Poultry panic

Mike Powell has no option but to mop up a vixen and her litter after they take to raiding a (very) nearby chicken coop

Credit: wrangel / Getty Images

These days I am not a great enthusiast of shooting lactating vixens that clearly have a litter of totally dependent cubs tucked away somewhere, but occasionally a situation arises where, owing to the circumstances, the litter and the adults have to be dealt with.

Once the litter has been weaned then the situation changes, as even if the vixen is removed, other foxes, including the dog, will take over the feeding duties.

I live close to a poultry farm where the free-range inhabitants generally ensure a steady supply of foxes all year round. Recently there had been signs that birds were being taken on a regular basis, and knowing that the time of year was with us once again when cubs were being produced, I suspected that there was a litter in the immediate vicinity of the farm.

A few nights out with the excellent Pulsar Accolade thermal binoculars showed that there were a couple of foxes hanging around the poultry farm, but there was nothing unusual in that and there was no specific behaviour patterns to suggest that there was a litter of cubs nearby.

However, poultry continued to be taken, so after dealing with a fox on another smallholding nearby I resumed a sporadic watch on my neighbour’s farm. After a couple of fruitless outings, I did see a fox in one particular area of the farm on two further occasions, which led me to suspect there was something going on there.

The shot was taken from behind the hedge in front of the far poultry house

Knowing just how jumpy vixens are when they have cubs below ground and how quickly they will move them if they suspect they have been discovered, I suggested that the farm staff kept away from that particular spot until I’d found out what was going on. 

A few nights later, I and my shooting partner Callum set up in our usual vantage spot that gave a good view over most of the farm and in particular the place where I suspected the earth could be located.

This spot was a thick, steep, hedge that had been fenced both sides some years ago and now provided an almost impenetrable place for vermin of all types to thrive unmolested.

Settling in about 7pm, we prepared for a few hours’ wait. The spot is ideal for using the pick-up as a portable hide, as we had cut the hedge to a level that allowed us to have an uninterrupted view while sitting in comfort – ideal on a chilly, windy night!

Time passed fairly uneventfully and in the meantime I shot a small number of rats with the .22, as from our vantage point we looked down on one of the poultry houses and as always, despite all the efforts of poison, traps and shooting, there are always a few rats to be seen.

After a further hour or so, a fox was spotted trotting rapidly across the field a couple of hundred yards away. Despite my calling it repeatedly, it took no notice of me and went diagonally away into the top right-hand corner of the field and out of sight.

There was something about this particular fox’s behaviour that was a little out of the ordinary. Perhaps it was the purposeful and rapid way it crossed the field or the fact that it totally ignored my calling, I’m not sure – but there was something about its whole demeanour that made me think this was the one I needed to get rid of.

Half an hour passed then suddenly the fox came back. From where we were I thought it would hit the hedge line and then come down the track towards us. When the fox reached the hedge, it started heading towards us then slipped into the hedge.

Another half an hour passed and there it was again, coming from the same spot and once more heading across the field. Once again it took no notice of my calling, and after another period of time, back it came again.

The usual scene of carnage presented itself

By now I knew there was only one explanation: there was a litter being brought up right in the middle of the poultry farm, probably no more than 50 yards from the nearest batch of birds. Not an ideal situation…

After another lengthy wait, the fox reappeared and the whole saga was repeated. This time, instead of calling I shouted, expecting to stop it – but it totally ignored my loud “Oi!” Next I tried a piercing whistle – same response. Finally my young shooter partner joined in and eventually the fox stopped.

The Accolade ranged the fox at 230 yards, Callum lined up for the shot, pulled the trigger, and the fox dropped on the spot. There was no further movement from the fox, so clearly once again the Howa .243 had done the job – with a little input from Callum of course!

We left the fox where it was as we didn’t fancy negotiating all the mains-connected electric fencing in the dark. Incidentally, from what I’ve seen over the years, foxes seem to be pretty impervious to electric fencing – all they do is jump over it.

Next morning I drove up to the farm and walked to where the fox had dropped. The shot had been a good one – it entered just behind the front leg and exited directly opposite, killing the vixen instantly – so instantly in fact, it still had a large portion of chicken in its mouth.

After dropping the fox back to the pick-up, I had a look at the hedge where the vixen had been coming and going. Sure enough, a heavy scattering of feathers led me to the earth. Later that morning I returned and dealt with the three cubs.

This was one of those jobs where you knew without a doubt the best course of action had been taken, as my neighbour certainly wouldn’t have wanted a litter being brought up within (as it turned out) a mere 15 yards from the nearest free range house containing 400 birds.

Within a couple of days a call came in from someone who lives on the cliff land nearby to say that she had been raided two nights in succession, asking me to have a look and see what could be done.

Arriving at the large run, the usual scene of carnage met my eyes, but as soon as I examined the run I could tell it hadn’t been a fox this time but a badger.

It had dug under the netting, leaving a couple of telltale grey-black hairs in the process. On the first night it had killed four birds, gaining access to the coop by ripping the pop hole open and quickly slaughtering the occupants.

The owner had secured the hole but the following night the badger had returned and just torn a hole through the wire netting, climbed up the narrow ramp to another coop, and after ripping its way in had killed and part-eaten the remaining birds. It was really a sorry scene.

Callum was able to bring a couple of marauders to book

Years ago the solution would have been simple and obvious, but in these times it no longer is, and should I have carried out remedial action and word had got out, not only would my licence have been forfeit but other draconian measures would have been brought to bear.

What makes this even more annoying is that the adjoining cliff land is now owned by the RSPB, who will not allow the badger cull to be carried out on their land.

So the good lady who lost all her chickens will either have to spend a small fortune on badger-proofing her birds – which is no easy task as I know from my own experiences – or give up keeping chickens, which is something she has taken great pleasure in for many years.

Yet another nail in the freedom of country people to run their affairs

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