Fox­ing Mr Fox

Andy Cawthray on how to out­wit Vulpes vulpes

Country Smallholding - - Inside this month -

Ilive in a ru­ral area. The coun­try­side around me has its fair share of foxes, which comes as no sur­prise. There is plenty of food for them, after all, and no real preda­tor risk save the odd fast moving Miche­lin tyre. I like to pro­vide my breed­ing flocks with large en­clo­sures and al­low the birds not be­ing used for breed­ing, or those who have re­tired from the breed­ing pens, to be to­tally free range, but this can present a bit of a smor­gas­bord to pass­ing foxes. Add to that the rail­way line, which is less than a mile from the chicken pens and fre­quently used as a fox mo­tor­way, and my birds are re­garded as a po­ten­tial drive-thru snack bar.

So, as you can prob­a­bly imag­ine, I’ve had the odd ‘run in’ with the lo­cal pop­u­la­tion of Vulpes vulpes, and cer­tainly in my ear­lier years of keep­ing chick­ens at my North Shrop­shire base they pre­sented the sort of chal­lenge I wasn’t sure I could win. It is a chal­lenge faced by most main­land UK poul­try keep­ers.

To lose one bird to a fox is dis­tress­ing; to lose your en­tire flock to a fox at­tack can be soul de­stroy­ing. It can lead some peo­ple to give up poul­try keep­ing al­to­gether, rather than strug­gling on with per­sis­tent pre­da­tion and the as­so­ci­ated trauma.

Whether your birds are pets, or a func­tional part of your food sup­ply, to find them slaugh­tered en masse from a fox at­tack is not some­thing that you would wish on any­one who keeps birds. More of­ten than not, you will find car­casses strewn around the place and in other cases you will sim­ply find a plethora of feath­ers. Ei­ther way it can pro­duce a hu­man re­ac­tion rang­ing from re­morse to out­right rage. In fact, it is quite pos­si­bly one of the most likely events to trig­ger an

an­thro­po­mor­phic re­ac­tion to­ward the fox in even the most ra­tio­nal of peo­ple.

So how do you mit­i­gate the risk of a fox at­tack, par­tic­u­larly if you want your flock to have a great level of free­dom?

I have tried a num­ber of tech­niques rang­ing from elec­tric fences, roofed in runs, dug in wire, ra­dios, etc. I even fit­ted a move­ment sen­si­tive light and sound sys­tem once, but dur­ing a par­tic­u­larly busy time at Café Chick­enStreet it re­sulted in the equiv­a­lent of a Jean-Michel Jarre con­cert taking place out­side the bed­room win­dow in the small hours of the morn­ing. I soon gave up on that idea.

And so I reached the con­clu­sion that there are five ba­sic points that can help to re­duce the risk of loss and th­ese are: 1 Don’t let your flock out into an un­se­cured area too early in the morn­ing. If there is in­suf­fi­cient noise and dis­tur­bance (un-chicken re­lated) in the area then it is quite pos­si­ble that a fox may be ly­ing in wait 2 Keep your bound­aries well se­cured. Foxes will look to ex­ploit any weak­ness, be that a short circuit in an elec­tric fence or ex­pand­ing a hole dug by a rab­bit. It might take weeks for the fox to find one, but you can be sure that if your chick­ens are on the usual route the fox takes it will check. 3 Walk around your flock at ir­reg­u­lar times. A pat­tern to your move­ments is no dif­fer­ent to a weak­ness in your fence.

4 When the birds go to roost be there to close the door. In fact, be there 15 min­utes be­fore. 5 Be aware that foxes can and do feed dur­ing the day. Th­ese are just my ba­sic guide­lines. There will no doubt be plenty of other tech­niques that other peo­ple de­ploy suc­cess­fully for their own par­tic­u­lar cir­cum­stances. Mine work well as a starter for ten, but are not fail-safe. Ear­lier in the sum­mer, I went in­doors around mid­day to see what was hap­pen­ing at Wim­ble­don, heard a panic call from a bird, rushed out and found a dog fox rag­ging an In­dian Run­ner duck by the neck. I set off in pursuit shout­ing ob­scen­i­ties and the fox fled. Look­ing around I found all bar two of my flock of Ix­worths dead along with some of my Owl­beards.

And the fault? Mine. There was a gap un­der the fence that I had missed on my morn­ing checks. So, de­spite my want­ing to blame the draw of that evil Wim­ble­don on TV which let Mr Fox know how and when to have its fun with my flock, it was sim­ply a case of hav­ing my de­fences down when the crea­ture was hun­gry.

Most chicken keep­ers have had a run in with Vulpes vulpes

Walk around your flock at ir­reg­u­lar times

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