Monday, 15 October 2012

The chicken’s in the fox and someone’s chopped up my railway sleepers

“Well, the chicken’s in the fox and someone’s chopped up my railway sleepers”.  That was my reply to one of my fellow allotment holders who had the untimely pleasure of asking me how things were going.  Not the usual reply of: “yeah, everything’s fine. Just getting the plot ready for Winter” or “well, the beans have been slow this year but my spuds have been pretty good”.  I guess on this occasion, my reply was a little less optimistic than most and it certainly acted as a conversation killer to say the least.

Although both issues have had me equally concerned, the latter of which has been resolved somewhat now, the issue of Chick was most alarming.  On Friday “Chick” came to an untimely end at the hands of Mrs Fox.  His swift, if not brutal death, was largely down to his cockerel-like bloody-mindedness and his want to explore and find tasty treats.

As usual, the chickens were let out of their run and into the larger area around the coop which is surrounded by the dead hedge, which is reinforced with brambles, blackthorn and holly making it a pretty good barrier.  This area is the chickens favourite place to scratch around as the woodchip houses a whole host of bugs and they get to peck at the handful of corn they get thrown each evening.  Rather than stay in the safety of this area in eyesight from where I was pottering, Chick decided to go off in to the wood and explore further, something that he’s never done before.

The wood isn’t as idyllic as it sounds and I think I should illustrate further.  Surrounding one side of the allotment, the wood is a strange old place, it’s more of a swamp than your typical wood with mud calf-deep in places and a good blanket of brambles and other obstacles to make slow any progress.

In the twenty minutes or so in which I tried to corrall Chick, he enjoyed scratching about in the drier areas adjoining the site paying not one bit of notice to me and my attempts to direct him back to the safety of the coop.  As I tried desperately to get near the soon to be takeaway dinner, I successfully collected a number of thorns, notably bramble and blackthorn - great, and covered myself with the rancid stagnant mud from the waterlogged wood.  In some pain and just when I thought I was starting to make progress, Chick turned and headed in the opposite direction to the coop - heading deeper in to the wood.  He was now a good 100 metres or so away from me and there was no way that I could negotiate my way through the undergrowth and thick mud with any efficiency to direct him back.

I opted for plan B – shake the corn tin and wait for his return.  In the past this technique has worked well for the rest of the flock as they know this means tasty food awaits and I make a point of doing this each evening so that they’re conditioned to come when needed.  Whilst sitting next to the coop with the rest of the girls enjoying their corn and bugs, a very loud and alarming honking could be heard.  Instantly I knew it was all over for him.  I ran over to look and caught sight of an incredibly muddy fox and one very dead Chick tangled up in a patch of brambles.  The fox quickly made good its escape and headed back in to the wood with her prized catch.  I had no idea what to do and I was helpless to intervene.

As beautiful as nature is it is also a savage beast and this was a lesson in just how quickly it can claim its victims.  Chick’s future was by no means certain, what with the main concern being his sex and the amount of noise he was likely to make, but that said I was really looking forward to how he would mature and how his personality would develop.  I was even hoping to breed from him at the start of next year to increase the size of the flock.

I’ve never owned a cockerel before and as he was the first Chick I ever hatched the “special” tag applied to him.  I guess it’s comforting to know that he will go on to support the fox and a whole range of other wildlife through winter, even if it does mean it deprives me in the process and removes a great addition to the flock.  Keeping chickens secure in a run is certainly one option but I do like them to have a little bit more room to roam when I’m there to keep an eye out as badgers and foxes live close by and can be seen most days.

The girls have always enjoyed a roam on my plot and around the hen house but I wonder if this is too big a risk, knowing just how quickly the predators act?

Over the winter months  I'll complete my plans to extend the chicken run although it is unfortunate that Chick can't be a part of it and the railway sleepers that were ear marked for the construction are no more.  Onwards and upwards!

13 comments:

  1. Oh dear, RIP Chick. I hope the fox does not return.

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    1. Thanks Stephanie. The girls are safe and secure in their run so a returning fox shouldn't be a problem. Sadly I'll just have to limit the time in which they can free range.

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  2. Sorry to hear about Chick, it must have been quite upsetting. I only hope the fox doesn't view your hens as a quick and easy meal - they are clever and learn quickly.

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    1. Thanks Janice, it wasn't a pretty sight. Foxes roam the site regularly but the girls are in a very secure run and we've not had any losses over the past three years. The only problem at present is if they wander off in to the wood like chick did :(

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  3. So sorry to hear about Chick. We had chicks when I was a kid and a fox got in and killed the lot. I love foxes, but they have very unsightly feeding frenzies! It was like 'Reservoir Chickens' from what I remember. Never pleasant to see :O(

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    1. Definitely not! Growing up I used to find dead chickens and bits of dead chickens in the garden after the fox had raided the farm. They tend to kill and then return to collect food to eat or store as needed. You have to commend their thinking.

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  4. I've lost two little flocks to Fox this year alone : (
    I can't bear that my girls are now confined to the run at all times, but equally can't bear the garden without them. That's nature, I guess.

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    1. I think it's a compromise that has to be made though. I know that given 20-30 minutes free ranging the foxes would be aware of the girls and that would be the end. A run with plenty of food, water and enrichment and time to free range supervised seems best given the circumstances :)

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  5. Oh dear. We had a badger break the nest boxes on the coop and take a hen once. Since then we have turned on an electric fence around the coop at night and, [touch wood,] we've had no issues since, though all my hens roam free all day and we are in fox territory. I see the pointy poo regularly in the field but think that he/she may have tried the coop nearer the house and got an electrified nose.

    Good luck with your girls.

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    1. A badger is my worst nightmare as they're so strong and destructive, when they want to be. I've seen how much damage they can do on the allotment and heard stories of how they raid chicken coops.

      I looked at getting electrified chicken wire but as the girls live on my allotment I think it could be perceived as a hazard.

      I'll definitely get an electric set up when I have my own land though :)

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  6. So sad, nature can be very cruel sometimes. It must have been terrible to actually see it going on and know there's nothing you can do. I think you'll need to be extra vigilant, foxes remember where they can get a meal from.

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    1. Oh yes, they're certainly not daft. Luckily the coop and run is entirely secure and it's stood the test of time over the past few years but it's always a worry when they're allowed to range around the coop.

      Let's just hope they don't decide to wander off in to the woods like Chick did!

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  7. Sorry to hear about Chick. You're certainly taking it well, I guess there isn't much else to do about it, is there?

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