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Protect your chickens from foxes

poultry_house_crop.jpgrs7071.jpgFoxes can be a pain if you are keeping chickens.  No chicken coop is 100% fox proof but you should always do your best to purchase one that is almost 100% !! I have been reading in various magazines what other people have done to try and solve the problem.  One gentleman housed his small small flock of hens in a 70ft-long chicken run that was 20ft high with a wire, fully enclosed roof.  He also concreted in the wire two feet below ground as foxes have a habit of burrowing under the hen houses to get at the hens.This seems to have worked for him and the hens let themselves in and out of their chicken coop as they please.  As foxes can neither climb over the chicken run or dig under it, they can safely be left to their own devices.  Because the chicken run is covered, this also stops any wild birds from dropping in for a visit and prevents the spread of avian ‘flu.Before deciding to keep hens and purchasing a chicken coop and chicken run, it’s adviseably to find out just what a fox is capable of.  The more research you do, the more you will become admiring of his abilities and characteristics !!  It’s rather like being an army general surveying the troops and weaponry of your opposing equal !!

It is only by arming yourself with knowledge of the fox’s capabilities that you will be able to provide adequate housing for your hens, outside of the fox’s athletic limits.

It’s worth knowing that if your chickens are safely out of harm’s way, a fox may be more inclined to go after the mice that tend to plague most smallholders and hen-keepers no matter how carefully the feed and hay is stored.

Did you know that an average adult fox is between 14 and 39 inches long, with a tail  between 7 and 20 inches long?  Foxes only have one litter of cubs a year, averaging between two to six cubs. Foxes are true omnivores.  Most people don’t know that a fox will happily eat fungi, berries,  grasses, fruit and vegetables!!  The carnivore side of their diet includes worms, rabbits,mice and the poor chickens we so want to keep safe. 

Did you also know that most foxes are, contrary to popular belief, perfectly capable of swimming?  While they do not swim for fun, they are very good at it.  They can also climb, and dig – which is why, if you live in an area which has foxes roaming,  it is important to make sure the bottom of your hen run has wire along the bottom to stop them from getting underneath.   A fox’s jump can be up to two metres vertically and they will find any weakness in timber, poor build or poorly-fixed chicken wire, so again it’s important to purchase a good quality chicken coop and to keep it in good condition.  A fox will actually bite through thin chicken wire, so check the gauge of the wire before purchasing.   At full speed a fox will move extremely quickly and I have read that some have tops speeds approaching 70 km hour !!

The amount of land a fox will cover looking for food, depends on the number of foxes in a given area, and how much food is available within that area.  In the countryside,  their food will be entirely what they can catch or find.   built-up or semi built-up areas, their food will mainly be what they can scavenge and also from what some householders put out to feed them. 

All these factors will have a bearing on how desperate a fox is to gain access to your hens. However, it’s not all bad news.  Foxes are inherently lazyso the harder you make it for them to get to your hens, the more likely it is that they will choose to go elsewhere in search of an easier meal !!

So, when looking for a chicken run, look for those that have mesh and not chicken wire. Mesh is much stronger than average chicken wire.  Some people have taken the advice of various experts and put the whole of the chicken run on mesh.  This does seem to prevent foxes from digging underneath to get at the hens.  If you decide to have chicken coop that you can move around, then ensure you move them regularly.  Not only will this provide your hens with fresh ground to decimate,  but should also prevent foxes from having a couple of nights to work away at soft spots on your ground.  It’s not foolproof but it does help.  Don’t forget to have a good strong fastening on the pop hole in the chicken coop and also on any other entrances.  Foxes are great at opening those basic twist fastenings.  These are normally a wooden fastening which pivots on a central screw, and they are often slack.  They are still used a lot on the cheaper rabbit hutches which is most unfortunate for the rabbit, but most chicken owners are getting wise and putting good locks on the coops.

Most hen owners don’t want to keep their hens penned up all the time but at night it makes good sense to shut them away for their own good.  Most hens will roost in their hen houses anyway, but a fox will take stock even in broad daylight.  It’s less common, as they are a usually a “dusk and dawn feeder” but it can and does happen.   Dig your fencing down a few feet below ground level to help prevent the fox  from digging underneath to get at the hens.

It takes a lot of work to protect your hens in areas where foxes about, but it is worth the extra effort to keep you hens safe and you only have to do it once.  Once the hen housing and outdoor area is secure,  apart from keeping an eye out to ensure it remains secure,  you can then forget about it and just take pleasure from owning hens.  Many hen owners have told me that they can’t think of anything nicer than watching thier hens “free ranging”, knowing the parameters of their “range” are knowing that they are protected from unwanted visitors.  Their hens can get on with scratching and chatting away to each other, without fear of attack, and their owners can enjoy the odd rare occasion when they can sit and watch them busying themselves or dust bathing in a quiet corner.

It can be frustrating and heartbreaking to lose hens to a fox and sometimes just as frustrating having to ensure it doesn’t happen again.  There will also be some hen owners who will be fortunate enough to never be bothered by foxes.  There will equally be plenty of people who love the foxes and will tell you how majestic a creature the fox is and there will always be those people who take no precautions against the fox at all.  Those hen owners whose hens have always gone where they pleased and who have spent the night out of their coop without ever coming to any harm.  These are the people who are very lucky and maybe don’t need to take any precautions at all against foxes.

Whichever group of hen owners you fall into, it’s always worth purchasing a good quality chicken house and chicken run because you never know when Mr. Fox might be moving into your area !! 

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