Wednesday, February 17, 2016

Outfoxing the fox

Lately we've had a fox hanging around.  I'm sure we never had a problem with foxes before we got the guinea fowl.  We used to forget to close the chicken tractors sometimes, and the worst that would happen was being woken at dawn by a large rooster crowing outside our bedroom window.  The thing with chickens is that they go into their tractor and sleep there whether you close the door or not, which does not attract foxy attention if you're lucky.

The guinea fowl would refuse to go in and opt to sleep in the grass instead, and the fox caught on to the easy meal.  I think we lost about six guineas in total over several nights and the fox obviously added our place to its nightly rounds.  We had a few accidents where chicken tractors were left open overnight.  We also saw the fox in the day as well, in the early winter morning (I assume there is only one regular fox, but there could be several).

eight acres: outfoxing the fox that has been attacking our chickens

Anyway, we knew the fox was around and had thought that the chickens were safe in their chicken tractors, as we had become very disciplined about remembering to shut them at night, until one night Taz got Pete up and he found that a fox had actually dug under the chicken tractor.  It had taken one chicken and killed another.  If Taz hadn't alerted Pete we would probably have lost the whole lot of them.  The fox had dug a hole about 10cm deep, it would have struggled to get the fat old hen out of the hole.  We were really shocked because this tractor was INSIDE our dog fenced house yard.  It keeps Taz IN but clearly does not keep foxes out.

The next night Pete put planks of wood around the tractors to prevent more digging and everything was fine until a few days later when we moved the chicken tractors and didn't move the planks.  What do they say about complacency?  We lost another two chickens.  So after that we were on a mission to outfox the fox.

We had two options: 1) kill the fox 2) stop the fox taking chickens.

Kill the fox?
Option 1 is more difficult than it sounds.... and not because the fox was cute.  Let's get the cute fox image out of the way now.  Here's a cute fox video.  Everyone say oooooh, and then remember that this cute clever agile little animal will KILL ALL YOUR CHICKENS.  It will jump and dig and squeeze into small spaces and it will KILL ALL YOUR CHICKENS.

Foxes are not native to Australia, they are a pest and a problem for our self-sufficient lifestyle, so I would have been very happy to kill our fox if I had the opportunity.  However, I could not figure out how I would get a chance to shoot it, other than stay up all night and wait.  I did try putting "Country Fried Chicken" in our animal trap, as per the video below, which seemed very encouraging, but all we caught (and released) was an angry goana :( so we were stuck with option 2 - deter the fox.

We took three approaches to deterring the fox, and so far the combination is working.  First we got foxlights on the recommendation of a friend who swears by them for protecting his sheep.  This is a battery operated LED light that flashes white and blue at random.  We got two of them.  They are well-constructed, water-proof, robust and seem to confuse the fox as long as we move them around.  Pete made a stand from a piece of C-Section and a cut-off star picket.  I made a video of our place at night so you can see the random flashing.  They have a light sensor and come on automatically as soon as its dark enough.  Its taken a while to get used to the random flashing outside!

We have had one fox attack about six weeks after we got the foxlights, but we hadn't been moving them. Now we move them a few metres every night.  The foxlights are around $90 each, which is not cheap, but neither is replacing chickens, so far I think they have been worth the investment (although I can't be sure as we changed a couple of other things after that attack).

eight acres: outfoxing the fox that has been attacking our chickens

eight acres: outfoxing the fox that has been attacking our chickens

Chicken Tractor Modifications
When we had the fox attack after we got the foxlights, we decided to also modify the chicken tractors a little to make digging under more difficult.  We (Pete) welded a frame and more mesh onto the floor of the tractors.  We previously had an open floor, and I wanted to keep as much open as possible so that the chickens can scratch, so we just added mesh around the back where the tractors sit higher off the ground due to the wheels.  With 500mm of extra mesh around the base it would be a bigger task to dig under in one night, so we just have to check for digging each day.  

I actually forgot to take a photo of the finished work, just the chickens inspecting their tractor turned on its side!  Just imagine extra mesh welded around the inside edge at the back and sides.  A few people commented on this photo on facebook that they put mesh on the outside around the bottom to stop digging, that would work too, but it would have made our tractors too wide and impractical.  Something else to consider when designing a chicken tractor!

eight acres: outfoxing the fox that has been attacking our chickens

Guard Dog on Duty
Poor Taz thinks of herself as a lap dog these days and had started sleeping curled up at the end of our bed (now that is cute).  So it was a bit of a shock to her when we decided she would have to sleep outside on the veranda.  She does get Pete up every time she hears a chicken get attacked, but that is one chicken too late, we need her to notice the fox in our yard.  I have read that dogs just get used to foxes, but I don't know about Taz, she gets pretty mad if she sees the fox in daylight and she's very protective of the chickens.  I told her she's doing a very important job and she can have lots of eggs for breakfast.

eight acres: outfoxing the fox that has been attacking our chickens
Poor Taz thinks she belongs inside at night

Do you have a fox problem?  What have you done about it?

Find out more about chicken tractors in my eBook Design and Use a Chicken Tractor


  1. wow! great info and i'm glad the lights are working. do you see them inside the house? and poor little Taz... she obviously needs a friend. i have not heard that dogs get used to foxes - ours are not like that. i think maybe you need a dog with 'high perimeter drive' - that is, dogs concerned with the property line as the territory. great work all around - i know how frustrating this is for you.

  2. Glad the lights are working, but I am sure Taz is missing her inside dog benefits. We never had fox or wild dog issues even though our neighbour shot a lot. We used an electric fence and I am wondering if this is an option for just at night?