How to catch a fox

How to catch a fox indeed!

Last week, looking for a solution, I went to the local rural produce store. This is where I buy my chook food and pig ears for my dog. I recognised the two attendants who looked up as I walked in.

“What can we do for you?” one of them said.
“I have a fox who has taken a liking to my chickens. Do you have any traps?”
They both smiled and gave a wry look.
“We do, but I don’t know that they’d be big enough and foxes are pretty clever.”
“I know,” I replied. It’s the only thing I do know about foxes, apart from the fact that they love chicken.
He reached over to the end of the counter and picked up a business card which he handed to me.
QLD Vermin Control and Wild Game Harvesting
Professional Shooter
“He might be able to help you. That’s all I can suggest unfortunately.”
I thanked him and took the card.

The next day I called the number.
“No worries,” said the professional shooter with a slight drawl. “I’ll come out and have a look.”
He came a couple of days later, late in the afternoon when foxes become active. He brought what he called “lure”: food that foxes like to eat. Sardines and dried liver treats. We walked down into the bush so he could check things out.
“You probably can’t see it, but there’s a track here that the fox has obviously been using,” and indeed once he pointed it out you could see a line through the dried leaves and small trees heading in the direction we’d seen the fox take.
There was a mound of dirt from where we’d planted a tree which had been partially dug out.
“He’s been diggin’ here. Probably a marsupial mouse or rat or somethin’ in there. I’ll put some lure here and see what happens.”
He poked some of the bait into the dirt and then laid two sticks down either side and angled towards each other so they formed a V. He told us that foxes and dogs won’t step over sticks laid like that, but will go around and be effectively funnelled towards the narrow end. If the lure was taken, he’d lay some the next night and the next, and then when the fox was feeling secure, he would lay a foot trap.

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He’d explained to me on the phone that these aren’t the ones with jagged metal jaws, but have rubber edges and are RSPCA approved. When he arrived he opened his car boot and showed them to be. They’ll clamp down hard, but won’t do any damage unless they’re left too long. He also showed me a box of small bullets.
“Once they’re caught,” he explained, “by law I have to shoot them because they’re a grade 2 pest.”
After he lay the lure, he spent a few minutes trying to call the fox out with what he called a fox whistle. It was like an accordion and made a sound like those annoying whistles kids buy at markets and shows, the ones that go right inside their mouths and make everyone start to hate them.
The fox took the lure the first night but not the second.
“That’s ok. We’ll just keep putting it out. Foxes are clever.”
The next time he lay the lures he added a vile-smelling substance made from dogs’ anal glands. Possibly the worst smell in the world, but irresistible to dogs and foxes alike. Maggie lifted up her head and kept sniffing the air, even though she was far from it, up the hill on the verandah. I closed the gates, but when she knew I wasn’t looking she found a way out. She reappeared reeking of that pungent stuff. Boy was she in trouble! I’m sorry to say I hit her and then chained her up: something I never do, but I was so angry and am so desperate to get this fox. Until we do, my chickens cannot be allowed to free-range.
My next door neighbour said he’d seen two foxes together one morning a couple of weeks ago.
“No worries,” said the shooter, “we’ll get both of ’em.”

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The Wretched Mr. Fox

What am I going to do? I now have only two hens and Bryan the rooster left. That wretched fox having taken one hen, decided last Thursday that it was time to try his luck again. I had quickly become complacent about it. Why? He was hardly going to stop at one chook, but I can’t keep my chickens locked up all the time. They must be allowed to free-range some of the time, otherwise what’s the point? They’ll be unhealthy if stuck in their pen, with only dirt to peck around in. They need to eat grass and grubs and insects, and lie in the sun, flicking dust through their feathers to get rid of lice and keep themselves clean. Watching the chickens pecking about in the garden and on the lawn is strangely hypnotic and relaxing. If they’re down the hill locked in their pen I can’t see them or hear them.

