Resilience: Coming Back From Losses

Having to buy eggs has served as a harsh reminder of why we got chickens in the first place. And buying pastured eggs from the store just felt wrong. We miss our own flock’s eggs, so it’s time to begin again. Call it v2.0.

The backstory…

After severe, unrelenting losses to a fox last summer, we rehomed our remaining poultry and waterfowl – all except for a drake and some roosters. It was difficult to say goodbye to our animals, but we felt it was the best course of action at the time; the fox was killing several animals a day – free ranging ducks, chickens, even guineas. The alternative was to confine the animals, and that ran counter to our (daylight hours) free range model.

In past years, there had been some losses to predators (hawks and foxes), but nothing like last year’s devastation, when a fox serial killer appeared and treated our flock like an all-you-can-eat buffet. It was so quick that it could grab an animal and disappear in just a few minutes. And it was equally fast when escaping our property.

I tried very hard to maintain perspective – yes, this is a wild animal – yes, I shouldn’t impute intent. And yet, I had some very negative thoughts about this predator: it didn’t kill just to feed itself or its young. It killed for sport, taking down multiple fowl and leaving the dead or dying animals strewn about. A few examples:

  • A duck that had survived an attack several months earlier died in my arms after being mangled by the fox
  • A white guinea hen (one of only two guinea hens, of course) was taken just days after she had just begun laying for the first time. All that was left was feathers. Her mate, a pearl guinea, missed her so much that he started following a white (chicken) hen around.

  • Our beautiful red flock rooster and his pearl guinea sidekick both disappeared on the same day – taken by the fox

  • Our friendliest French Black Copper Marans hen (who also laid a gorgeous, speckled, deep reddish-brown egg) was taken

Despite our scanning the property periodically throughout the day, the fox was so stealthy and our property so rolling (and wooded in areas) that we sometimes could only tell it was near the flock because ducks began flying. We’d run out and scare it away, even keep the poultry confined for a few days, but it would always return. Noise didn’t deter it, and neither did anything else we tried.

I had (and still have) some very hard feelings toward that fox. Not all foxes – just that one. I can still see foxes and appreciate their beauty and intelligence. But I refuse to provide what may be perceived by certain canids as a poultry smorgasbord – measures will be taken to protect the new flock, ranging from hot wires (see how you like that, Mr. Fox!) to predator-foiling tractors (no free meals for juvenile hawks, either!). When adversity strikes, you have to just pick yourself back up, dust yourself off, and resolve to do better; colloquially, “suck it up”!

There will be chickens here on the farm this spring…and, likely, ducks and geese. Maybe even turkeys! This temporary setback has made us sadder – and stronger. Lessons learned while farming aren’t like lessons learned in an academic or corporate setting: mistakes (and/or misfortune) on the farm often mean death or injury, and significant time and resources lost. Continuous improvement means re-evaluating operations, fine-tuning, and, when necessary, revamping. On the bright side, we’re not starting from scratch – we have accumulated knowledge (as well as equipment) and are in a more advantageous place to reboot now.

Re the eggs: until our girls begin to lay – 6+ months from now – we’ll be buying our eggs from local farms. We find these to be superior to store-bought eggs, and it supports the local economy. Buy local and support your small farm neighbors!

I’ll be candling eggs very soon. Stay tuned to find out how it goes!

2 thoughts on “Resilience: Coming Back From Losses

  1. We are moving ours to 2 hectares. We don’t really have predator issues as the French shoot everything, but we too have to close in. We are splitting the runs into six sections, all covered with wire where it goes beyond the roofing of the barn style coop. It’s a lot of covering but just can’t risk loosing any. Going to do it in stages so as the girls go into the next run to free range we can work on the other sections. Be good to see your progress.

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    1. Sounds like your girls will be safe and secure, with plenty of room to roam. Best wishes for your project to go smoothly and efficiently! We may ultimately end up with a multi-pronged approach that incorporates electrified fencing, tractoring, pens, and guardian animals, but have found tractoring (movable welded wire hoops) very reliably secure. Now to build several large tractors…🔨

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