A death in the family

Egg production in our household has ground to a halt this week for a very sad reason. On Wednesday evening a fox broke into our supposedly impregnable Egglu and tried to carry away one of our lovely pet hens, Molly. I was alerted by Lexi’s terrified squawks and chased after the enormous fox. He dropped Molly and we took her straight to the vet, but she sustained some bites and sadly didn’t make it. She was a terrific hen and is very much missed by us and her best friend Lexi, who is now, unsurprisingly, a bit spooked and lonely. I brought her indoors last night and put her in a box in the hallway which seemed to cheer her up. Meanwhile, we are busy thinking of ways we can beef up security in the run. The fox pulled the door to the run off at one side. We hadn’t realised that the plastic ratchets which hold it together had weakened, so we need to get something a bit more heavy duty to keep it secure. It’s currently breeding season for foxes and chicken attacks can increase at this time because they need more food for their cubs.

Unfortunately Molly was the only hen who was laying. DJ doesn’t agree with me, but I suspect Lexi hasn’t laid an egg since about October/November last year when she started moulting. Her moult has long since finished but no eggs have been forthcoming as far as I’ve seen. We had to buy some from the supermarket over the Christmas period when Molly also took a break. DJ waved an egg at me the other day, swearing blind that the slightly lighter pigmentation on it compared to another one meant it was definitely Lexi’s, but I’m not convinced. It was exactly the same shape and size as Molly’s, whereas Lexi’s ones were always large and bulbous despite her slim frame. Not to mention the fact that since November we haven’t had two eggs produced on the same day, which would back up DJ’s argument.

We had been thinking about getting some new ladies on board to boost egg production and deal with the succession issue (hybrid hens don’t tend to live very long) anyway. But now we have little choice as we can’t leave Lexi on her own. It all feels a bit weird and tasteless replacing your pet when you’ve barely had time to mourn her, but unfortunately that’s the way it can be with chickens. We’re considering getting some pure breeds this time because they live longer, although they tend not to produce as many eggs as hybrids and are more expensive. So we’ve had our eye on getting some Orpingtons for a while. But it’s the wrong time of year and there aren’t many point-of-lay pure breeds available – usually breeders will incubate and hatch some eggs especially for you, but you have to wait four months for the chicks to mature – so we’ll have to see what we can find out there.

The other problem will be re-establishing the pecking order. No sooner do you get your lovely new hens home than your resident lone hen starts bullying them to ensure the new girls know who is boss. It’s not something we’re looking forward to witnessing as it can turn quite nasty. When we lost Louise a few years ago, Thelma was very mean to poor Lexi and Molly before the dust settled. We deliberately got two new hens so that the bullying wouldn’t be as bad. But DJ has come up with the idea of borrowing a separate run so that we can introduce the new girls gradually to Lexi without too much heartache (or bloodshed). It’s going to be an interesting weekend…

On a lighter note, with Valentine’s Day approaching, I’m undergoing a fresh new challenge next week. I’ll be investigating how much using online voucher codes can save me and DJ on our Valentine’s Day celebrations, so do stop by to find out how I get on.

Will you be splashing out on your loved one for Valentine’s Day or conserving your cash? Or got any good advice about how to keep foxes at bay? Leave a comment and let me know.

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8 Responses to A death in the family

  1. Flo says:

    Sigh – Piper. If you want eggs you need hens. Not pets. If you have the urban fox you can expect disasters unfortunately. And you have discovered that it takes continual care and attention to avoid them. I grew up on a farm where there was basically a no pet rule for any animal that was supposed to earn it\’s keep. House cats? Nope – they kept the grain barns clear of vermin. Dogs? Nope that was a working collie and not a companion for people. Hens? Nope – they laid eggs till they stopped and then became dinner. My very much younger brother got goldfish, budgie, guinea pigs and a rabbit all of which muggins here cleaned out. I was sharply disabused of the idea of pet lambs young too – was given the bottle and told to go feed the orphans till they were weaned and it didn\’t take very long. Lambs grow up very fast indeed. They are also extremely sturdy and good at taking the teat off the bottle unless you grip hard. Hey ho. It\’s also not a good time of the year to introduce hens to the big outside world is it? Think weather. You may have to actually buy eggs for a period. It will teach you to be very careful with your eglu or any other method of housing hens in the future. A hard lesson to learn but one that will stand you in good stead.

