It is something every hen keeper fears, that a fox will gain access to the coop. After fifteen years of keeping my feathered friends safe, we suffered the trauma of a dawn raid by Reynard. In just a few minutes of mayhem the wily predator cut my back garden flock from sixteen to nine. It was a devastating event for all concerned.
We were awoken by the noise of distressed hens at 4.30am on an otherwise sunny, Saturday morning. Husband quickly pulled on shorts and rushed outside. Our lovely neighbours also heard the commotion – their bedroom overlooks the run – and spotted the fox circling and then in there. They told me the noise was horrible, unlike anything they had heard before from our not always quiet girls.
Hurrying to help, they opened the door of the coop to release the terrified survivors just before husband arrived on the scene. The damage could then be assessed – there were loose feathers everywhere. Six hens had been killed and two injured. One of the latter had lost all her tail feathers but appeared otherwise unharmed. The second had a bite mark in her back and had lost the use of her legs. We considered whether it would be kinder to dispatch this poor girl quickly. Over the years we have had several hens recover from what appeared terminal issues. We therefore disinfected her wound and placed her in the broody cage – an easily separated section of the run – with food and water at ground level. We kept a close eye on her daily, moving her gently and ensuring she drank and ate. She has since managed to stand unaided and we hope for continued improvement. She still needs to be kept separate from the flock by day when they are most active as hens pick – literally – on their weaker peers.
We installed our large, walk-in run in 2018 – I wrote about this here. Precautions were taken in its construction to ensure our hens would be safe from predators. We live by a wood so there are obvious risks. What we had not factored in was that the plastic cable ties securing the chicken wire to the frame would become brittle over time, especially in sunlight. In recent years we have noticed that some break and had replaced them. Tragically, we had not deduced that before they break they are weakened. The fox had gained access by pushing against the wire in its attempt to dig in. Enough cable ties snapped to open up a gap and allow entry. When our neighbour arrived on the scene he watched as the fox escaped by pushing through at the opposite end of the run from where it had entered.
The fox left in its wake so many needlessly killed hens. I understand this is its nature but there would have been some small comfort had it taken a bird for food.
Having carried out a basic clean-up to remove the bodies and loose feathers, new cable ties were added to secure the run as best we could. We now recognised that a longer term solution was needed. Elder son went on line and suggested we order metal cable ties as replacements. This seemed as good a solution as any. Following the arrival of the parcel a day later he spent a couple of evenings putting them in place along the ground level frame. We can only hope they are strong enough to hold back Reynard.
Our hens have been allowed to free range in our multi-level back garden since we first started keeping them. We only allow this when someone is home to keep an eye on any situation that develops. On a sunny afternoon after the attack we released the remaining flock under the usual supervision. One girl strayed downhill and the fox must have been waiting. I feel I let this poor girl down in particular and am now reluctant to allow any such freedom. Due to the size of their secure run they retain the legal classification of free range but this is not the point really. I want them to enjoy the variety of scratching around hedges, trees and more open spaces. Currently I just can’t bring myself to risk it.
While the shine has been taken from the joy I derive from hen keeping I will continue to keep a small flock as they add so much character to my garden. I recognise there are dangers attached to many activities that make life better and more fun to live. Whether greater freedom for my girls is worth the risk of a further fox attack in the garden, I have yet to decide.