Tuesday 13 January 2015

A Sustained and Determined Attack

The only good fox...?
Mostly these posts are happy, up-beat affairs describing pleasant days, entertaining distractions and good outcomes. Our time here has mostly been enjoyable and the days we remember with a smile. Yesterday was NOT one of those days. We came under a sustained and determined attack by our local big dog fox who kept it up for a good hour and a half and even then did not really go away till we brought the episode to a close. I will not, however, do the tension-building write up, cliff-hanger thing on you. We did not enjoy it being done to us by Brer Fox, so I will let you off the hook straight away by telling you the fox wound up shot at 8 pm, quick and clean, a shot-gun round between the eyes and he only actually killed one young Buff-Orp rooster (today) and only got away with the head of that bird, leaving us the carcass.

A possible first Buff-Orp egg from one of the young ones.
The 'fun' started at around 9 am when I was up and dressed except for shoes and on the phone to Vendor Anna, gazing out the front window. I was shocked to see a chicken race past the front of the house, 5 feet from the front door, chased by a galloping fox. I dropped the phone and dashed out in my socks, tore round in time to make the fox drop the hen and then, zig-zagging about a bit, clear the sheep fence (3-4 feet high) in one leap. 'Safe' in the east field he stopped running and seemed to suss that I had no gun, so he could lope around looking back at me curiously as I rather pathetically roared, shouted and lobbed some stones at him. He was a brave one for sure, convinced I could do him no harm.

John Deere Bob's cattle
We (Liz was up too, in an instant!) then endured a good hour of Brer Fox seeming to retreat but then looping round and sneaking back in from north, south, east or west, while Liz and I circled the house trying to keep the hens in the yard and not giving the fox a 'blind side' to come at us from. Oh for a gun (but more on that later); I was amazed at how upset this makes you feel - I felt so helpless, angry, under attack, besieged and useless. Sick even. The fox's 'Modus Operandi' was just to burst from cover and sprint at a group of birds who would then scatter at near ground level but inevitably one would not get out of the ambush in time. It was presumably this he was doing last week, across 50 yards of our east field, when he took those 2 birds. These birds are young and silly and do not know to split up or get up on a wall.

More cattle - explanations on these pics later!
The garden was getting covered with tufts of feathers from near misses. Luckily only one of these puffs contained a dead bird, a young rooster decapitated by the fox on one of his charges. For some reason he only got away with the head. This guy was leaping the sheep fences, so able to easily move from east field to goose-orchard to pig paddock, but luckily was only chicken focused, he ran straight by the geese and the new lamb without trying to grab them. Only when I came out with the dogs (on leads, but then free in the pig area) at 10:30 did he start to look a bit wary and scarpered off the site. We got a chance to draw breath and phone for help - we have 2 local 'hired guns' available but no names, no pack drill, these guys like to keep it a bit quiet and discreet.

Ginny and Padfoot stripping bark from
some cut ash.
I then saw the fox again at lunchtime when I went out to walk the dogs, but by now he was out in the lane. I shut up the sheep and geese and did my usual dog exercise at 4 pm and then hung around in the yard at 5, supervising all the birds to bed (I didn't want to lose another bird after keeping them safe all afternoon) by 5:15 pm. At 6 pm I went out with the head torch to get some sprouts and what do you know, the lad was in by the rabbit run, his green eyes reflecting the LED light, and then did his slow, brave lope-away in short 'legs' as I followed him out to the 5 acre field at walking pace. Meanwhile my 'gun' had been around to look for fox track-ways though the local area to see could we find a likely ambush spot of our own.

To cut a long story short the boy used one of these routes at 8 pm and got our lamp and a shotgun 'round' between the eyes for his pains. I can't quite believe that I, lifelong animal lover and wildlife nut, was out there with the lamp determined that this animal would die and the flood of relief at his end. It was quick and clean. This morning I was able to check out the carcass and 'he' was indeed a well grown dog-fox, 42 inches from nose to brush-tip (that's about as big as they get, full size is 48 inches or so), in very good, well fed condition and weighing as much as one of our westies, so 8-9 kg maybe. He had good teeth and beautifully clean fur, disease free that I could see. I was very sad that it had to end like this, but I could not have left him to come back each day taking a bird a day till he'd cleaned us out. I couldn't have coped with the tension waiting for his ambushes. So, sorry. Brer Fox. RIP.

New ash logs completely cleaned of bark by rabbits
Obviously, this might not be the end of this story. I was out again giving the dogs their last walk at 10 pm and what would be the last thing you'd want to see having just killed "your fox"? Yes, another pair of green eyes reflected in the LED torch light! This one, though seemed way smaller, lower to the ground and more nervous - he was up and gone at our first appearance, sprinting 50 yards up the 5 acres before he turned and showed me his eyes again. I am sure that 'our fox' was the one 'we' shot. The hired gun is going to keep interested, though as he says there are often more than one. Watch this space.

A bit white on Tuesday morning.
Meanwhile, what of all these unrelated pics I have posted here? Poor aul' John Deere Bob has been laid low with flu, so I have turned cattle-man temporarily, making sure they do not go for want of food (silage), water and straw bedding. One of our young Buff Orps may have started egg laying - we got a tiny egg laid in the garden which I had poached this morning with 2 normal eggs and it had the tiniest, pea sized yolk in it! Very sweet. I had been de-limbing an ash tree to make some space ready for potential extra bee hives in 2015, and had left the trimmings lying on the grass, where I was surprised to find that the aged rabbits, Ginny and Padfoot had some great times gnawing off the bark. I guess they are getting good winter nutrition off them or some good wear on the teeth. I grabbed up some bigger bits and dropped these in to the 'giant' rabbits, Goldie and Nugget, and they were the same, stripping my logs cleaner than you could do with a spoke-shave. Happy bunnies.

Well, we woke up this morning to falling snow and a feeling that our fox problems are sorted for now. All the embarrassing puffs of feathers and the small blood smear from the killed bird are shrouded in forgiving white. My little 10 pm fox has not made an appearance and (touch wood) everybody is still alive. The carcass was a mess so, though Liz had a go at plucking it, she got fed up with the many puncture wounds, torn skin and bruises from our bushy-tailed chum's teeth and skinned it. Only some of the meat will be kept and that marked down or a very slow cook. I have been enjoying walking about in the snow with the dogs (on leads again) NOT seeing fox tracks.


Anne Wilson said...

Congratulations, the only good fox IS a dead one. We have also has success today, female mink caught in one of the fenn traps, she measured two feet from nose to tail, apparently that is a big mink. We will still not rest easy though, traps are all still in place six in total and the poultry now have two lots of electric fencing around the outer perimeter.

Matt Care said...

Nice one Anne - well done. Yes, apparently the Euroopean native mink can go to 54 cm (21 inches) but the guys we get here are, I think, escaped American Mink is more like 12-15 inch so you have a good sized animal there.

Dee Sewell said...

People who want to protect every fox on the land should try keeping poultry for a while. I don't mind a bit of live and let live but when they repeatedly come back for a whole flock, all sympathy dissolves. Glad to hear you got your culprit.We know we have foxes hereabouts but have suspected mink in the past too as had a couple of hens with throats ripped out. Guess it's all part and parcel of free ranging.