• Last modified 298 days ago (July 27, 2023)


Another Day in the Country

Wiley Mr. Fox

© Another Day in the Country

Last week, our local fox had chicken for dinner — my chickens.

My neighbor thought Mr. Fox had been removed or relocated from Ramona.

He thought he’d seen animal control in an official white car looking for the fox and was pretty sure they’d found him.

When I reported this to my sister, she said: “You wish! Marion County has no animal control that I know of.”

Foolishly, I relaxed my guard in the yard. I even suggested to my grandson that we let out our chicklets — 11 chicks I got in April.

They look like teenage chickens — long-legged, feathered birds that resemble game hens more than motherly layers.

The breed, as listed in a chicken catalog, is True Blue — meaning they lay blue eggs.

In their catalog picture, they were slate gray, but when they arrived, as birds bred for egg color and not feather color, they were a mixed pallet for sure.

Seldom can I resist getting a free “mystery chick.” The mystery chick always has been a rooster in my experience.

I’d decided it would be OK to have a rooster in the henhouse for the newest batch of chickens. I’ve actually missed having a rooster in the group.

As I watched these chicks grow, it seemed to me that a bunch of them resembled roosters — in attitude, at least.

This was a feisty bunch, challenging each other constantly, which made me watch their growth pattern very carefully because I was looking for rooster characteristics.

Did I see a prominent comb? Were they more adventurous, bolder, aggressive? It seemed as if more than half the flock could qualify.

Because of my dilemma with ducks, the chicks got less attention. They pretty much had done what chicks do, growing through their stages, albeit with extra long legs.

Upon letting them out of the chicken pen for the first time, I realized I had neglected teaching them to come when I called.

I had fed and watered them, even watched them on occasion, but I’d not done this very important training — calling, “Chick, chick, chick,” when I brought them treats.

This lack in their chicken curriculum meant that getting them back in a fenced area was a trick. I had to call for help.

The chicklets — half grown — were still in the process of being trained when I said to my grandson, “Let’s let the chicks out, too,” when the ducks were released to play in a pond.

This was probably the fourth or fifth time they’d been left to their own devices outside the pen.

They headed for what I call the brambles — a bunch of wild plum trees that I’ve left to grow like Topsy in the lower corner of my yard.

There are lots of dried leaves in the brambles, a perfect place for the chickens to peck around in the shade and a perfect place to find a fox, so we constantly were monitoring them.

Dagfinnr went out at one point to check on the chickens. Only seven chicklets came running out from under the brambles. He called me. Just the day before we’d labored over naming 11 chickens so that we could identify them.

“I see white feathers in the brambles,” he said, “and I saw the fox and hollered at it.”

White feathers meant that Angel was probably no more. On closer scrutiny, we found black feathers.

“That would be Widget,” he added.

For the first time in 20 years of living in this part of town, I led the way around the trees to explore the field next door.

It’s fox heaven. We were hoping to find a couple of chickens hiding in the grass, afraid to come out. Instead, we found a perfect fox lair and tell-tale feathers.

We put the seven remaining chicklets in. At sundown, I went out looking again.

In the past, I’d had chickens killed, threatened, and hiding. I’d found stragglers finally coming home in the evening. I’d even found one in my garage one time. But there were no stragglers this time.

We’d lost four of the 11. Gone are Angel, Widget, Blackbeard and Rook.

The first two we definitely had decided were hens. The other two still were in the “could be rooster” category.

Now the flock is seven, led by Reginald the rooster.

He’s black-and-white speckled, quite mannerly, but the kind of guy who insists on everyone being in the hen house at a certain time.

He stays out later, with the ducks, but polices the entry to the house.

The rest we hope against hope are egg layers: Ash, Nutmeg, Marron, Puck, Hawkeye, and Char, with names that say something about their color. A duke’s mixture, that’s for sure.

Speaking of duke, we changed the name of Duke the duck, much to my sister’s dismay, when we found out a male duck is called a drake.

“How can I remember all these names?” she asked.

A friend suggested we play polka music to scare the fox. We’d heard of this remedy because my Dad used to play a Mexican radio station in his corn patch to scare off raccoons.

Learn something every day, on another day in the country

Last modified July 27, 2023