by Linda McCandless
Geneva, NY - Dave Gill, a Research Support Specialist in Cornell University's Department of Horticultural Sciences, called to report a sighting of a family of seven red fox pups on the Loomis Farm at the Agricultural Experiment Station in Geneva, NY.
Gill is an enthusiastic proponent of foxes in a farm setting - especially fruit farms.
"People don't stop to think about the good that foxes do in an farm setting," said Gill. "One adult eats hundreds of mice and rats yearly." Gill prefers gray foxes because they are less likely to go into a hen house. If chickens are not a consideration, he would encourage either red or gray foxes as a natural predator for rodents.
At the Experiment Station, where there are nearly 700 acres of fruit and vegetables used for research and extension, foxes are important for the fruit farms in general, and the Rootstock Breeding Program in particular. Rootstocks - sometimes called "stool bed liners" - are propagated in "stool beds," then the rooted sticks, called "liners" for short, are harvested in the spring, then grafted onto the desired variety.
"When foxes work the stool beds and orchards, we have very negligible damage to the apple liners and trees. This spring I found no damage. A couple of years ago, we had no foxes, a foot of snow cover, and extensive damage to stools and some damage to orchard trees even with mouse bait," Gill said.
"Foxes do a number one finish job in conjunction with a mouse bait control program," he said. "Last winter, you could see almost straight lines of footprints in the snow where a fox wove its way back and forth along every sawdust-mounded row of our stool beds by Preemption Road. They walk along and pick the voles out of the mound cafeteria-style and stash their catches of voles, rabbits, and young spring woodchucks in nearby sawdust piles."
Foxes are nocturnal and sometimes make hunting lodges in the Station sawdust piles because the piles are easy to dig and warm even when the roof is frozen.
The Station family of foxes is doing so well because Gill thinks they are dining on turkey. "A gray fox will not tackle a turkey unless the fox finds it dead; a red fox will."
For this reason, Gill believes grape growers would benefit from using foxes to guard the grapes.
"Some grape growers in New York complain there are too many turkeys and that they eat ripe grapes before they are weighed and counted in the yield trials. Even if a fox takes a few grapes for its services, it is a lot less than a band of turkeys will take," he said.
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