Friday, May 31, 2013

Fox in the Henhouse (almost)

I've had some recent sad losses in my chicken flock.  I've now lost 6 chickens to a fox.  I think it's the season in which foxes have their young, and I believe that's why, after 2 years of no problems, I suddenly have a fox issue.  So, I put up a fence to keep my hens safer, and to keep the fox at bay.  Unfortunately, some of my smaller birds can fly over the fence, but for the most part, this seems to be an effective solution for the time being.  Not pretty, but it will have to do for now.

For the record, I'm not interested in shooting the fox, or catching it in any sort of trap.  I believe in a healthy predator population and I don't like trapping in general unless it's live trapping without injury to the animal.  However, even if I had a live trap that would accommodate a fox, in this case, when it likely has young ones, I think it would be inappropriate to try to relocate it.

Today, I heard a big commotion from the chickens and rushed to see what was going on.  Having had this happen a number of times now, I was quick enough to grab the camera on my way to check it out.  My fence worked effectively, keeping the fox at bay.  The fox didn't appear to make any attempt to go over the fence, nor to dig under it.  When I saw the fox head around to the back where the barn is, I quickly went to check out whether it would enter the barn.

The goats and sheep were in the barn, because it's a pretty warm day, and they tend to stay inside and go out to eat for short periods of time.  Lucky Nickel was adamant that I should NOT go out the door of the barn.  I had to climb over her to get out.  She wasn't letting anyone else out either.  Sure enough, the fox was out there.  Nickel was staring at it intently and did not want to move at all.

Nickel was a very good guard goat, although I don't think the fox is really a threat to the sheep or goats. It's a small fox and they don't usually take down large size prey.

When I finally got past Nickel, here's what I saw.

I feel rather sad and sorry for this fox.  Its face looks like it might be a bit injured or unwell.

It's also missing a lot of tail fur.

From some quick reading, I think it might be sarcoptic mange, which means that eventually this fox is likely to die.  That is a difficult situation for me.  I don't like the fox eating my hens, but I don't like the fox suffering either.  I might try to put some dog food out for it, laced with ivermectin, which is apparently effective in treating the mite that causes sarcoptic mange.

I know that seems counter-intuitive.  Why would I want to help a fox that has already eaten 6 of my hens.  Admittedly, the fox does actually eat the birds in their entirety, unlike the raccoons, who just bite off the head and leave the rest (that makes me really angry).  I know that nature is harsh, it's an eat-and-be-eaten kind of world.  I will do my best to protect my hens, but I also do my best to promote a healthy ecosystem and I am really distressed by the thought of this fox suffering a slow decline as a result of a skin infection.

The fox ran away after seeing me...beating a hasty retreat into the woods.  Lucky Nickel stayed on "door duty" for quite a while afterwards though.  She may be a nuisance sometimes, but she's also a good herd queen and she seems to keep the group protected.
I hope the fox gets the idea that it can't get to the chickens, and finds some other prey for its young.  I don't like my chickens to suffer, but I don't like the fox to suffer either.  What a conundrum.


IsobelleGoLightly said...

Hello my friend Lucky Nickel! You have blossomed into a very beautiful doe! What a fierce girl to protect all your friends and you lady from that fox!

Patty Woodland said...

Nature is NOT easy

Michelle said...

Claire, I like the way you think. We can't keep the inconvenient parts of nature - like predators - safely ensconced in distant wilderness, and I do believe we need a healthy balance. (I remember as a kid in Kansas that jackrabbits were hunted heavily for a period, and then the coyotes became a problem because their natural prey had become scarce. Doh!) There has to be SOME live and let live.

P.S. I'd probably put out some ivermectin-laced dog food.

Nadine said...

Poor fox hopefully he/she will eat the dog food so that he/she can get treatment like you said it would be awful for him/her to suffer.... I do hope that he/she does not get anymore of your chickens.

Michelle said...

I will add that I don't expect my hens to safely free-range or my sheep to safely stay out on pasture 24/7. I do MY part (like your fencing) to keep my animals safe - and that doesn't mean trying to eradicate all the predators!

Melody said...

I'd give the laced dog food a try~ I agree it's no fun to think of even the predator suffering... and continue to do your best to keep your hens safe at the same time...
Awesome guard goat! :))))

Alison said...

Would the fox dig under the fence if given more time? Maybe Lucky Nickel could be trained as a chicken herder! I bet she'd give that fox a good head butt if she felt the need.

Spinners End Farm said...

Ivermectin would work. When we were trapping wolves for research (work) while they were listed as Federally endangered if they were mangy at all then we would give them a dose of ivermectin. You might also be doing your animals a favor because goats can get mange mites too. Keep an eye out for other odd behavior with this can carry rabies and distemper as well.

Good job on the fencing! :)

Marigold said...

Of course those marks on the fox's face could be chicken scratches. I'm just sayin'... The Goatmother would probably put out dogfood with Ivermectin too. Good idea. Please let us know how it goes. Good job, Nickel! You da' bomb! :) (We goats gotta' support each other.)

Phyllis said...

Hi. Good for you for understanding that the foxes are a necessary part of nature. So many people immediately think the solution is to kill them.

There was a lovely gray fox right outside my window tonight. A little too close for comfort but I think she was looking for more eggs that my little white hen lays all over the place every day.

I hope the Ivermectin helps him/her. I think it will take a few doses.

Anonymous said...

This is one of those hard parts of having animals. It's why I ended up building pretty secure chicken pens (although it does need some repair right now). Hope you find a good solution.

Katherine Etzkorn said...

Just wanted to add more support. We struggle with aggressive strays where we live. It's hard to balance when the love of animals extends to the predators too. I think your ivermectin idea is a really good one and I really hope fox mama find food elsewhere.