When you’re taking care of chickens in your backyard, there are plenty of things you need to worry about; from their preferred food, to the unpleasant possibility of illnesses. But besides all that, there’s another practical issue to keep in mind – their safety.
Depending on your location, there are more than a few chicken predators out there.
For example – the cunning fox. In fact, the fox is one of the most feared predators that chickens encounter. There are multiple reasons for that, but they can all be summed up in a single three word sentence – They are smart. And in simple terms, your chickens are vulnerable to them at all times.
Indeed, there aren’t many predators that can do more harm to your coop than the unpleasant fox. And we’ll explore why that’s the truth in this article, as well as answer some practical questions; such as whether your chickens are safe until sundown. Read on everything beyond the jump!
The Dangers of Foxes
As we’ve mentioned above, foxes are definitely some of the most formidable predators any chicken coop will ever encounter. And eerily enough, when a fox attacks the coop, they don’t leave much evidence of their being there behind; making them quite a sinister foe. Instead, they’ll just pick off one of your chickens cleanly. But, what else makes the fox such an unpleasant animal to encounter when you’re keeping chickens?
Mainly, the fact that when we say foxes are smart, we definitely mean it. Unlike some other predators, a fox attack is no spur of the moment thing. They don’t rely just on swiftness and ferocity to carry out their attack on the coop. Instead, foxes tend to assess both the run, the coop and the immediate surroundings well before they strike. They’ll even observe your home, if you’re keeping the poultry in your backyard, and the areas where chickens free-range.
In fact, they’ll go as far as to memorize your schedule, once they recognize you as the caretaker and guardian of the chickens. They’ll observe when you’re not home, and when you arrive; furthermore, they’ll learn when the chickens are let out, or when they’re in the backyard or the pasture. Indeed, one of the reasons foxes are so effective is the fact that they strike when the conditions are the absolutely most favorable to them.
They’ll make sure that there are no humans around to thwart their efforts, and no other guardians animals. And to answer the eponymous question – while foxes usually strike in the evening or the early hours of the morning, depending on your schedule; they can also attack in the middle of the day, if they judge the conditions to be better for them at such a time.
Foxes in the United States
Naturally, if you’re going to protect chickens from fox attacks, you’ll need to obey the first rule of any sort of conflict – know thy enemy. So, you’d do well to familiarize yourself with foxes. And don’t worry, we’ll give you a quick run-down right here; it won’t be too much of a hassle.
Namely, there are four distinct kinds of foxes in North America: the kit, arctic, grey and red fox. As you might’ve already guessed, not all of them are an equally frequent sight. Among the abovementioned types, the red fox is far and away the most common; thus, it’s the species most likely to endanger your chicken coop.
And even though these kinds of foxes exhibit varying appearances and behaviors, depending on their natural habitats; they still share common traits. Together, they’re viewed as the tiniest wild dog in North America. And, crucially, what brings them together, more than anything else, is the distinctively cunning nature. They’re incredibly bright animals, able to learn and adapt to new circumstances with extreme ease.
Thus, once they decide to have a go at some of your chickens; outwitting them will be harder than you may first think.
How Likely Is An Attack?
Luckily enough for any prospective chicken keepers out there, while the fox is definitely one of the more dangerous predators; it’s not a very common one to encounter. Though, beware – there will be exceptions to this based on where you live and keep your chickens.
If you’re living on the edge of a dense forest, you can expect constant trouble from foxes should you decide to place a chicken coop there. Also, if you’re living on a huge country estate; there’s a chance that a vixen might view your chicken coop as easy pickings for her young, and make herself a den in the immediate vicinity.
Furthermore, once you’re sure that foxes are near your coop and your home – bear in mind that they’re quite territorial creatures. Meaning that, if they settle somewhere, they’re probably there to stay.
Red foxes can actually be found in every U.S. state except Florida. Meaning that the majority of chicken keepers in the United States would do well to be vigilant for a fox attack. You definitely don’t want to be caught off guard, as it can cost you most of your flock.
So, with that in mind; know that foxes are able to climb fences; though they actually prefer digging under them. Foxes of the red variety are also able to swim, and run at a speed of 30 miles an hour; or jump almost 15 feet.
But while foxes may utilize any of these abilities to get past your defenses and attack, that’s definitely not the most likely scenario. Instead, most attacks happen when the chickens are out on pasture, and they’re not guarded.
Foxes will also carefully wait for the perfect opportunity, menacingly stalking their chicken prey. Once they see an isolated single bird; they’ll strike ferociously.
Defending Against Fox Attacks
So, now that we’ve established how and when foxes attack, as well as their habits, the logical question is – can you do something to prevent an attack? How do you keep your chickens safe from such a dangerous predator?
It’s a tricky question, because the prevention of fox attacks is not fool-proof. Sure, you could do all of the tried and tested things, and think that the fox isn’t a difficult predator to protect chickens against. But then in practice, you’ll soon learn that foxes bide their time; all they need from you is a single mistake, a single lapse of judgment. And then, they’re ready to pounce.
One evening when you’ve got other things on your mind besides your chickens, and you simply forget to lock the coop up; that’s an opportunity we guarantee that nearby foxes won’t miss.
But what can you actually do in practice, human error aside? First of all, you’ll want to do everything you can to make your pasture area and your backyard a low-target zone for fox attacks. Primarily, you’ll do this by mowing the nearby grass religiously. The last thing you want is to provide cover for foxes while they’re attacking or scoping the area; so you want no shrubbery around the chicken coop for foxes to hide behind.
And if your chickens tend to make their pasture in an area that’s not very near your home or another human dwelling with occupants that would scare a fox away; you need to be certain that they’re behind a very tall fence, that’s also got a buried perimeter.
Furthermore, the best thing you can do is to start using a guardian animal. Nothing will provide quite the same protection against foxes as a guardian dog. And it doesn’t have to be a great hulking brute of a dog either; a retriever-shepherd crossbreed will do just fine as long as it’s loud enough to scare off predators, and just big enough.
Remember – They’re Clever
Some people resort to using electric fencing against foxes. However, as incredulous as this may seem; I haven’t found that it’s particularly effective in practice. Actually, foxes are apt to just jump over it, or slip between the wires. Also, remember how clever they are; the damn bastards are more than capable of learning when the fence is turned off.
So, if you know that there are foxes in your general area, or you’re aware of a nearby den; don’t be afraid to play hardball. Make sure that you’ve got a guard dog to keep the hens safe, and make sure you lock the coop every single night, without exception.
These are the very best precautions you can take against foxes – in tandem with constant vigilance. You don’t want to allow yourself even a single slip up if foxes live near you; as they’ll have learned your patterns by then, and they’ll know how to exploit a change. So, when your chickens go free-ranging, always stay in the vicinity yourself, or else leave a dog that’s friendly toward chickens nearby. With it watching them, the foxes will be far less likely to try anything.
But most importantly – never underestimate foxes or their cleverness. They won’t hesitate to observe your coop constantly, and make an attack when they judge your guard to be down. They’ll learn of any changes quickly. And most disastrously – once they get to one of your chickens, they’ll be far more persistent in their next attempts, even if you repel them. So make sure the coop is safe at all times!