Sunday 18 January 2015

4:2 - a Final Score? A Sigh of Relief?

This funky chicken cushion has nothing to do with this
post but I love it!
Call me naive if you like, call this the triumph of hope over experience, even, but today I am at last daring to hope that we have sorted our fox problem, at least till these very mobile and fast breeding mammals move back into the territory, which they inevitably will. I now do my night time patrols believing that I might NOT now have to spot a pair of green eyes reflected back at me from near my rabbit runs or at the far side of a field. When I nip out to check on the number of chickens I am daring to beleive that there will be the right number and there will not be a sad puff of Buff feathers caught in the grass. When I hear the geese kicking off I am daring to guess that this is just the geese kicking off for no reason (as they commonly do) and NOT because they have spotted the instantly recogniseable shape of a loping fox.

Fox #2, A vixen, 43 inches nose to tail.
Why? Yesterday morning as I was constructing breakfast, I looked out over the snow-covered east field and saw what I believed to be my "10 pm fox" from earlier posts strolling in the sun. I clapped my hands and she ran off but left tracks in the snow giving away her sneaky 'hole' under the sheep fence. To cut a long story short, she has now been shot (cleanly and quickly again) and I think she was probably partner to the previous lad, so we may now have killed both the pair which would have had this territory. They would be mating about now but not yet have cubs in the den.

The perfect rifle range? Shooting downhill with all the
bogland as your back-stop (butts).
In the process of all this I have learned a great deal about shooting and safety (not that I am about to take this up as a hobby, I hasten to add). My picture shows the view north from our east field down the 'Bank Field' to the drainage stream and concrete 'kesh' (bridge) and into the 'whin' scrub where our shooters believe the foxes hide up (I hope 'hid' up!) during the day. Across the bog and way higher up is the nearest likely human 'target', the cars moving along the Balla road. Our rifle man can sit in my field with his fox-call (a whistle which makes a scream like a rabbit being badly injured) and then spot the fox approaching. He should be able to pop the animal between the eyes without any risk of a miss-bullet hitting anything. That's the theory, anyway. So far we have not needed to test this out as our 2 have fallen to shot-gun fire from closer range.

Thin grazing for the geese.
So, where are we now, apart from immensely (if a little warily and perhaps optimistically) relieved? Our advice is that the foxes will not be all gone and they will be back and back till we eventually run out of animals to "feed them on". Our 3 year run of fox free luck was a lucky abberation which we should not, if we are wise, rely on being back. Mentor Anne is firmly of the view that we should give up on the 'total free range' system and, instead pen the birds in decent sized runs surrounded by flexible 'net' style electric fencing. We could do this (the advice goes) in the orchard or one of the existing sheep-proof paddocks and use a wooden shed or wendy house out there as the coop(s), i.e. not bring the birds home each evening to the concrete out buildings as we do now.

A typical fence line here with 2 gates along it, the 'veg patch'
gate and the 'apiary' gate (blue and white)
We are now looking into all this, with all its many permutations - the cost of fencing, choice and design, suppliers, maintenance and so on. We may go down this road but I  sincerely hope we don't have to. I love my total free range system, where the chickens are on the front lawn one minute, then in the yard, then visible in the car-port or down among the veg raised beds.

Brambles outside the orchard fence.
I also struggle to see how we could make the thing work in our system where we have built everything thinking we would not need electric fences, so our hefty sheep fences and gates divide up a series of contiguous paddocks - the veg patch butts up against the orchard, which butts up against the pig paddock and then the east field. The sides of these paddocks which touch the property boundaries are hard up against hedges and they are commonly a mass of brambles 'outside' the good fence.

Frozen veg plot
The advice for the 'Flexinet' fencing (which is a soft 'curtain' of loose netting with the strands interwoven with the electric wires and the whole hanging from thin insulating plastic 'posts') is to hang it about a foot outside the existing paddock fencing. There, as they say, is the rub. To do it outside the orchard is to run it down my veg-plot main path, through 2 gates, then along the 'back' where a bramble thicket would need clearing, back up in the pig paddock and along the top (another path). I would also need to divide the orchard in half (temporarily and flexibly?) to keep the geese separate from the chickens. It might be possible to get a big shed which could be divided in two, geese at one end, chooks at the other, to straddle this orchard-divider. Finally, there is the height thing. The Flexinet is 1.2 m high at best (that is if you keep it taut and don't have lower loops between your posts) and my fox was happily clearing my 3-4 foot sheep fence the other day, so why is he going to run at this new fence and then stop to get a jolt off the mains before (rethinking the decision to..) go sailing over?

It's enough to turn a man to drink!
There's a lot to think about starting with whether we still want to keep chickens if we have to go to all this trouble and expense. We love them but they are relatively cheap beasts, so if I have to spend hundreds of Euro keeping them safe, should we not just be buying the eggs instead? Electric fencing is also notoriously NOT 100% fool-proof - everyone we know describes 'accidents' where they forgot to turn the fence back on after a job, or it shorted out or there was a power cut and the ravening beasts outside are said to be able to tell. They may be able to hear the clicks or sense the electric pulses, or they just try the gap just one more time and... ooh look.... I got straight through.

This, I sense, could run and run. For now though we have another dead fox to dispose of and a latest score this season of 4 dead chickens (3 and a head taken) vs 2 dead foxes. Dare we hope that this, for now is a 'Final Score' on this match? I am enjoying, for now anyway, a sigh of relief, but we have probably not heard the last from our red, brush-tailed chums outside the wire.


Care Towers said...

Good news on the second goal - hoping that's the end of it. Difficult to believe "luck" can extend 3 years, but I guess once they know the chooks are there, they'll keep coming back - a bit like my mice in the shed with the bird food, but on a larger scale! Here's hoping, anyway

Anne Wilson said...

The place is teaming with foxes Matt, last night on our way to friends we saw a very large fox just three fields away from your place headed your way? I guess the word is out that you have a fox MacDonald's

Matt Care said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Matt Care said...

Too bloody true! I saw another one sneaking off out of the NE corner of our east field on Monday night as I was patrolling with the dogs prior to heading for Longford (in the snow) for 'Bee School'. Our rifle man will get his chance. Surely not MacD's though! :-) These are healthy, free range, high welfare reared foxes, fed on only the best, free range chickens. No scavenging in bins and eating peoples cast-off take-aways for these fellas.

Anne Wilson said...

They don't need other peoples 'cast of takes-aways' Matt, they have their own!

Matt Care said...

Never a dull moment!