Field Notes from Missouri: Foxes

Republished from Vox Magazine

This story, excerpted from Vox Magazine’s ‘Field Notes’ feature, received a regional award for non-fiction magazine articles from the Society of Professional Journalists. 

Graphic courtesy of Vox Magazine

Graphic courtesy of Vox Magazine

Cher committed suicide. Maybe she didn’t want to go out like Koko Taylor, Tina Turner or Grace Jones — not to mention all of the Dixie Chicks.

On a hubris-fueled whim, Cher flew the coop one day and met her end at the paws of Porter and Wagoner.
But many of Cher’s feathered friends met a foxy fate.

Did I mention Cher is a chicken and Porter and Wagoner are dogs?

Jane Phillips, a senior scientist with ABC Laboratories, keeps urban hens in the hilly area facing the Hinkson Creek behind her rustic East Campus ranch home. She names her chickens after female vocalists. Now, all she has left are Annie Lennox, Mother Maybelle Carter and Tammy Wyandotte (an amalgam of Tammy Wynette and Golden Laced Wyandotte). There’s also the one non-musician in the group, Clara Sesemann, named for a resilient disabled Heidi character whose recovery mirrored the avian Clara’s months of dog-crate rehab following a canine attack. But, unlike Cher, don’t blame Phillips’ dogs, Porter and Wagoner, for Clara’s fate (Porter Wagoner was a country music singer, by the way).

A red fox snatched Clara in its mouth before Phillips could chase it off. Most of the chickens haven’t been so lucky. Phillips has lost 16 chickens to fox attacks: Grace, Koko, Tina, an unnamed replacement chick and all 12 of the collectively named Dixie Chicks.


She built a three-strand fence around the coop with a 1,300-foot roll of yellow and black electric fencing tape, but the foxes were able to get over the fence and reach the chickens. She contacted a trapper, but the only options were setting a live trap with a hen as bait or a leg trap that could end up capturing wandering pets, neither of which she approved.

So Phillips was forced to make the coop an all-encompassing “chicken fortress.” The 4-by-8-foot coop sits inside an L-shaped aviary, all of which is surrounded by the 9,000-volt Zareba electric fence and a secondary fence that a fox would have to hop before even thinking about dinner. Foxes can easily jump 6-7 feet high.
Although Phillips was not particularly happy about her fox problem — it caused her more hours of work than she is willing to admit — her neighbors enjoy the wildlife.

Even Phillips concedes the sly canines have a claim to the habitat.

“(The foxes) aren’t being mean,” she says. “They’re just doing what my dogs would do if they were out (with the chickens). And have. Asterisk: ‘see Cher.’”



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