Red foxes pose a serious conservation problem in Australia. Current estimates indicate that there are more than 6.2 million in Australia and their numbers are growing, with a range extending throughout most of the mainland. Due to their rapid spread and ecological impact they have been classified as one of the most damaging and invasive species introduced into Australia.
Prior to living on a farm I had, I guess, what you would call a fairly typical view of foxes for a town girl. I was born in a country area so I knew the damage they did to our native fauna and I understood how farmers felt about this feral pest. (At least I thought I did.) The animal lover in me, however, had a bit of an issue with killing a living, breathing animal whose only real crime was trying to survive. It wasn’t their fault that they had been introduced into Australia; that was the early settlers in the 1850’s, who liked their hunting and their blood sport. Poor little foxes.
So I was conflicted on the subject of foxes when I first came to Diamond Forest Farm Stay. Four years on and, while I still believe in treating foxes as humanely as possible, I am no longer conflicted in my opinion on the matter. Foxes are a feral pest and they do a lot of damage. They are a thorn in the side of any farmer, including us.
To understand why my feelings have changed I need to take you back to my first spring; a time when foxes were rampant because they had kits in their dens to feed and the full impact of feral foxes was made abundantly clear to me.
In winter of 2014 we had a flock of 52 ducks; a nice blend of ducks and drakes with a few mated pairs. Coming into the beginning of spring we were getting upward of ten eggs per day. Given that we had so many ducks we didn’t put any eggs in the incubator. We didn’t see the need. Because of foxes,
by the end of summer we had only 19 ducks left.
That year we had so many foxes in the area that they were coming out in broad daylight. On one of our daily animal feeding runs we actually spotted one, bold as brass, slinking across the top of our hill paddock right before our eyes. It was a great photo for our visitors but it was a frustrating moment for us being in a situation where, with children present, we couldn’t really do anything except watch the fox disappear into the trees possibly tracking one of our remaining ducks.
I suppose to a fox, with our large variety of animals, we look like a 24 hour buffet and I can’t blame them for setting up a den near our farm. If I was a fox with kits to feed digging my den next to a place with ducks, chickens, turkeys, peafowl, lambs, crias and calves would be a smart move. Yes we have dogs on the property but our dogs don’t have free range over all of the paddocks and foxes are smart. Over the years they have learnt where the dogs do and do not go and when they have a free run at our ‘buffet’.
We have fox traps, but our traps have only ever caught the young and inexperienced foxes. As I said, they are smart and they learn quickly and they are also very bold. We still put the traps out, especially when we know we have a fox, and Mark will do a torch run every night to see if he can spot any hanging around but we don’t bait on our property because we have dogs and we are a dog friendly accommodation property.
Two years previously Mark was forced to make a concerted effort to hunt for one particular fox who had managed to take 32 ducks in a 3 month period. In 2016 we lost our beautiful white Peacock; a hand raised bird that could be hand fed and liked to visit our guests in their cottages. Two foxes hunting together had literally ripped him apart. I still have his white tail feathers that marked the trail of his demise in the forest, across our driveway, over the road and into the state forest. He was only 7 years old when he could have lived up to 25 years.
I’ve lost count of the number of peahens that we have lost over the years, as well as peacocks, ducks and chickens. Poor Grahame, our bronze turkey, is the last of 30 bronze turkeys that we had. Foxes got the rest. Sometimes we hear it: Squawking, honking and shrieking. Sometimes we don’t. Most of them put up fight and, as evidenced by the trail of feathers, they don’t die easily. Jumped on, feathers ripped out, dragged through fences, through bush and across paddocks. And that’s just our farm animals. Wild ducks, swamp hens and even the wild black swans that breed on the neighbour’s dam have been taken by foxes. Nothing is spared from their voracious appetite.
Our most recent loss:- our last peahen. She ventured further than she normally would have but was still well within the confines of our property. Now we are concerned that our last peacock, Flynn, will leave, searching for a mate. Sadly there isn’t one nearby and, as many people who own peafowl have lost peahens to foxes, there are very few out there to buy.
We are tired of losing animals, especially our peacocks and peahens. Those that have been to Diamond Forest Farm Stay will know that we take a lot of precautions against foxes for our animals. Our Plymouth Rock chickens and Turkeys are now locked up in a fox proof pen. They no longer free range about the farm. Our chickens get locked up in fox proof cages at night, as do our rabbits. Our sheep have the Alpacas in their paddock during lambing season for extra protection and ewe’s with newborns are brought up to a paddock near the house and locked in a stable overnight. Thankfully we have never lost a lamb, alpaca cria or calf to foxes. (Our cows have decent horns that would give any fox a run for its money).
Now we are looking at locking up our peacocks and peahens. It’s an expensive project but it is something we believe has to happen. We don’t want to lose anymore peafowl. Over the next few months we will be building an extra-large aviary for our peacocks and peahens. No longer will our peacocks be free range. They won’t be able to visit our guests at their cottages and eat the seed from the bird feeders on their verandah. But our peacocks will be safe and that is the important thing. If we build it right we will be able to make it a walk through aviary so our guests will still be able to experience our peacocks with their magnificent tails. If all goes well they may even be able to spend time with some pea chicks as the aviary should give our birds enough security to breed and raise their chicks safely.
As much as I am still an animal lover that dislikes the killing of foxes I will help my husband set fox traps and I have no problem with him hunting down a troublesome one and shooting it. I have seen the devastation they leave behind and the sheer number of animals that they take. I have bred up baby ducks only to have them be torn apart and eaten by foxes. I won’t stand aside and let our farm be an all-you-can-eat buffet for foxes to help themselves to whenever they feel like it. Now I understand, really understand, how farmers feel about feral foxes.