Thursday, July 28, 2011

The predator

Illustration photo from Google

I remember some of you had warned me that we might lose chickens to wandering predators; and well, it happened sooner than we thought.

Yesterday morning, as I went out to feed the chickens, I saw a fox circling the chicken coop, and our rooster was missing. The other birds were twittering in panic inside the coop, and I rushed to their aid. I had seen foxes around here many times, but only at night and on the outskirts of the habitated areas, and was astonished to find one so close, in broad daylight, right in our back yard. Moreover, even though I made loud noises and threw stones in its direction, it looked almost fearless and it took quite an effort to drive it away, which made me suspect it was rabid.

When we later found the killed rooster, we saw that the fox didn't actually eat him - it put its prey aside and proceeded to look how it could get to the rest of the birds. Imagine its frustration when we prevented it from enjoying the results of its hunt.

Anyhow, we called the local veterinary services and voiced our suspicion as to the fox being rabid, and were told that because of the summer draught, many foxes can't find food and are therefore far more likely to visit garbage heaps and back yards to look for something to eat, in particular when there are such attractions as our chickens and the neighbours' rabbits.

All day we were on the alert, but didn't really think the fox would come again before nightfall. However, just as the sun began to set and it was twilight, our old pal was right on the spot again. The panicky behavior of our chickens made us guess how it got to the rooster in the first place: it couldn't get into the coop, but it scared the birds so much that they began to look for any possible venue of escape, and the rooster squeezed out of a small hole near the top. Of course, that was his fatal mistake. Had they all hidden in their nest in the middle of the coop, there would be no way for the fox to get at them, but of course there can be no expecting them to figure this out.

Anyhow, we gathered the chickens in a cardboard box to spend the night at home while we're working out ways to make the coop safer, and later at night, a guy from the veterinary services stopped by and brought a fox trap, which we placed next to the coop. Last night we had no result.

I will keep you updated if we catch the fox, but even if we do, there are others in the area and if they actually dare to attack in broad daylight, I guess this means we'll be unable to follow up with our plan to let the chickens roam in the garden during the day. I admit I had not foreseen something like this; I thought we should only be worried about predators at night.

Any advice from those with more experience will be welcome.


Becky K. said...

We have both chickens and foxes here in Pennsylvania, as well. We awoke one morning to the ruckus you are now familiar with. I ran out and our fox did leave....that was more than a year ago now...but we still have foxes in the field across the street. He has been picking off the neighbor's free ranging chickens one by one. I am concerned that he will attempt to get ours when he runs out of easy prey. Although we have chicken wire buried in the ground, up all of the walls, and completely attached across the top. That's all I know to tell you. Just make sure it is as tight as it can be.

Gothelittle Rose said...

In my experience, the best fix for a chicken predator is a wary eye and a nearby rifle. My father has picked off many raccoons over the years.

Take down one fox in this manner, and the rest will probably stay away, at least for a long while!

Thursday's Child said...

If there's a drought and food is scarce, a predator doesn't have to be rabid to be brave. Desperation can do the trick as well.

Hopefully the fox trap will help. Also are you inclined to getting a dog? If you get one as a puppy and socialize it with the chickens, it should be safe to have around them. It will also help to keep the foxes away.

If you do end up with a dog that does kill your chickens, tie the dead chicken to its collar and let it wear it a while. It'll eventually learn how to avoid that. Too bad you can't tie a chicken to the fox. ;)

Mary Catherine said...

I am almost 100% sure you will be completely weirded out by this suggestion, and probably won't take it, BUT. At some feed stores here you can buy dried coyote urine (any predator would work). Reconstitute it with water, pour in a circle around the chickens. The scent of the territory being "marked" by another predator will keep all your live predators away. If you can't buy it, human urine works too, but make sure the neighbors can't see.

See? Told you you wouldn't do it. It really works, though, and you don't have to stay up all night waiting with a gun. Guns are super effective too, though.

Skunks will eat the heads off your chickens and leave the rest.

Are your chickens where you can hear them at night? Sometimes the best prevention is being able to hear them make a commotion.

Mrs. Anna T said...

Thursday's Child, I don't think we'll be getting a dog, but it's a good suggestion for those who can do it.

Mary Catherine, that's a very interesting idea. I wonder if the urine of a large dog would also work.

Yes, the coop is right outside our bedroom window. Today right before sunrise we heard noises, and sure enough, the fox was here again, but fled as soon as we opened the window. Needless to say, the trap was of not the least consequence.

Marytoo said...

Even though we live in town, I am amazed at the wannabe predators we have. Skunks, raccoons, cats, even the occasional hawk, etc. We built a portable cage with no bottom, out of hog wire, covered with chicken wire. With a large number of chickens, I don't think this would be very doable, but we have only a very few, and it works very well. It allows them only a small scratching place, but we move it to a new place every few days.

Thursday's Child said...

Wonder if you could get a female fox's urine to spray on the trap. ;)

Leah Brand-Burks said...

I must say I'm sorry it happened at all, but at least it wasn't a laying hen, right? The rooster was the least useful of the bunch, but I'm not saying it makes it any better of a situation. Hopefully you can get some feedback from experienced chicken owners. Hope your day gets better! :)

Lady Anne said...

I do agree with Mary Catherine's suggestion of using the urine of other preditors too scare away your fox. Also, making a "tea" of chopped liver, straining it, and spraying it around will keep away unwanted animals. The scent of blood frightens them. The best liver to use is pork, but I understand that may be hard to come by in Israel!

There is something almost Biblical in this sory. The fox (the devil) is so lovely, so pleasing to the eye, that we would be easily fooled. You have given the chickens shelter, just as the Lord offers us protection, but we don't always trust Him, and think maybe we can do a better job.

Good luck to you - and your chickens!

Mrs. Anna T said...

Thanks for the suggestions, everyone! Today I saw that the bait was eaten but somehow the trap didn't work. I wonder if it was the fox or just a wandering cat.

EllaJac said...

In the US we can order 'electrified poultry netting' from Premier. Depending on your fence charger, it might be plenty to keep a fox at bay. Two enclosures (one outside the other) would make it better. You do have to keep the grass clipped and check for short-circuits if it gets damp (or the grass grows!) but it's movable and you'd have some safety for your chickens. You would want to keep the children from the fencing; it can hurt! I don't know if you can get this kind of thing in Israel, but I hope you find some way to deal with that crafty fox! :\

Mui said...

I don't know if it is at all possible for you to have one with the kids and all, but a dog that sleeps in a doghouse in the yard is usually pretty effective.

Mui said...

oops, just saw someone suggested a dog already ;) well, keep us posted, I hope you find something :)

Anonymous said...

Do be oh so careful around foxes. About a month ago here in small town just south of us (North Carolina) a fox attacked 2 women early one morning. Yep, was rabid and now these poor ladies have to undergo treatment!! SO at the least have a large stick handy!! If you cannot use a gun, maybe you could get an electrified cattle prod? I have heard of using such in countries where personal weapons are not allowed. We also used to put our roosters in a box in the basement at night (so they would not bother the neighbors crowing). Did not kill the roosters to do that. Tho' the mess we could have done without!!

Anonymous said...

One of our friends who lives in Israel part time told us of some friends of his who ended up with 2 small donkeys (about goat sized). They have taken over the protection of the household...they allow NO ONE, or any animal on the property...they will kick the stuffing out of anything coming on THEIR land. Not sure you have the room for such...but might be a consideration.