We are nearly three years into our ever-expanding poultry experiment. We have seen our flocks grow in number, complexity, and in their demands on our time. We have added varieties, species, and end-purposes (meat now, in addition to egg-laying). We have avoided losing birds to predation, suffering one attack from a hawk early on that was interrupted by our faithful dogs without any lasting harm, an odd death from unknowable causes, plus some egg-theft executed by a crafty snake (...who we executed right back, as described here some time ago).
Several weeks ago (perhaps because we had been lulled into a false sense of security by our perimeter defenses) we discovered a trail of black feathers leading to, and over, the fence near an overhanging tree. I was able to follow the trail of feathers into the woods for some distance, but gave up in the failing light of evening. What I saw in the twilight established to my satisfaction that the predator was small, powerful, and terrestrial; e.g., a fox, who dragged his victim off into the forest.
As a result, we examined our fences and discovered some blatant weaknesses we had ignored or overlooked. We beefed them up, fixed some weak spots, completed what we had left undone. Yet within a week or so, Mary discovered the headless body of another victim, left inside the chickenyard when the fox was unable to work her through the fence. Again, we examined the perimeter and found the achille's heel—the exterior gates provided ample space for a swift, determined predator to waltz under without a second thought or a moment's inconvenience.
More bolstering of defenses, this time with boards, chunks of broken cinder blocks, and bad thoughts directed fox-ward. We attempt some chemical warfare, sprinkling great wooly tufts of Schroeder-hair regularly about with abandon, and marking the trees and fenceposts ringing the chickenyard (from the five-foot mark on down) with a gallon jug of well-aged man-pee.
And yet, again, evidence of another attempt to breach our defenses—a broken board, some disturbance of the undergrowth, miscellaneous signs, but fortunately this time, no victim to be found and an early morning beak-count tallying all present and accounted for.
We now know what we're up against, and I am getting an inkling of how foxes have earned their reputation for craft. At night, our flocks roost securely inside tightly latched coops with no entry points; I like to think that is when they are the safest (please, fox, don't prove me wrong). Therefore, all three of the attacks we know about happened during broad daylight; two happened during the brief periods when Mary was off the property, and one while she was working in her office, at the farthest point in the house from where the attack occurred.
We cut back weeds and undergrowth to deprive the little bugger of cover and to reveal weaknesses in the fenceline. We will nail more boards, and bigger boards, across vulnerable spots. We will leave Schroeder out in the garden when we have to be elsewhere.
We are learning to think like a fox, and meanwhile, we keep our fingers crossed.