I want to preface this with the fact that yes, this tale, especially the photo, might be a little disturbing, especially to people who are animal lovers, fascinated and enraptured by the ferocious beauty and unparalleled freedom of wildlife. (Self included!) However, I write here to illustrate, with complete transparency, the reality of a natural food system. It’s not always pretty and sometimes the “right” thing is not a “happy” thing…
Last night I pulled in the yard just about dusk. I was somewhat surprised to find that Captain Thomas Wiggins (our tom turkey) had not gathered everyone indoors for the night. He, our most dominant turkey hen, one of the ducks and about a dozen chicken hens, were still scattered about the yard. Playfully scolding them, I popped into the house to change.
By the time Glenn and I went out to do the chores it was well and truly dark. Unexpectedly, the birds were still outside and seemed to feel that they had missed their widow of opportunity to go in, despite the fact that the door was still open. Chickens especially see very poorly in the dark and instead of blundering around they had settled in, somewhat regretfully on the hard packed snow. Tom was still pacing, agitated, and I should have trusted his instincts.
Glenn went into the barn to turn on the lights so I could herd the mismatched flock back indoors. The air was cold and they were predicting subzero temps overnight. Usually a well behaved boy, Tom still refused to go in. A moment later Glenn burst out of the barn, eating up ground like an Olympic sprinter. As he raced by I heard a single exclamation, “Fox!”
I slammed the gate closed, effectively trapping the fox in the barn – with the majority of my chicken, turkey, and duck stock. Oh dear. It only took Glenn moments to grab and load a gun. With no where for the fox to go Glenn was able to quickly, efficiently, and permanently, resolve the problem.
This little predator was a fully mature, male, red fox. He killed two of my prime laying hens, nearly completely devouring one and was in the process of mauling one of the ducks when we disturbed his smorgasbord. The duck alone was nearly half his body weight. Foxes rarely go on “surplus killing” sprees, like domestic dogs do. Unfortunately, that means it is very likely he was bringing food back to a pregnant mate. Being that it is mid-February, she could already have had a litter of kits. Oh my aching head.
Aside from destroying valuable livestock, foxes often carry two communicable diseases. The first is Sarcoptic Mange. A lot of people think that Mange is a virus, but it is actually a persistent (and itchy!) disease caused by parasitic mites that burrow into the skin. It is hazardous because the canine sarcoptic mite can also infest humans (called scabies), cats, pigs, horses, sheep and various other mammalian species. It usually shows as patches of hair loss, and irritated, itchy spots on the skin. Mr. Fox was missing a bunch of hair on the underside of his tail and we were careful to keep him away from the dogs.
The second disease is of course rabies. While Mange is infectious and annoying, rabies is a killer. Rabies is a viral disease that affects the nervous system and is usually transmitted by a bite from an infected animal. Unfortunately it can take time, sometimes years, for the virus to reach the nervous system and hence show symptoms. So a contaminated (and contagious) creature may act perfectly normal. We called the Game Warden, and he said that we are in a high rabies risk area. However, since no one was bitten, they declined to pick up the carcass for testing. We were asked to dispose of it ourselves. Luckily fowl can’t get rabies and I’m hoping that duckie will recover from her wounds. Time will tell.
Needless to say it was sad to have to kill such a beautiful creature. We try very hard to foster a working relationship with the wildlife that lives here. Foxes are usually welcome, as they often prey on pest rodents that would otherwise demolish our potatoes and other root crops. The fox was most likely being a dependable mate, providing for a growing family in the best way he knew how. Regardless, he poached in my territory, and had to go. He was seeing to his responsibilities, and so I had to see to mine. Some people might not agree with the method, but in my opinion it was the only reasonable choice.
Right, but sad.