A wily fox has taken Ophelia, one of Charlotte Popescu’s favourite chickens. She tells the story….

It is with great sadness that I have to report the loss of Ophelia. She was my wonderful Auraucana cross whom I have written about several times in this magazine. Ophelia lived life to the full, hatching three broods of chicks a year. But she was utterly intent upon roosting in the fir tree through most of her long life. The only occasions that she didn’t go in the tree were when she was sitting on her eggs or when her chicks were very small. Once she was up there, there was no getting her down. Even using a 3-metre pole and poking her was useless, as she would just climb higher up the 40ft fir tree. When her chicks were only three weeks old she would disappear into the tree leaving them cheeping below; she would make little cooing noises to encourage them to join her, but of course that was impossible (often I would herd her and her chicks into her hutch before this happened) but, if I was busy and too late to stop her, I would have to round up her chicks, put them into a cardboard box and bring them in for the night; she would eagerly await reunion in the morning!

So one fateful morning in January Ophelia came down from the tree just a touch early (usually she was very good at waiting until it was reasonably light). The extremely wily fox must have been lurking in the bushes and was waiting for her. I was out taking my husband to the train station and so the hutches were still shut. I came back and the others from the tree were already out and about but no sign of Ophelia. I spotted some feathers in my neighbour’s garden and my heart sank. Why, oh why, does the fox always take one’s favourites! My consolation is that Ophelia lived to a good age – she was six or seven – and she had the happiest life a hen could have, free ranging all day long and making her own decisions about what to do and where to go.

Hens are so unlucky to be at the bottom of the food chain and at the mercy of so many nasty predators. I read an interesting article recently in the Saturday Telegraph Gardening Section. Ken Thompson wrote a piece called ‘Food Chain in need of the Lynx Effect’ suggesting we bring back the Eurasian lynx which would be an ideal predator of foxes, badgers and deer. This would be a very natural solution to keeping the populations of these animals in check. The lynx is harmless to humans and are basically forest animals so this might not work in the south of England, but is definitely worth thinking about. Foxes are, of course, numerous and share the distinction, along with the badger, of being the top predator (annoyingly and rather unusually for such small animals).

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