It’s fox season here in Spain! We’ve got lots of foxes around here, and at this time of the year their babies are growing up… we can often hear them scream at night. Our wonderful guardian dog makes sure they don’t come onto our property… but they’re just a few terraces down and make a lot of noise at times!
Besides being terribly cute, baby foxes are also terribly hungry. And that’s a problem for us, chicken keepers… instead of going after rabbits, digging up the bones our little dog buried in my garden beds or just eating berries, mother fox might get a little bold and find her way to our coop. This happened to us on April 29th, 2016; we never even had a hint of fox presence before, but that night they came and took away or brand new rooster and 7 chickens and pullets. The only survivors were a few smaller chicks… probably because they were so small they could fit through the fence and escape.
Where was this wonderful guardian dog of ours, you might ask? Jabba was inside with us, going nuts because he wasn’t allowed out - we didn’t want to let him out as it was raining (storming!) and you know, muddy paws. It was our first night sleeping inside the new house, and we locked up the dogs with us as well. We just thought they were barking because they didn’t like the idea of doors they couldn’t open at will (like the door of the little stone stable we stayed in until then). Little did we know - we learned the hard way.
Several other friends in the area have had visits from the neighbourhood fox; they are sly (as a fox!), they keep an eye on you and know when you’ve locked up the dog or aren’t home yourself, so they can strike when you’re fast asleep. Like VERY early in the morning…
After that event, I grew restless; the sound of a baby fox crying makes me cringe, and when I hear the dog growling softly at night I’m right awake. However, we have developed a few tricks to make sure no fox will ever get to our chickens again… and I hope they will help you as well.
1. Make your chicken run fox proof
This is probably the first hurdle for foxes to overcome. In fall and winter, we let our chickens semi-free range in rotating pastures with the help of an electrical fence (for their own protection); around fox time (and in summer), they stay inside a fixed run close to the house.
We dug our fence in so foxes can’t get under it, and made it high enough so they can’t climb it. It might not be quite high enough for a desperate fox - which is why we also count on Jabba the big dog to chase them away (and Jinx the tiny dog to wake Jabba when he’s not paying attention). And on all the following:
2. Close the chicken coop at night
We have an amazing (new) chicken coop that will house our hens (and their roo and occasional babies) for many years to come. All doors have an extra security lock, so no animal would be able to open it (also it’s quite high, most doors can’t even be reached by most animals).
The annoying thing about closing the chicken coop at night (and opening it in the morning), is that you have to be there; I have had occasions where we would be at a friend’s place when it was slowly getting dark, and I would get very nervous about having to get home. We’ve had friends opening the coop door just as first light started to announce itself, before heading out on an airport run… only to come back later to an almost empty coop. So closing and opening the chicken coop door is a pain, and needs to be done accurately!
My brother has a chicken coop door with a sensor, that will open when it’s really light and close as it gets dark. After visiting him last summer, it turned out quite a lot of my (online) friends have one as well and are big fans. Click here to see what I mean. I was worried that chickens would get left behind and have to spend the night outside… apparently, that almost never happens. I know of only one story where a chicken wasn’t quick enough and fell asleep in front of the coop… thankfully the owner found her on his evening round.
3. Have male family members (and the dogs!) pee around the chicken run
I think this sounds absolutely ridiculous… it’s what some locals have advised us to do, but also what seems to work quite effectively for a few friends of ours. I wouldn’t trust my husband’s urine as the only line of defence, but if it’s an extra psychological barrier for the fox to overcome, I’m all for it! Thankfully I know where the “line of defence” is, so I make sure not to pick any herbs or juniper seeds there.
4. Do regular checks on run & coop
Every few days, do a check of the chicken run - does it look like an animal tried to dig under the fence, does everything still look sound and safe?
I’m not sure if a fox did it, or if Jinx (the little farm dog) is just trying to get at the chicken food (the chickens get all the good bits and Jinx is on a diet, how is that fair?). Anyway, we do find traces of digging at times… and we smother it with a really big stone, a tile or if needed a bit of cement.
5. Do a perimeter check just before you go to sleep.
Before you go to sleep, step outside. Take a deep breath of fresh air, contemplate the stars - and use your flashlight to look for a pair of gleamy eyes at the edge of the woods. I even say goodnight to the chickens out loud, so the foxes know there’s a human there (if they’re listening); they might be a silly bunch, but they’re under my protection!
If you're not the last person in your household to go to sleep, maybe you can ask a family member to do the same thing a few hours later?
6. Be extra vigilant when it rains / storms
From our experience, foxes know the sounds of rain, wind and thunder can mask the sounds of sleepy chickens trying not to get killed. If I forgot to close the coop and it’s pouring outside, I’m going out even though I know I’ll be drenched… better to change my soaked pyjamas, than to discover my chickens dead in the morning.
7. Don’t ignore the signs: if the animals are going nuts, something’s probably going on.
After the story I told you above, we will never ever ignore our dog again when he barks at night. He’s become a better guardian as he grew up; he will often sleep outside at night when there’s too much (animal) activity on the land, so he can keep a better eye on it. Even though Jabba can’t be trusted alone with the chickens (he just wants to play… but that’s usually more than any chicken can take) - at least he’s able to protect them from outside the coop.
If you don’t have a dog, you can still keep your ears open; if your sleeping chickens suddenly start making noise at night, something’s going on. I know exactly where the flashlights are in the house and it takes me about 6 seconds to be outside brandishing it like a weapon; only once was there really something going on (it’s usually a bird or something), but I’d rather be safe than sorry.
If you have chickens, do you have predators hanging around your property? Do you have more tips and tricks to add to these? Please let me know!