As our eggs rise in popularity throughout the neighborhood, so also did the taste of our chickens to the local fauna. I may have mentioned in some earlier posts that we have seen some shrinkage in our flock due to the increase in predators.
We are now down to 6 chickens from our initial flock this spring of 47. The good news is that we now know what is eating the vast majority of them; a red fox has moved in just down the hill.
This is no ordinary mouse/vole/mole/vermin eating fox, this fellow (or lady, for that matter) has a particular taste for free range organic chickens. And this fox is not intimidated by our dogs, our goats, or by Hambone waving his arms and yelling. It will stop at nothing until it can sink its tiny, razor sharp teeth into the neck of one of our chickens. One particularly bad day, this fox ate THREE chickens.
The remaining chickens all seem to suffer from PTSD. The brown chicken hardly leaves her nest anymore, and she continues to try to hatch rocks instead of eggs. Hambone dutifully throws the rocks out of her nest each night, but the next day they are right back in the nest.
To protect the hens, we have reinforced the gate around the chicken house so there is no possible way for the fox to enter the chicken coop area. We are also leaving the door to the chicken yard closed until 10am -- just past fox hunting hours. This week we successfully kept the foxes and chickens apart for four days straight.
In the meanwhile, Hambone bought a local widow's lot of shotguns and rifles. Her husband was an avid hunter, and now Hambone is determined to shoot the fox.
This morning, Hambone opened the gate to the chicken yard early, and sure enough, the fox visited straight away with 4 days of pent-up hunger. Before he even knew what was happening, Hambone saw the fox run off with a chicken by the neck. He shot *at* the fox, but (according to Hambone) the rifle was sighted in all wrong. He had three other good shots at the fox, so clearly (CLEARLY!) it was the rifle site.
Tonight all three boys, Hambone, Hamslice and Little Ham (who has requested the new name of "Pipsqueak") are all down the hill doing target practice and sighting in the rifle. It's a beautiful bonding picture of manliness.
There are another 40 chicks in our garage right now, maturing to the point where we can put them out in the chicken yard next spring for a "do over." And so life goes on.