Forces of Nature

I’ve kept chickens for quite some time and living in a rural area means that the threat of the fox is pretty much something I have to live with.

I have a railway not too far from the property which provides a perfect “motorway” for them and on the opposite side is a large estate where game birds are reared. In between are various copses and fields with hedgerows and rabbits. Foxes are simply a fact of life.

I’ve had day time attacks from foxes. Sometimes they have struck when I’ve been away from the property. I’ve had other instances where a fox has been waiting for me to open the coop door in the morning and no sooner had I turned my back it ran out and grabbed the first thing it could. I’ve had foxes run through a flock of 20 free range birds, clear a fence and grab a bantam Orpington from the lawn where it was preening no more than 6 foot from where I was sat reading the paper.

Given the freedom I give most of my chickens it means these sorts of attacks I can do little about in the first instance. A fox that bold is either very hungry, fearless or inexperienced. Such encounters that involve the risk of close contact with humans are infrequent in a rural environment and not as regular as the urban situation. Note that I stated “I can do little about in the first instance”. A fox that attacks during the day will invariably return in the day again. Its predictability is frequently its downfall.

Night time however is a different story, foxes can and do wander around my place every night. I see evidence of their footprints (sometimes on top of coops!) and they are simply doing what is natural, they are looking for food, they can smell it’s there and so they are looking for a way in, just as I would try the door of the local fish and chip shop if I could smell the fried food inside.

It’s my job to make sure they don’t get a meal and so without fail I lock my birds away every night. Any fox visiting overnight will find nothing out and they will just have to rattle the doors of the chippy so to speak.

There is however one factor that has resulted in a fox killing birds overnight and that’s the weather. Some years back I had a very promising flock of Araucana. I had a down selected a suitable breeding group from the birds I’d hatched that year and brought them together in a pen in the December. It snowed. It started around 3pm and it was heavy. We had quite a job locking up at dusk, the snow was deep by that time and snowballs needed to be thrown. Come the morning there was a beautiful white covering of crisp snow…. spattered in blood and feathers. The Araucanas had not encountered snow before and unbeknownst to me they took shelter under the coop at 3pm. I didn’t check they had gone in when I dropped the door. My failing and the opportunity handed to the fox.

Yesterday morning I took this photograph. These are retired and random chickens that happily wander around freely in the field having their feed. It made me smile.

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We had some rather stormy weather last night, the wind was gusting and it whipped the door open on the front of the coop during the night, this is a photo of the same birds 24hrs later once I’d found (most of) them

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Which force of nature is to blame? The fox or the weather, or do I just accept that these things happen? It’s a tough one to answer sometimes.



14 thoughts on “Forces of Nature

  1. What a superb piece of writing. I am so sorry for the loss of your old ‘uns. Were they all killed by the fox or did indeed the weather get them? Whichever it was, it was a sad end for them.

  2. So sorry to see the sad state of your chicks. Our door seems pretty flimsy and your report makes me wonder if our girls are safe in a storm.

  3. It would not seem so bad if the fox had actually taken them and eaten them but to just kill them and leave them is really annoying. Has happened to me a few times ,good luck

  4. Beautifully written Andy as always, but so sad, I’m so sorry. It never fails to upset as not only do you get to love their characters, it also takes a lot of time and trauma to get the fertile eggs, hatch, raise, harden off, cull boys etc. My worst attack was where the floor tray was pushed or pulled out, and 14 pretty little pekin girls disappeared through the 3 inch or so gap which was created. I’m still traumatised by how scared and trapped they must have felt (think it was a badger as I found one a few days later, which I think had been buried) Nature can be so cruel.

  5. Hi Andy, we have not had chickens for very long, but, lost one recently to illness/stress. Now this was pretty awful, but, the loss of your girls, well …..
    Mr Fox is a very crafty, accomplished hunter/killer. As such we have done all we can think of to reduce the chance of attack here ……. no more or less than you.
    Coop is off the ground on stilts, thick welded mesh on bottom of coop, double bolts on all doors, welded mesh on the run, folded stock fence as a skirt around run and folded welded mesh as a skirt inside the run.
    No electric fence yet, but that’s next on the list.
    2 Terriers !
    Thank you for your well written piece.
    ps don’t let my nickname put you off !

  6. Shocking reality and so very sad – I am new to chickens and my rescued 8 are happily free ranging around 3 acres. I am trying to not get attached, as I know this happens, and I want them to enjoy the freedom, but it is not easy. (I am completely smitten with them all…………). I have a large secure run and coop – so hope they are safe at night, and work from home, so have one eye on them in the day, but you just can never plan for these instances can you? Hope you are ok 🙂

  7. Sorry to hear such a sad story and to lose so many. We ‘only’ lost 2 on Friday (the 13th!) to a fox mid afternoon, He just ran up and started grabbing them. Our big Light Sussex beat him off (losing a sack full of feathers) and a Norwegian Jaerhon flew into the next garden returning a couple of hours later.

    I think I’m more upset by the loss of ‘freedom’. I loved the idea of them roaming around freely and loved working around the place with them milling around my legs. Feel guilty about the two we lost (favorites included typically) and am now pondering about building a larger run and not letting them out (not that the remaining 2 show any signs of wanting to be out!) hardly at all.

    But letting them out was the point for me. It’s a quandary for sure.

    • It’s a tough one I agree. We have a responsibility to maximise welfare and the way I square it off is that “welfare” doesn’t sit on a sliding scale that is linked to the amount of space you provide them, more that it is a measure of well-being, happiness and health. High welfare is happy, healthy and well cared for animals; by the same measure low welfare is distressed, sick and unkempt animals. Giving the birds freedom to roam might sound like good welfare but in some instances (such as mine) I have to be mindful that it could also equate to stressing them with exposure to predation. A quandary for sure…

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