Red Fox cubs.

Red Fox cubs. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

This morning was clear and bright and the kind of blue that seems you are looking all the way into outer space.  Spring is just waking up here and it has been alternatively hot and cold, varying back and forth from 80 degrees in March to below freezing and a several inches of snow at the end of April.  I have been moving my goats to different parts of  my overgrown woodlot to clear the multi-flora rose and other invasive nasties from the understory so that I can pasture there.  After milking we wander up to the new areas and the goats browse, and the hens follow us.  As the goats clear the taller stuff, the hens scratch clean and aerate the soil, allowing good grass and other tasties to flourish.

The upper reaches of my woods are fenced with 4 foot tall cattle panels.  They are easy to move, relatively strong, and can be repaired easily by one man as trees and branches occasionally fall on them.  My panels were all bought at different times, and have different sized spaces at the bottom.  Some are small enough that a chicken can slip through, and some are not.  As a rule I try to keep the hens inside with goats as it seems to add a layer of protection from predators.  My sovereign, almost feral hens have never felt the sting of predation although they daily roam several hundred yards through the woods from the open barn where they roost at night – that is until today.

I was bending over a white thorn sapling for the goats to reach, and was vaguely aware that a few of my hens, some of the Black Austr0lorps, had slipped through the fence and were scratching the pasture to be on the other side.  I figured they knew what they were doing, and it was so peaceful with everyone eating their breakfast as the spring birds serenaded.  They would come back in as we made our way back around toward the barn.

A sudden quick squawk and rustle caught my attention, and turning I saw two hens hightailing it back through the fence as another squawk and the sounds of a struggle sent a jolt of adrenaline through me.  Without seeing the hen, I guessed that a fox must have grabbed her, and somehow, I found myself on the other side of the fence, pistol drawn and following the sounds of a struggling, screaming hen as they receded into the woods beyond my property.  I raced through the muck below my spring and scrambled up the steep, brushy bank on the other side.  Multi-flora rose and Japanese Honeysuckle vines tore at my clothes and grabbed my boots as I raced along the hillside.  Having passed beyond my property line, I was in unfamiliar territory, and I ran with my head cocked to the side to hear the fewer and fewer sounds of my valiant hen receding ahead of me in the distance for guidance.

Finally, I burst out into a small swamp, and had to stop to try to hear my hen.  Alas, all was quiet and peaceful but for the beating of my own heart and the rushing blood in my temples.  Slowly looking around, still listening for the sounds of the struggle, I began to realize where I was.  I found myself in the back yard of some neighbor I do not know, whose drive leads onto a different road than mine and whose property I had never been on.  Figuring the sight of a wild eyed man in torn green flannels waving a pistol was probably not a good first impression, I faded back into the brush while I listened and thought.  The fox must have finally won, and though she put up a valiant fight, was now going to be breakfast herself, perhaps for a small brood of future predators.

I turned and considered my way back.  The heavy brush was foreboding.  Somehow I had covered a huge distance and a few moments.  As I made my way back I considered that what had taken but a few moments would now take about ten minutes of slogging though heavy brush and crossing the outflows of my spring and at least one other spring I had never seen before.  My flock was diminished by one but I had learned more about my own land, its residents, and the lands nearby.  I still don’t know how I got over that fence.

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