Monday, January 17, 2011

The girls are alright

Something came after my chickens Saturday night. I hadn't been asleep for long when I heard the girls fussing. The fussing almost immediately gave way to frantic squawks. I raced outside in my pajamas with only slippers on my feet in several inches of snow.
At first I didn't see anything but then a small dog-like shape appeared from beside the chicken pen. I thought it was a small dog with a long skinny tail but I couldn't tell anything more than that. I quickly chased it off and settled the girls. An hour or so later the girls started in again, and this time I was better prepared, as I grabbed my headlamp in addition to my slippers.

When I got outside, the marauder was further away, and I could see its eyes in my headlamp but nothing else.

The next morning the girls were okay, if still jumpy. When a hawk flew past to the north, they acted as though it was right overhead. Later, I kept thinking about what I thought was a small dog, and I've come to the conclusion that it wasn't a dog at all. I've never seen a stray dog around here, and I pretty much know all the dogs within a mile or so of the cabin. There aren't many and most of those are farm dogs.

I now think my midnight marauder was a fox with mange. In the fall, I saw two foxes with an early or mid-stage of mange. They still had some fur on their bodies but the fur on their tails was pretty much gone. This nighttime predator struck me as being very short-haired at best. I didn't see any hair, just its silhouette, which reminded me of a small, short-haired terrier with a long, skinny tail.

If I'm right that it was a fox with mange, I'm astonished that a fox could survive the winter without its fur coat. Perhaps that's what made it try for the chickens in the pen right under the cabin. It must be desperately cold and willing to take risks, such as approaching the cabin, that it wouldn't ordinarily attempt.

The next morning, I reworked my chicken pen a bit, tightening up the edges, covering it up on the far side with a tarp. So far, I haven't had a repeat of Saturday night's attempt. I hope this predator, whatever it was, has learned its lesson.


Grizz………… said...

Sounds like a fox to me, too. You gotta protect them gals, though, even on a cold, dark winter night when wearing houseslippers! Chicken wranglers have to be tough.

Elora said...

Don't count that fox out yet, Carolyn! So many of the references we have to being crafty, smart, a fox. They are resilient and do amazing things to get a meal! Keep those gals penned up tight! Our turkeys are out behine the garage, but they are too big for a fox. We've seen footprints in the snow, though, as if they've checked out the turkeys and have decided the birds are just too big to give it a go.

Keep a watch, though!


Cathy said...

it still could be a dog, one shouldn't rule that out.

But given the fact you had foxes by your house before. Well you are probably feeding your chickens good, so you really can't blame the fox for wanting a good chicken dinner ;)

Looks like you'll be getting the same kind of weather i'm getting. everything but the kitchen sink.

jeannette said...

What a drama in midnight! Better put some snow boots next to your bed:)
By the way, would you tell this city girl what a fox with mange means" Is it a disease or a phase they go through?

Scott said...

Carolyn: My guess is that you're right - a fox with mange, unless it's a small coyote with mange. I feel really sorry for animals afflicted with mange; as you point out, it's got to be a death sentence in winter. Plus, they've got to be thoroughly miserable, too. Jeanette, mange is caused by a mite that burrows into the skin and causes such intense itching that the animals scratch their fur off. It's transmitted between animals, especially when they den together. I don't think that any animal survives a case of the mange untreated, especially during the winter. We have at least two coyotes with mange here and they both look horrible. I told our land manager to put them out of their misery if he gets a chance. So, far, the foxes look fine, though.

Carolyn H said...

Grizz: At least it wasn't below zero. 15 degrees and slippers was bad enough!

Elora: Maybe I should try turkeys instead of chickens. ACtually my pen is pretty much right under my bedroom window, so I can get out there pretty quickly.

Cathy: I had the whole range of precipation last night, except for hail. I thought I was done with that for a bit but it sounds as though there will be more tonight.

Jeannette: Mange is caused by a mite. I kind of thought cold weather got rid of the mite, but if I'm right and my midnight marauder was a fox, then the poor thing is still afflicted.

Scott: I haven't had a coyote around the cabin for a few years--and even then I only saw one.

jeannette said...

Carolyn and Scott -thanks!

Scott said...

Tough times for the mangy fox.

This fall, we saw several trotting up and down Little Crum Creek here in southeastern PA. Often, they'd just curl up to warm in the sun (I posted pics).

Since December's first snowfall, they've vanished.