Foxes and chickens

7 December 2016
This is a cautionary tale about being over confident about providing a safe place in the backyard where chickens and pets live. I've always known that the most fundamental part of keeping animals is proving a safe place for them. We live in a small rural town at the end of a dead end street so we don't have a lot of passing traffic. The main threat here are the wild things that come into our yard or fly overhead.
We have a large backyard and that strip of trees along the back are growing on the side of a creek. That is where the foxes travel.  The lattice on the left, right near the house, was where Patrick was attacked.

As you know, we have a flock of chickens here that keep us in rich golden yolked eggs most of the year.  I've fallen into the habit of thinking the chooks need the most protection during the night. And we do get a lot of night visitors but most of them are harmless. I hear them out there most nights. They're looking for water, something to eat or a place to rest and I'm happy for them to find all of that here.

Patrick, our warrior chook.

A couple of days ago, Hanno and Gracie were sitting on the back verandah, I'd just let the chickens out to free range in the back yard and all was right in our world.  I came inside, Hanno yelled "FOX!" and in a few seconds, our beautiful Plymouth Rock hen, Patrick, was gone. The fox was gone too and the only thing left there was a spray of Patrick's feathers. Patrick was our fearless warrior chook. She was always the first one out the gate, she was always the first at the food trough, and she didn't flinch when I was convinced she was a he and named her Patrick.  😇

I called the local council and reported the fox attack to the Feral Animal Response Team, got some advice, requested the team visit our home to see if we could do anything else to deter foxes and started to think about living life without Patrick. The following morning, I let the chickens out later than normal to avoid having them roaming free when the fox did an early patrol. I checked the chicken run for signs of the fox and slowly opened the gate to the coop. The first chook out was Patrick!  She had a bite mark on the back, was missing a lot of feathers, but she was there, safe and almost sound. She must have escaped and run into a clump of close-growing palms and hid there until she felt safe enough to run back to the coop. Hanno didn't see her when he herded the flock in for the night.

The egg stealing goanna climbing over the old coop fence. Modifications were made after this.

That made me think about the other times we've had sudden attacks on our chooks.  One time a stray dog wandered in and because it was a very small dog, it got in through the gate. She killed three chooks.  Twice we've found pythons in the coop. Once a hen was sitting on the nest, the top of her body was wet, she was dead and we worked out that she'd been gobbled up by the snake but was too big to swallow.  Eagles have swooped in to take small chooks. We had a goanna lizard climb the coop fence to steal eggs. All day time attacks. The main threat is not at night here, it's during the day. I've stopped thinking that extra protection is necessary at night - the chooks are locked in then and they're fairly safe. No, here we have to remain on alert during the day too and now when I hear a chicken squark, I'm out there quick smart to see what's going on.

Patrick is okay at the moment but she's not out of the woods until that bite on her back heals. Chooks can die of shock a few days after a stressful event too, so I'm looking for those signs. But she seems fine this morning.

Are your chickens at risk too?