Saturday, May 26, 2012

The Fox and the Guinea

About a month ago I really thought everything was falling into place around the farm. Chickens were growing well. Geese laying, sitting, and growing in the brooder. Goats had all kidded but one, and my first full blown attempt at daily milking was (and still is) a success. Pigs had been traded for and were in the process of being weaned where we could get them soon. I had the garden plowed by an actual turning plow on a tractor for the first time ever and disced it up. Everything was honky-dory.

For years now I've had several people asking me about buying or brooding some guineas for them but I've never had an incubator and the guineas themselves had either not taking to broodiness or the broody ones had been killed in the process. We had been holding strong at 9 roaming guineas for a while, and with the help of a new farming friend had decided that out of the 9 only 3 were actually hens. So Lindsay and I took the time to re-net the old guinea pen and were all set to catch them up and reinstall them so that we could start raising some to sell. I bought an incubator (a simple one, but it works nonetheless). So around 10 pm that night I set to catching up as many of the guineas as I could once they were settled in for the night. I believe I was able to catch 6 and get them into the pen securely before the remaining ones were too wary to be caught even with a dip-net. While I was catching them I thought I saw a stray cat or something out in the goat pasture and tried to get a closer look but it ran away. I even went and got the shotgun and hunted around to see if it might have been a raccoon, possum or fox but didn't see anymore sign of it. So there they were, 6 guineas (all 3 hens included) settled into the freshly netted guinea pen. I went to bed.

I woke up the next morning with our 1 white guinea bellowing its beak off right next to my bedroom window and could have sworn it was one of the ones I caught and penned. It must have gotten out, but I just hoped the others were still in the pen and that I wouldn't have to catch them up again because it was a real pain. I went out to check and there was 1 guinea in the pen pacing frantically and there were puffs of feathers everywhere. Started checking the pen fencing and sure enough something had chewed through the netting and crawled through the fencing and pulled plump guinea hens through the wall of it and ran off. I started tracking the feather trail to see if I could find any remains. All I found that was left of the 3 guinea hens that were killed/abducted was one small pile of crop and guts with flies and blood, otherwise there was no trace. And of course, there were 6 guineas still alive, all males. I'd be incubating no guinea eggs short of the dozen I had already found when we were bush-hogging. There went some of the little farm income I'd been hoping for this year.

I was pretty upset about the situation which is one reason I hadn't posted a story about it yet. I don't know about other farmers, but it makes me feel horrible, impotent, incompetent or whatever when some of the animals I have vowed to protect and raise gets killed, maimed, or dies while under my wing. I don't like killing animals at all. I like hunting for food and fishing as well. I like shooting guns at skeet or targets, which is something I have done since I was a child, but I have only once killed something "just for fun" and I still feel remorse about it to this very day. So when I talk about getting any joy from killing raccoons, possums, or the like it is not because of the act of killing, but more from the act of protecting my flock of animals and getting revenge for the animals I failed to protect.

Yesterday evening we were doing some planting and watering in the garden around dusk. All the animals had been fed and watered. I was digging the holes, Finn was putting the pepper plants in the holes and covering them up, and Lindsay was watering everything. It was a fine evening on the farm to be sure. The guineas were coming in to roost a little late like usual, and that is when they burst across the yard flying through the air about 10 feet off the ground. If you don't know much about guineas, they don't usually fly across the yard for no reason. I looked over there but it was already dark enough that I couldn't see real well over there, and we have some old flower bed surrounds that we had around some saplings the goats killed long ago one day when they got out. At first I thought it was just a flowerbed/tree-stump then I saw it twitch. Was it a dog or cat, or was it a fox? I started walking over there and it rounded the corner of the house going away from me; I was pretty damn sure it was a fox but wanted to get a better look, and either way I was going to get the gun. I came around the corner of the house and sure enough it was a big fox right in the front yard looking at me. It took off into the neighbor's cow field.

I was pretty sure that would be the last I saw of it before I woke up one morning to find dead animals, but as always I went and grabbed the essentials for a night patrol: spotlight, headlamp, .22 revolver, and shotgun. I started looking around where I had seen it cross the fence and bam! There were eyes about 30-40 yards on the other side of the barbed wire fence from me. I couldn't tell 100% if that was the fox or just some cat or something so while I waited for a better visual I called the neighbors and made sure it was okay if I pursued the fox into their pasture and they gave me the go-ahead. Just as I hung up the phone it got up and trotted across another grownup fence line and whoosh, gone again.

Photo from Wikipedia, but this is what I was seeing.
I belly-crawled under the fence and went on a stalk; not a sign to be had. I thought I heard something that could be a fox back towards the pig pen on the other side of our farm and traversed the fence again and swung wide around the house and back through the garden. The spotlight battery was going out and it would stay on for about 3 seconds at a time, but that was long enough for me to spot the eyes back in the corner of the goat pen where a live trap I had been baiting kept getting sprung with no prey caught. I killed the lights and stalked around close to the goat shed and down the fence-row. Shotgun to my shoulder I switched on the spotlight and there he was, dead center of the goat pen heading back towards the chickens. He looked at me as I looked down the barrel of my gun right at him and pulled the trigger. There was a small whine as he dropped but he didn't even hardly move.
The goats were scared in the goat house as I entered the pen and went to see this mighty slayer of poultry I had downed. Sure enough, big male fox, red footed, grey backed. He weighed about 25-30 pounds thanks to my guinea hens. I skinned him out and now his pelt resides on the shed wall as a trophy and reminder to any would-be predators...

I hope there was only one fox around these parts, but I fear there may be more, and maybe even that the two foxes I stalked last night might have not even been the same one. Either way, there is one less now.

After some quick research I found that it was indeed a Grey Fox like I initially believed it to be despite some red coloration. I did not know they could climb trees though, and this article says that it is an exceptional specimen that weighs 20 lbs. I may have estimated heavy, but this sucker weighed more than 20 lbs.

Here are some of the sounds I have heard and didn't know what they were; now I do for sure.

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Yours Truly,
The Crowsons