Foxes are a perennial problem for anyone who keeps poultry. If you’ve ever lost chickens to foxes you’ll know how heart wrenching it can be, so taking all necessary precautions against fox attack is near to the top of the list of things to do when first planning to keep chickens.
There are of course a range of measures you can put in place to deter foxes, from constructing an enclosure that is difficult to burrow under, to rigging up an electric fence around the perimeter. What we’re interested in here, however, is what tools nature has provided to do the job, well, naturally!
There are a handful of animals that will protect your hens, including:
- Guinea Fowl
Animals don’t always behave as intended, and none offer the full solution. Nonetheless, as part of your overall strategy for keeping foxes at bay, at least one of these creatures is worth having in your armoury.
Dogs are the archetypal farmyard companion and tend to prove their mettle across the demands of life in a rural environment, including, as it happens, keeping guard of hens.
Clearly some breeds are more effective at being a guard dog than others, but whilst the likes of a well trained German Shepard, Rottweiler or Doberman can certainly be very protective over their territory, and will do a good job at scaring off any would be predators, you’ll need to be certain they are well trained enough not to inflict any aggression towards those who they’re supposed to be protecting, if they’re able to come into direct contact with them.
The trouble with a lot of dog breeds is that they have a habit of getting a bit too full on when playing. It’s not so much of an issue when a dog play fights with another dog of equal size, but when they play fight with a chicken, well, you can imagine it doesn’t always end well.
Personally I would opt for more of a traditional farm breed such as a Border Collie (Scottish Sheepdog), because they possess a great deal of intelligence and can be trained far more effectively than most breeds due to their superior intelligence. Whilst they aren’t known to be aggressive in the sense they will physically attack an intruding animal, they will certainly bark to scare it off, which 9 times 10 is all you really need.
Regardless of which breed of dog you have you stand a far better chance of your dog respecting your chickens and not being too heavy handed with them, if the dog is raised around hens from a very early age. This means they’ll consider your hens as much a part of the family as they do you, and with any luck learn how to treat them with the respect they deserve, not to mention care for them such that they will protect them from foxes.
No creature is better suited to protecting hens than a male of the same species; they have a vested interest in their harem of ladies that extends far beyond that of any other animal.
The great benefit a rooster has is, of course, being extremely noisy, which goes a long way toward frightening off a lot of predators before they even get near to the coop. The downside is that they’re noisy 24/7, which can be quite irritating to both you and your neighbours. Indeed some jurisdictions don’t allow roosters to be kept in built up areas, so you’ll want to look into this before getting one.
Different breeds of rooster vary in temperament in much the same way as different breeds of dog, so you’ll find some are more protective than others, although all are noisy. If you’re looking for a breed that will exert himself against a fox beyond simply making a racket, then a mid sized species such as a Rhode Island Red or Orpington is your best bet. They probably won’t survive in a fight with a fox, but they will buy enough time for your hens to hide and retreat to a safer space in the coop that doesn’t make them easy pickings.
Larger breeds such a Brahma or Jersey Giants certainly look puffed up and imposing, but that doesn’t necessarily mean they will be aggressive when they need to be. In fact the larger the breed often the more docile they are.
Of course having a rooster in the flock is about more than simply having the most noisy and aggressive specimen you can get your hands. If you do you might find him to be impossible to interact with without getting attacked yourself, or the noise may drive you crazy!
It’s far better to have a slightly more ‘mild mannered’ rooster, he’ll be more manageable day to day, whilst still being a good first line of defense against fox attacks.
If you’re unfamiliar with guinea fowl, they’re a large ‘chicken-esque’ bird native to Africa. At around 40–71 cm (16–28 inches) in length, all species of guinea fowl are generally larger than chickens, and also more aggressive. Think of them as roosters on steroids and you’ve got a fairly good idea of what to expect.
Like roosters, guinea fowl are very noisy, but unlike the crowing a rooster makes every few minutes, guineas make an almost continuous chatter, that, to be perfectly honest, is extremely annoying!
However the advantage of all this aggression and noise is that guinea fowl will easily scare off a fox. A single specimen probably wouldn’t be able to stand up a fox, but several might well be able to, and because females are just as noisy as males, you can get away with having several female guineas, whereas having more than one rooster isn’t possible given their territorial instincts. Guineas also have the advantages of being pretty good fliers, so if necessary they can get themselves out of trouble if they have to.
On the subject of male versus female guinea fowl, females are the better option because males will likely try to mate with your hens, which can result in them being injured in the process.
Geese are often touted as good guard animals in general, and with good reason, they’re naturally territorial over what they perceive as their home and everything in it. They’re used for home security, and for some other applications that might surprise you, from guarding businesses to military facilities.
The question is then, are they any good at guarding chickens against foxes?
Just like most of the other animals on this list, geese are great at making a lot of noise to scare away predators, they’re just not so hot at the hand to hand (wing to paw?) combat side of things. Having said that, geese are known to have a fairly vicious clamping bite with that big beak of theirs, so who knows, maybe if they strike first, they might be able to at least wound a fox and send it into retreat.
Alpacas and Llamas
Often confused for one another, (the alpaca can be distinguished by its smaller size) llamas and alpacas none the less share a similar temperament and disliking for smaller mammals, whilst being completely disinterested in birds.
This all makes these creatures ideal protectors for chickens, so if you’ve got the space to keep a pair of these in with your chickens you’ll have all the muscle you need to keep your girls safe.
Despite being stereotypically perceived as dim witted and harmless, donkeys do have a formidable kicking leg, and will gladly use it against mid sized mammals such as foxes that they perceive to be a threat to themselves and others.
The downside is that they tend to disregard smaller creatures such as rats that might snoop in to steal eggs. Nonetheless, if saving the hens themselves is your priority, a donkey is pretty good bet.
Other Considerations For Protecting Your Hens Against Foxes
No matter how well suited to the job they are, no designated ‘guard animal’ is guaranteed to provide 100% protection against the threat of foxes. Foxes are too smart, too determined, and too omnipresent to be scared off by another animal every second of the day.
Instead your chosen guard animal should simply form part of a bigger strategy to keep your hens protected. Broadly speaking the 3 other main considerations are:
- Having a secure, fox proof (well, as fox proof as you can make it) enclosure
- Keeping your yard clean of food scraps that will only serve to encourage foxes and other predators
- Having another strategy to scare off predators at night such as a security light, for when non-nocturnal guard animals (ie most of them) are asleep