Sad, sad news; I believe I’ve now uncovered the fate of our poor little hen, who went missing recently; as I witnessed what was most likely a repeat performance of the sorry show this afternoon.
I was just checking on the goats & went down to the end of the shed to close the stable door, as squalls of rain were blowing in. Imagine my dismay to glance out just in time to see a large vixen pounce on dear old Babs, who was happily foraging for insects in the ponies’ field. In spite of my angry shouts the fox ignored me until she had secured the bird in her jaws; there was nothing I could do but look on in horror.
Shetland pony Sabe gave chase as the fox ran off with her prize, doubtless dragging the carcase down to the woods where she probably has cubs to feed; however just after she dropped out of sight below the brow of the hill an extraordinary thing happened. There was a piercing shriek & the vixen came racing back up the field, tail between her legs & the hen, abandoned. She was being chased by a very, very large dog fox – probably the biggest I’ve seen, in fact – who was obviously in rude health; & after he sent her packing, when I ran towards him (slipping & stumbling as best I could across the muddy ground) he just calmly started at me until turning tail & slinking silently beneath the hedge into our neighbour’s field.
Seeing opportunist corvids already gathering overhead I made my way down the field to where Babs’ pathetic, broken body lay prone in the mud. What a way to end her happy, productive, free-ranging life.
I gathered her up although cautious as to how I handled her lifeless little corpse; as of course foxes are riddled with all sorts of disease. I grimly held her up for Tony to see as he approached from across the yard. Fortunately the other hens were milling about on the yard & took little persuasion to enter their Ark, tempted in by a generous handful of corn.
Alas, they won’t be free-ranging now for a few months to come, until at least cub-feeding season is over; it would break my heart to lose any more this way. Thank goodness it was only Babs in the field at that time as usually they’re all there. Whilst I suppose it was only a matter of time before the inevitable happened, we’ve been free-ranging our poultry here ever since 2005 & had not lost a single bird to date. That said, our new cockerel, Myrddin, seems more adventurous than most; often taking his little flock quite a distance from the farmyard.
Meanwhile we managed to hurry into the nearby village to post our tax returns; although as it transpired it was more complicated than expected as (believe it or not) the Post Office computer wouldn’t recognize the address for the Next Day Delivery service by which we’d opted to send them!
Conscious that daylight was running out owing to the inclemency of the weather we hurried on into town to purchase some more sheep hurdles from the Farmers’ Co-Op (an unfortunately fruitless exercise as they didn’t have the two sizes we need) before returning home just as dusk was falling – but in good time to anxiously hustle our ducks & geese into bed, & firmly close the ramp on the hens’ Ark.
At 4am I was abruptly woken by the sudden illumination of the security light by the stables. I immediately alerted the slumbering Tony; & on looking out he spied what we’d dreaded – a fox on the farmyard, evidently in search of a further easy meal. Immediately awake, he grimly grabbed the gun & headed outside, but to no avail; alerted by the lights in the house the fox was long gone.
And now we’ll have to keep a nightly vigil; because whilst I like to think our poultry are housed as securely as possible, foxes are devious creatures – especially when the prospect of ‘fast food’ looms large.
So I’m sorry, Hugh; for the time being it’s got to be a case of “Chickens In!” in order to preserve the remnants of our little flock: the risk to them is just too great. At least they have room beneath the roost & nestbox in the Ark to scratch around & dust bathe; whilst of course the ducks have their little pond & run during the winter, & the geese will be allowed out of their otherwise ample accommodation whenever we’re at home.
Alas, we simply cannot take any chances; our hmble little flock is just too precious to us.