Updated: Aug 5, 2019
Coming from an urban farm,
I was not prepared for the number of predators that live in the sanctuary. The fist time we were woken up by a loud thumping and found a fox hopping on the deck to eat the suet from the bird feeder, we were ecstatic. This was our first close wild animal experience in our new home.
After that, we left dead mice, (cuz we had a huge mouse infestation in our new house) out for what turned out to be a fox family of three. They turned up every night through the winter checking the bird bath for the days offering and we did our best to catch them in the act. It wasn't until we started seeing their tracks checking the perimeter where the baby chicks were being raised, that we started to think, maybe feeding them wasn't such a great idea.
A year ago, when we found this place for sale, it was already a protected land trust. We loved the idea of becoming stewards of the land and owning something that would outlive us. It felt like our life's calling. But when it comes down to the day to day; there are some tough decisions that need to be made.
We started out with 40 chickens. I free ranged them all summer and my daughter learned to walk feeding them and chasing them through the tall grass. Then in the fall, they started disappearing. Sometimes it would be one, or two at a time; sometimes a week apart or sometimes a few days in a row. If it eats meat, then chicken is on the menu. I ended up moving all the chickens to an enclosed coop and raising more to replace some of the ones we lost. And for a while, that worked.
Then it didn't.
I bought the live trap thinking it was the next step to keeping my flock of egg layers safe. I set it up, baited it with a few chicken scraps from dinner, and left it over night. (Traps are prohibited within the sanctuary but out by the coop is unprotected ranch land.) The next day I was nervous to check the trap, I didn't know what I would find. And sure enough I had caught something. A juvenile gray fox. The cutest most magical little fox I had ever seen. From a distance it was calm and adorable. But as I got closer it became fierce and afraid. Just standing near it my heart was racing. I felt afraid. This was a wild fierce spirit and it is meant to be free. Then I walked past it to check the chicken coop. What I saw broke my heart.
All the hens were agitated and flustered standing around the stiff dead body of my best rooster. I had caught the fox, but still lost a chicken. I love my chickens. Suddenly the choice seemed harder. The fox or the chickens. Who do I love more?
I briefly considered relocating the fox. It's suggested that relocating predators more than 5 miles away can sometimes protect your property and your animals. But this was a juvenile fox, and it was in the middle of winter. If I moved the fox it would be alone, without a den, and a big storm was on the way. The chances of it surviving were very low.
So even though I was on ranch land and technically not within protected sanctuary, and even though I knew it would come back and find my chickens easy prey, I just let it go.
And now I know, when faced with the hard decision, I will choose to uphold my own ideals. Protect the Wildlife. This is their home. The chickens, like me, are just visitors.