I had left to drive my youngest son to soccer training and asked my middle son to lock the chooks up before it got dark. As we were driving I got a text message and asked my youngest son to read it:
A fox got one of the chickens
“Which one?” I asked. “Quick text him back.”
“He says he doesn’t know.”
“Well call him and put it on speaker.”
He said he’d gone down to lock them up, but that they weren’t in the coop yet, so he came back up to the house to have a shower. As he was getting out of the shower he heard a comotion. The chickens were squawking and Maggie was barking. He got dressed and ran down to see the fox carrying off a flapping hen with Maggie close on his heels. The other chooks had scattered and he was trying to find them.
He hung up and I drove my youngest to soccer. On the way back, my phone rang again. It was my other son again, breathless, obviously on the move still trying to sort out what was happening. Having taken one chook, the fox returned, but the other chickens had disappeared. He said the fox stood there and just stared at him for a good 30 seconds before Maggie spotted it again and it took off. He then saw it again carrying the original chicken with Maggie chasing it. It headed up onto the road where it dropped the now headless chicken and disappeared. Dan was trying to find the other chickens and when he looked at the road again the headless chicken was gone. He would keep looking for the other chickens. He hung up.
When I got home the first thing I saw was the rooster and Sylvia, my oldest beautiful silver Wyandotte, now 8 and a half years old, blind in one eye, a survivor of that the attack that had blinded her and also a lung infection which I had diligently treated, feeling slightly foolish for giving so much medical attention to a chicken. Her feathers were askew; both looked shaken.
So those two were still alive.
I went inside and turned on the verandah light then walked outside again. There under the light, squashing one of my pot plants on the small glass table was my gold Wyandotte, Gladys Emmanuel. She was terrified and when I picked her up she tried to peck me. I tucked her gently under my arm and spoke softly to her, saying how it must have been terrifying, but it was ok now. She began to coo back at me, like a little child, as though saying, “Yes, it was very scary.”
So it was Doris who was taken, my gold Wyandotte, with blue/grey edges on her feathers. A couple of years ago she was almost killed trying to protect her chick from a hawk and I found her standing in a corner with her chick, dripping large dark drops of blood, with no strength left to fight me when I picked her up. Meghan the vet stitched her up and the staff had fallen in love with her and her chick which stayed with her, and used to jump up onto her back. Doris was patched up, but the chick was killed two days later by a tiny carpet snake, the only thing that could get into the guinea pig hutch I had put them in. We got the snake out but it was too late. Doris tried to keep feeding her dead chick, dropping bits of food next to it and cooing to it, until I finally removed it and put it out in the bush.

We eventually carried the remaining chooks back down to the pen and they’ve been locked in ever since. I can’t let them out now until this fox is dealt with, but how to catch a fox?

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Predators

My flock is dwindling.
Two weeks ago I heard a commotion from the chickens who were free-ranging down near the water tank behind the house. Maggie and I ran down to investigate. The chickens were all huddled together under the bougainvillea on the concrete tank looking terrified. I counted them; one was missing. I had a bit of a look for her, but knew I wouldn’t find anything. She has vanished without so much as leaving a feather. I believe it was the work of a hawk.
A few weeks ago I was watching the chooks pecking about on the small patch of grass in the garden when they suddenly scattered and took cover under the bushes. Surprised, I stepped off the verandah and looked up. There, slowly circling high above, was a hawk. The chooks wore the same terrified look they now had clustered under the bougainvillea. They refused to come out into the open until it was well and truly getting dark.
So Stephanie, my black Wyandotte, with the black legs that reminded me of the stockinged nuns from my early school years, was gone.

Then on Monday afternoon, about an hour after I’d let Bryan and the girls out I heard an even greater commotion coming from down near the chook pen. I quickly ran down, Maggie running ahead as usual. There was nothing to see, but Maggie was off and through the bush after something. After a quick check I was sure another of the girls had gone missing so I followed her. She came running back but I told her to get after whatever it was. She again ran off through the bush with me running after. I followed her across our property, dodging my way through the lantana bushes and through the barbed-wire fence onto the neighbour’s property. Maggie turned a sharp left to run around the dam, but to the right I heard flapping. I called to her and she turned and ran in the direction of the flapping. I followed her towards a large clump of lantana. She suddenly sped up and I looked up to see a fox hurrying away. It briefly looked back at me before running off, Maggie close behind. It had no chicken, so I concentrated on the clump of lantana and soon spotted gold feathers. Sure enough there was one of my beautiful gold Wyandottes lying on her side, head stretched back at an awkward angle. As I picked her up I was surprised at how much heavier she was dead than alive and as I did so I heard the fox cry out in fear or warning.

The fox having got away, Maggie soon reappeared trotting beside me as I carried my chicken by the feet. This seemed wrong somehow, so I lifted and cradled her body, supporting her floppy head, her eyes closed. She was still warm and I marvelled that something I had seen alive and pecking about in the scraps only an hour before could now be so lifeless.

Our ground is hard clay, so I didn’t bother burying her, but just laid her down in an old tyre that was lying in the bush the other side of the gully next to the house. I stroked her golden feathers and left her for the bush to take her. The next day she was gone. Maggie sniffed where I’d laid her then followed a trail through the fence where she stopped and sniffed again. I followed and found a pile of gold feathers and some grain. As I stood looking at them, a tiny red-headed finch flitted down and picked up one of the feathers. It flew up onto a branch and seemed to be weighing up the feather, deciding if it was suitable for nesting material. It must have been, because the finch then flew off, carrying the feather in its tiny beak.
Maybe the fox came back to claim his prize or something else took care of her. It doesn’t matter much. She’s gone, but at least she’s being of use to someone else.

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Dog and Chicken go to the Vet.

