A Visit From Mr Fox

I arrived home last night, returning from the kids ballet class and immediately spotted feathers strewn across the yard.  One of our hens, Astrid, was by the front fence behind some rocks, not a typical place for her and unusual for her to be on her own.  I sent the children indoors, grabbed Astrid and put her in her run, no sign of any of the other hens.  As I walked up the garden my heart sunk as I saw more feathers and finally a decapitated chicken wedged half under the gate to the river.  We'd had a visit from a fox and no amount of shaking their food scoop and calling their names was going to make Agatha, Ashley and Anoushka come running.

We raised the A Team, as we called them, from week old chicks and we are so sad.  The children are heart broken.  They've cried, raged against the injustice, empathised with the fear our girls must have felt as the fox attacked, declared their hatred of foxes (asked me to change my name), realised the need for the foxes to feed their cubs, plotted revenge, and declared their hatred of foxes again.

Astrid from the moment she hatched has never been without her 3 sisters at her side.  Agatha was the lead hen, my favourite, she had a big comb, very vocal and very much the one in charge.  Ashley was Louis' favourite and a little smaller than the others, but very independent.  Anoushka had the prettiest feathers and was usually to be found with Astrid.  They had so much more personality than I expected chickens would have.

This morning Una and Louis went down to let Astrid out of the hen house together.  (Although they have made me promise to keep her in the chicken run and not let her free range alone today.)  I often go let the hens out as they get quite vocal in the early light of summer mornings if the kids aren't up early enough.  But Louis warned me off this morning, it is his chore this week.  Then he went into his sister's room and asked her if she wanted to come with him.

I watched them walk down the garden together.  Open the run, the door to the hen house.  Astrid was not quick to emerge but when she did she got a cuddle from each child.  In the cool light of morning my children are no longer raging against the fox, but are worried that Astrid is lonely.

Happier times with their hens
Watching their grief and anger mellow to concern for Astrid, the hen that survived, I thought there was real honesty and empathy.  So, I will learn from my children.  I will miss my Agatha and her sisters, my days will not be as happy without the gentle amusement of watching them forage in the garden.  But I will not stop naming or getting attached to my chickens.

Even after a year, their personalities were still developing.  It's only quite recently that they whipped the dogs into a more chicken tolerant state and so have had the freedom of the whole garden.  Agatha had just started letting me tickle her under her wattle, she seemed to enjoy it.  And they had recently taken to trying to get into the house all the time.  It's funny to come downstairs and find a chicken standing in the hall.  One of them had even invaded the dog's bed the other day, much to his disapproval.

They had a wonderful, though brief, life and that was because we cared about them.  They loved to free range in the garden, and we will get back to that once our own grief is a bit more under control. We'll get Astrid an adult chicken companion as soon as possible, as the Maran chicks will not be ready to go outside for another week or so and will need to remain separate from the adults for some time still. 

And I will learn from my mistake and make sure they are always shut back in the run before I go out. 

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