Fox Proofing to protect your chickens
Fox proofing needs to be your primary focus when you design your chicken accommodation.
Foxes have a bad press, but well deserved. They are are probably quite misunderstood. We are not fans of foxes except they are beautiful creatures and have a purpose in the great scheme of nature to keep the balance right as a top predator.
With this in mind, the first thing you should do beyond all else is to foxproofing, foxproofing, foxproofing. If you don’t attend to this then your beloved chickens will be on the take-away menu of any resident fox in your area. It upsets us enormously when we hear that chickens have been taken due to foxproofing errors.
Foxes are indiscriminate killers aren’t they?
Foxes are misunderstood. Most people are of the opinion that foxes kill for fun. The reason they think this is that when a fox attacks, he will kill everything living in sight. Foxes like all other creatures only kill for survival. Yes it appears indiscriminate, but they do have a cunning plan.
Whenever we humans think the shops are shut we will tend to fill our freezers, fridges and cupboards almost like the world is coming to an end. The fox has the same mentality. When food is plentiful, ie you have presented your lovely chickens to the fox on a plate then he is thinking that “I don’t know when I am going to get the opportunity to eat again so I will stockpile or cache the goods”. The equivalent of us going to do our Christmas shopping. While it is available, he is going to fill his cache with goodies.
A fox only has one mouth and he can only carry one at a time. By which time we have discovered his fowl deed (pun intended) and have gotten rather upset and have tidied up. Mr Renard is fully expecting to keep coming back and bury his goodies for lean times ahead.
So how do you fox-proof?
Any physical barriers you can place in the way for fox proofing the better. Firstly chicken wire is not fox-proof. It is only chicken-proof. It keeps chickens in but not foxes out.
Bury the wire at least 1 foot deep into the ground and also splay it out at right angles to your run sides along the ground the make a physical barrier to exclude Mr Fox. Paving slabs can be placed round the edge to make another no dig zone. Don’t forget the doorway or the roof. The more barriers you have the better. Make sure your nest boxes lids are well attached and securely bolted. Rooves should be well fitting and secure. Mesh should cover any ventilation points to exclude vermin. Most cheap wooden coops are not fox-proof. Don’t neglect the underside of your coop which is often used as an access point. These are often not screwed securely. Coops can easily tip over. Mr Fox knows this. He is wiley, strong and very persistent.
Materials used in fox-proofing
Weld-mesh with a minimum gauge of 16 and a small aperture. Two inch by two inch is not good enough. Foxes can get their mouths into that space and use it to overcome the barrier. A 1 inch mesh or smaller is better. Rats can get through 1 inch square mesh so a smaller space will exclude rats, and mink, stoat, pine marten, badgers and weasles also. These predators are all partial to a bit of takeaway chicken too. Weld-mesh is measured in gauges. The larger the gauge number the thinner the wire. 16g is better and stronger than 19g.
An excellent preventative obstacle is an electric chicken fence. The fencer or energiser (the thing that supplies the electric current) has to be powerful enough to zap any vegetation. Vegetation can weaken the current the fencer is supplying and make the difference between a startling jolt and a slight tickle for a resourceful hungry fox especially one with a load of cubs to feed in spring. A guide for installing an electric fence for chickens is here. If you want information on what electric fence to choose, there is a complete guide here
What to guard against
Foxes can climb trees. They are excellent jumpers, easily clearing a 6 foot fence. They are formidable diggers so don’t assume you are safe if you have not made the perimeter fox-proof and secure. Please remember that the fox only has to be lucky once, and that you have to be lucky every time. In the picture below, this fox visits every day.