December 20, 2012

Hello, Mr. Fox

Anytime you have livestock, predators will appear.  Cattle and pigs are not immune although we've not had any predation problems with those animals.  Our biggest issue has been loss of poultry and the fear of losing our rabbits.

We have a fox problem. The various trail cameras pick up foxes from time to time but the biggest indicator that a fox is nearby is the pile of feathers we find in a pasture.  This past week was been the second worst fox attack we've experienced. 

In the summer of 2011, we purchased over 40 laying hens.  In less than six weeks, we lost all but about a dozen of them.  It was devastating and heartbreaking. Fox got past the electric fencing and had a grand time.  It was a huge financial loss.  We had plans to grow our egg sales and use that as a way to attract customers to our other products.  In the end, we locked the remaining pullets in the coop with our first flock, let them get used to their new roosting location, then turned them loose in the yard.

We never expanded the flock again after that.  Eggs weren't selling and weren't profitable for us; there was no point to add more laying hens to the farm and increase egg production.  As time has passed, we've lost a chicken here and there. We had hens go broody and hatch chicks and we've incubated a few eggs as well.  Our modest little flock grew slightly.

Last week, we noticed that some of the chickens were missing.  Then we realized a few more were missing and we started adding it up. We had two beautiful young cockerels we hatched out earlier in the year. Two young pullets were also missing - one of which had just laid her first egg.  Rockstar, a large cantankerous Buff Orpington rooster, was also nowhere to be found.  And it seemed that our flock of hens was a bit smaller as well.  While moving cattle from one pasture to another, I came across piles of feathers. Yep. Fox attack. There weren't enough feathers to account for all the missing chickens but I could identify some of them by the feather piles.  As I herded the cattle past the pond, I came across two piles of duck feathers. This fox was bold and hungry.

Now the flock is locked in the coop again for their safety until this fox family moves on.  We heard them hunting one night.  The yip-howl they used to communicate as they hunted was eerie and somewhat scary.  I was very glad the chickens were safe in the coop that night.  So far, the rabbits have not had a problem with fox attack although I did find fox scat by one of the rabbit pens.

Predation is part of farming. You expect losses due to illness or complications during/after birth.  But when you lose animals to a  wild predator, it's almost an insult and always seems to hit you like a kick in the pants.  Being smart about preventative measures is your best defense. One day, I'd like to have a livestock guardian dog, especially now that the rabbitry is expanding.

Here's hoping this fox's days are numbered.

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