BUT I've always known that there were risks and downsides. The fox is the most obvious risk and there are other downsides, such as droppings in unexpected places.
Actually, when I first got the ducks and then the chickens I was all for keeping them permanently penned up - but as they got a bit stir crazy and ever more desperate for larger areas to roam I relented. After all, why keep them cooped up when there was land for them.
So, I took on the risk and enjoyed their freedom.
This week, I've had to come to terms with that decision. Winkles (pictured below) has been missing since Tuesday and is now presumed to be a foxes dinner (although I can't help hoping that she's just gone broody and will wander back soon - I'm ever the optimist).
We miss her. She was the feistiest of all four chickens. If she is gone for good, at least her last year spent with us was, presumably, more fun than her earlier life as a battery hen.
I shut the birds in all day yesterday (not that it stopped Bennie, who went 'over the top' and had me convinced that she also had become a snack for Mr Fox - before sauntering back, unharmed, an hour later).
By this afternoon myself and Sam decided that it was worse to deny them their freedom to free range (after them having it for so long ... and after them having NO freedom as battery hens) than to risk the fox, so we've let them out again to do what they do best - poke about and have fun.
We know it's risky, but, thats life. I just hope that we - and they - don't end up paying a high price for their freedom now. We'll keep a close eye on them, of course, and will try to improve on security, but I can't help being a bit nervous.
Here's all the girls ( a while ago) helping out with the gardening.
Here's Frenchie being garden supervisor.
Here's a picture of their pen (pictured last winter) up here at my aunts. It is a reasonable size and can be moved about. It does need the electric tape bringing up from Leitrim if security is to be improved.
I don't think there are any easy answers for this situation. Sam reckons that in a way they are safer free ranging because if a fox comes he may just take one and the others can take cover, whereas if they were penned up and the fox got in they would have nowhere to hide.
Of course, the set up is better down in Leitrim, but, as there is no movement on the planning yet, I have no idea when we'll actually get them - and us - back down. It's a real shame to be missing the lengthening days.
Fingers crossed that we'll good news on the planning front soon and that Mr Fox won't be coming to visit in a hurry.