  2. Flo says:

    Valentine\’s Day is a big bribe thought up by the shops to see what money they can take off us after the January sales are over and before Easter/summer holiday season. Is it even a necessary bribe in a long standing relationship?

  3. Bill says:

    Flo,Fers past few years I only use me Home Made cards, Valentines, New Years, Birthdays ect. Three cheers fers Microsoft!Back in the dim & distant 60\’s & 70\’s I oft found me\’sen bucket feeding new born calves, they much prefer to head butt the bucket, rather than suck the milk. Consequently, I began wearing a Duck-suit. Unlike the country cousin, the Urban Fox has almost no rabbit supply, this would be their favourit diet. The more Green-Belt we smother in M-ways, "out of town" shopping, housing, etc., the worse the problem will become. The Fox is a survivor, by fair, or if necessary, also foul means. A simple form of natural Karma, & like it.piper,I agree with most of what Flo says, but I did rear batches of 250 day old chicks, free range, in the late 60\’s, in elderly, "portable", timber shacks, with simple chicken wire runs. I locked \’em in just before sunset every night, until daylight in the mornings. They all made it ter point of lay, in a rural area, with no fox or vermin problem. Sadly they did have extreme vermin problems in the Deep Litter house, where the Lady suffered several losses of intense layers, every night.I suggest that your runs should also be good strong chicken net. It needs ter hang on the eglu by means of well insulated Electric fence hooks, & supported by electric fence stakes, with insulated hooks, & kept at least 3" clear of clear ground. Once set up, yer needs a 6v tractor battery, & a simple unit identical to a cattle or pig system, or build yer own, with a small dashboard lamp, & modern flasher unit from a moped, purchased new from any modern two wheel shop. Yer will also need a manual (hand) switch, an earth cable & stake, equaly a live cable, with fence hook. I suggest a twin live cable, 1 each end of the fence. two foot of naked cable threaded well into the chicken mesh could replace the fence hooks. The Fox cannot dig underneath without catching his spine on the fence. Even day old pigs, older sows, even boars soon learn to show respect, devoid of any harm!Bon chance, mon ami!

  4. Piper says:

    That\’s interesting about the rabbits, Bill. We met a lady over the weekend who keeps chickens and lives in an area where there are lots of rabbits. She says she gets v. little problems with foxes because they tend to go after the rabbits instead. We have beefed up our security now and have a new lady installed in the spare coop which is exciting.

  5. Connie says:

    Piper, can I recommend you get a further 2 chickens when your current 2 have made friends? To avoid circumstances of lone hens its best to keep a minimum of 3, so intergrate your 2 then add a further 2, if one should die you still have 3, if another should die you are back to 2 and can get 2 more.If its eggs you\’re after hybrids are hard to beat, pure breeds will stop laying for much if not the whole winter. As you say purebreeds will live longer though. I keep and show pure bred bantams and the egg production is poor compared to hybrids but I also have some Hamburg bantams (lay well and partly through the winter) but these guys are a little flighty, I also have New Hampshire Reds (bantams but they come in L/F) who are also very good layers for purebreeds, they\’re not going to match hybrids but they come close. What you need to remember is that like us hens are born with all their eggs already in their ovaries, when they\’re all laid the hens life is pretty much over, if its a hybrid designed to fire an egg out virtually everyday then their eggs won\’t last long and neither will their life.Orpingtons, will beautiful, are also pretty poor layers and can take 40 weeks to come into lay. They are mentioned alot in old books as the smallholders choice of utility bird but almost all strains are now very much showbirds, bred for size and feather and so have all but lost their egg and meat qualities.

  6. piper says:

    Hi Connie. Thanks for the excellent advice. We have two new girls now and are integrating them with Lexi – more news later this week. But I think it\’s probably wise to get more. Yes, I was reading the other day about the set egg number issue. Hadn\’t realised that before. Also hadn\’t realised how much bigger some of the pure breeds are. They are huge! Will mention the New Hampshire Reds to the other half. Don\’t think he\’s come across those before.

  7. kevin says:

    piper terrett go mto your local hairdresser see if you can get some hair put tennis ball size amounts of hair in some old tights sock etc and hang them around the chicken run about 12 to 18 inches from the ground 2 to 3 feet apart foxes dont like the smell of us and will keep away from you chickens better if the hair is unwashed you dont need it smelling of spiring flowers hope you find this uesful and yes it does work good luck

  8. piper says:

    Thanks Kevin – sounds worth a try!

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