October 1st, 2014 by Ed Bruske
I recently noticed obvious signs that something was killing the hens in our new flock of Americauna layers and thought it must me some kind of large raptor. How else would the perpetrator get over the four-foot-tall electric fence surrounding the chickens and their coop if not with wings? There were lots of feathers indicating where the slayings had occurred, but no signs of bodies.
But yesterday as we were moving our two girl goats into the area to graze some of the tall grass I stumbled across a hoard of chicken carcasses, one almost completely eaten. Then something darted through the canary grass and revealed itself at the edge of the fence line: a sleek and very healthy looking fox.
“Should I get the shotgun?” asked my wife, who was tending the goats.
Yes, it had finally come to that.
I left my wife to guard the chickens while I rushed into the house for the gun my father-in-law had given me as a parting gift when we moved from D.C. A chrome-plated, pump-action, 12-guage riot gun, it might not be the first weapon that comes to mind for farm use, but it’s what we have.
I’d never fired it, and the ammo we have is a relic from my childhood. But I didn’t waste any time worrying about that. I slid four rounds into the chamber and took after the fox.
The fence being 320 feet around, my “hunt” didn’t go very far. I’d wade into the tall grass and flush the fox, who ran around the perimeter looking for an escape route, before ducking back into the grass.
Trailing after it–or where I saw movement in the grass–I squeezed off two rounds that missed (yes, that ammo was still live) before the fox stopped just long enough for me to get a good bead on it. Bam! It was dead.
A fox is a beautiful thing to behold when it isn’t eating your chickens. And we have no problem with predators sharing our farm–as long as they don’t eat livestock we’ve spent months raising for our own food and income. Heck, these hens hadn’t even started laying eggs yet. I just finished building their nesting boxes.
What’s really remarkable is that this fox had taken up residence inside the chicken enclosure barely 100 feet from our front door. We never saw or heard anything out of place. But I found two substantial piles of fox feces, indicating it had been there some time, leisurely feasting on our birds right under our noses.
Recently the hens had taken to flying over the fence into a nearby hedgerow, forcing us to round them up and wrangle them back inside the fence. Were they trying to escape the fox, whose presence was still unknown to us? Our solution was to clip the chickens’ wings, which only made them easier prey.
Now we’ll have to be a lot better at keeping track of our layers and the area they’re living in, a place we’d thought was secure. The mystery, however, remains: How did the fox get inside the electric fence?