Foxes and Chickens Don’t Mix!

During June and July, there are lots of young fox cubs learning how to hunt and during this time, they are testing my electric fence, on the look out for a cheeky chicken snack!

Popular belief is that foxes only come out at night to hunt under the cover of darkness. They are nocturnal animals aren’t they? Well during winter time this does seem to be true, give or take a few hours at dawn and dusk. But during the summer months, with young cubs to feed and fewer hours of darkness, there is pressure in the Fox household to put food on the table (err.. I mean ground) for cubs to eat. More food means more hunting and during June when we approach the equinox, there is little time for rest so we see more foxes out looking for food during the daytime.

Fox-near-electric-fence
A young fox passes by the electric fence of my poultry enclosure.

As the cubs grow

As cubs grow, they have to start standing on their own four-legs and go in search of food for themselves, learning to hunt by instinct. This is usually during June and July and is a time when we should all be on our guard as fences will be tested during the daytime if poultry are outside their house.

Fox cubs can sometimes be seen playing with food together but this is all a ‘game’ rather than actual hunting. Very occasionally cubs can be seen hunting with the vixen but normally, they are solitary hunters, just like adult foxes which can form groups but are solitary hunters.

Whilst I am able to shoot foxes to protect my chickens, I have a respect for our local wildlife and have found that it is better to leave the local fox population alone.

A fox that has touched my electric fence avoids it – so for me is a safe bet. Since they are territorial, there are few new foxes coming into the area. Shooting the foxes that visit our field would only invite more to the party as they took up the new territory and potentially these foxes might find a way in to my run before learning not to go near the electric fence.

Fox
Crafty Mr. Fox

With an electric fence or electric poultry netting that is commonly used, a fox receives a shock which causes a muscle spasm that feels unpleasant and cannot kill him. Life goes on, but young cubs that haven’t learnt about the fence may try to get in for a snack and if the fence isn’t robust.

I risk losing a bloodline or two and after having flown to Germany and imported birds, I’ve invested a significant amount of time and money with my flock to get where I want to be.

In the past, I have had cubs stroll up to the fence during the middle of the day, trying to jump over it. What if I had my chickens free-ranging without the electric fence to protect them as many people do? Not everyone can install an electric fence.

So, I decided to refill the ducks water at lunch time since they had been in and out of it all morning and had made quite a mess. Whilst I was stood there with the hose, the ducks suddenly stood upright doing Indian Runner Duck impressions and gathered into a closed flock. I knew something wasn’t right, so I pointed my camera phone at the hedgerow where they were looking and walked over. As you will see, there was a young fox cub walking along the fence.

If you listen carefully, you will hear me talking to him (I said “What do you think you’re doing?”) Once he realises I might be a danger to him, he runs for it!

Foxes have fantastic hearing but this fox hand a strong breeze blowing around him and obviously didn’t hear me approaching. Normally, a fox can hear a small mouse in the grass 2-3 metres away and pounce to catch it without even seeing it.

They can also use smell very well and this is used to communicate. Their scent glands for example are used to mark their territory (if you watch them as they walk around a field, you will often see them ‘marking’ as they go) but they can also locate their food by using their sense of smell. They are able to smell food in a plastic bag, or dig up a buried animal for example.

If you think that gap under the fence is too small for a fox to squeeze through then watch this next clip which was part of a program broadcast by the BBC called “The Private Life of Chickens”

Love them or hate them, they are amazing animals that have adapted to a wide variety of habitats and as long as they don’t get into my chicken run, I’m happy.

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Tim Daniels

Tim is the founder of the poultrykeeper website and lives in Herefordshire, UK. He keeps Cream Legbar chickens, Silver Sebright bantams and hybrid layers for eggs, Abacot Ranger ducks, Brecon Buff geese and some quail.

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