On Monday morning, as my dog, Maggie, jumped up to put her front paws on the side of the bed to greet me as she does every morning, she let out a sharp, high-pitched yelp. She then slunk away and wouldn’t come when I called her back. I got up and sat on the floor with her to check her out, but couldn’t find anything: no ticks, no obvious injury. She was very quiet and didn’t even hassle me for her breakfast. I decided not to feed her in case it was serious. She tried to put her front paws up on my knees but recoiled, and when she went downstairs, did so very slowly and carefully.

As soon as the vet opened I called them, explained the problem and they told me to come in at 10. In the mean time, Maggie retreated to her bed and sat there shivering in obvious pain. I started to get really worried. What if she had some internal damage and was bleeding? What if some poisonous thing had bitten her and the venom was taking effect? Should I take her up to the vet early instead of waiting? But I didn’t want to look like one of those neurotic pet owners.

So in order to feel like I was doing something I gave her some rescue remedy. Now I have never experienced any miraculous effects from rescue remedy but always keep it in my bag. If you can give a few drops to yourself or someone else in times of extremis you at least feel useful. So I managed to get a few drops onto the outside of Maggie’s lips and she licked them off. She sat there looking as mournful as ever, but I decided there was nothing more I could do, so I left her to rest on her bed and got on with my chores.

I walked out to the kitchen and picked up the scrap bucket for the chickens and was about to head out the door when Maggie appeared. Taking the scraps to the chooks is the highlight of her day and she wasn’t going to miss it. Lo and behold, she rushed ahead of me as usual, took off down the stairs with no trouble and was soon up on her hind legs against the side of the pen barking at the doves that always get trapped in there. Could it be that rescue remedy actually works?

Now I had an appointment at the vet, but what seemed to be a perfectly healthy dog! I equivocated, but decided to tale her anyway, just in case.

But just in case she was fine, I decided to maximise my visit. While down at the chooks, I got hold of Esme, the misbehaving chook, and had a good look at her. She had chicken shit caked all around her nether regions and I wondered whether there might be some infection as a result and this was causing her strange behaviour. So I tucked her under my arm, brought her up to the house, cleared the dirty newspaper from the carry cage and put some fresh stuff in and locked her in there. She was not impressed. Not only was she now closely confined, I had taken her straight after I threw the scraps into the pen and she was missing out. She kept shifting around and giving me menacing looks.

So at 10, I walked into the vet with one apparently healthy dog and one outraged chicken. Dogs being superior to chickens in the minds of humans,   Maggie was examined first. After prodding and poking and twisting her this way and that, the vet could find no obvious defect and decided it must have been a muscle spasm that had resolved itself. I didn’t mention the rescue remedy. She told me to keep Maggie confined and quiet, just to be on the safe side. I nodded obediently.

Next, Esme was extracted from her cage and placed on the table. The vet felt her all over, lifted her wings and listened to her chicken heart and lungs. Esme’s response to this was to make pull herself up to full height and crow as loudly as possible. But if she felt indignant at that, the best was yet to come. The vet pulled her gloves on and committed the ultimate humiliation. Even Brian, the rooster, had never violated Esme to such an extent. She gave another outraged crow. The vet declared her nether regions healthy but took away a little sample to examine more closely.

While we waited, Maggie paced around a few times, told me she was bored and wanted to go now and sat down and curled up on the floor in resignation. Meanwhile, Esme was enjoying the unusual experience of being stroked by a human. As I ran my hand along her silky, black feathers she first sat down and then her eyelids began to flutter and her head slowly droop. She was asleep! As I continued to stroke her I pondered on the absurdity of my life that I had been brought to a point where I was standing in a room with a sulking dog and a somnolent chicken who hadn’t been feeling quite herself.

The vet eventually returned to say she’d found nothing unusual in the sample but it might be best to worm Esme and all the other chickens. I felt nervous. How big were the other chickens, she asked. Bigger than Esme, I replied. And we have a rooster who’s quite big. Hmmm. Could we weigh him? I put my head in my hands and groaned. No, don’t worry, it’s ok, she replied. I said, no I didn’t mind doing it, but could just visualise capturing the rooster under cover of darkness, while he was sleepy, and trying to make him stand on a set of bathroom scales and keep him still long enough. We’d already had Brian to the vet after he ate a giant rubber band, most of which was tangled around his legs. He was found stumbling around the carport making a loud, strangled noise. The vet had knocked him out, then tried to pull the rubber band out, but it was firmly fixed somewhere deep inside. She pulled it out as far as possible, snipped it off and we took him home. He’s never crowed properly since. Yeah, maybe we could weigh him…

So I left the vet with two apparently healthy animals, slightly poorer and with two bottles of liquid that I’m supposed to administer to the flock. I was also instructed to cut away the shit encrusted feathers from Esme’s bum and wash it lest she become flyblown and they eat away her flesh. God I love that chook.

Come on Esme. It won't hurt a bit.