Around here we are used to being the ones who decide which critters live, which breed, which die and when. We work our hardest to control their environment to keep them safe, happy and content. But as Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall once said, Sometimes you don’t get to play God. Sometimes God does.
While the abundance of our farming life is the thing we try to keep most in mind, it is the losses that we feel most keenly. Over the years we have experienced inevitable and unexpected losses from illness, from accidents and, of course, from predators. We consciously try to keep our farm as safe for our animals as possible, using electric fences, having a farm guard dog, being vigilant about lock ups and keeping food away from critters that might decide it’s home. But no matter how hard we work, some other creature is working hard for their survival.
Racoons will break in to coops, skunks will steal eggs in broad daylight and a weasel can get in to the tiniest crack and wreak havoc when they do (last year we lost our entire flock of laying hens to a weasel). Of course there are also coyotes and wolves that will scoff up a chicken that has decided they would rather roost in an open field, thank you very much, and all that is left for the farmer to find is feathers.
Over the summer some of our breeding ducks disappeared, it took us a while to notice as the ducks live pretty wild on the farm and often taken themselves off to a hidden corner to build a nest or hatch a brood. Eventually we realised they weren’t coming back but we saw no signs as to where they might have gone. More recently we noticed the ducks we reducing in number and no matter how much we tried to persuade them to roost in safety at night they were having none of it.
Then last week we got a clue as to what was going on….
Yep. That’s a fox getting stuck in to what can only be described as an ex-duck. This is probably one of the only sightings I have of a fox in the 12 years since I’ve moved to Canada and, I have to admit, I found it hard to be angry at it. In this barren landscape of snow and ice, he (or she) seems to have a right to be here much more than we do. His red fur stood out brightly against the snow and, though he knew we were watching him, he was hungry enough to risk coming close enough to be shot or caught.
I know the impotent fury of a farmer watching her animal die for no good reason; I have felt the rage of waste and the desolation of loss. I didn’t feel that as I watched this brightly furred beast tear at frozen flesh. Perhaps it is that I could see a beautiful animal that was just trying to live, perhaps it was that the duck was already dead so it seemed fruitless to fight it. But I think, really, it is that the fox reminds me of home. His kind are more abundant in the UK but I’ve always found them arresting. They seem to stand in a place between town and country, hunted and reviled by many, adored as a fluffy wilderness dog by others.
As he strayed out onto the pond we saw his tail was ragged, perhaps from a fight or past injury. He didn’t seem self conscious about his raffish tail manicure and eventually looked straight back at me, while I stood watching him. He had the air of one who wishes to leave, but wants you to know he goes on his own terms; so he sniffed and walked slightly jumpily across the pond before picking up the pace and trotting across the field to the safety of tree cover.
He glanced back a couple of times, to check nothing was after him I think, and in truth I wish him well. I sincerely hope my remaining ducks learn to listen to our stern advice about curfew from now on, but I can’t blame the fox for their silly headedness. Much as I hate to lose livestock, I will treasure the sight of this beautiful animal. His red coat and distinct shape form a timeless silhouette against the increasingly monochrome winter landscape. His is the spirit of survival, the desire to live and the beauty of a totally natural thing.
Good luck Mister Fox. Stay clear well clear of my chickens you red headed bugger.