with their life a just a few feathers.. They look like they accidentally fell in the plucker live! You can see all the goose flesh where feathers used to be and pin feathers where they are already starting to grow back. I am not sure why but they usually seem to pick the end of warm weather to do this. So as they nights get cooler, they have less to protect them.
We have had our first snow, and the nights are now in the teens. One of my prettiest chickens has started to molt and there is no doubt she is having one bad feather day.