Foxing Mr Fox
Andy Cawthray on how to outwit Vulpes vulpes
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