Can’t take the farm from the boy: Side benefits of farming

It’s busy on the farm now. My fingernails are outlined by what seems to be a permanent, u-shaped bead of grease. It feels right.

We’ve been here now closing in on 10 months. This farming season will be my first — from seeding to harvest — in many, many years. I’m excited. My wife’s excited. But who wouldn’t be, waking up to a big summer sky, spending evenings sitting outside listening to the symphony that is a forest alive and well? The frogs are loud, soothing, and the diversity of birds feasting at our feeder is best observed with a book: Manitoba Birds.

My wife was not expecting to find baby foxes living between our home and the cresting Dead Horse Creek. It took a bit to identify them as kits, and only after some Google image searches and much deliberation. It’s hard to distinguish features when animals are so young.

finding the foxes

Our dog had been suspiciously interested in a mound of earth and large, broken-up concrete slabs a few metres from the creek, a very industrial looking hill, especially for eight baby, heart-melting foxes.

The babies came out when our dog would come near. At first, we only saw three kits, yet unconfident on their legs, but fuzzy and open-eyed. One crawled right over my rubber boot, making a sound resembling what you’d imagine a whimper, meow, chirp and bark to sound in one noise. And it’s a sound that makes you want to take the little ones home.

Our dog is big — a St. Bernard-Boxer cross, and we feared the worst. It would have been very sad. It would have been devastating for my parents, too, as in all their years on the farm, they had never before seen baby foxes on the property.

Our dog turned what I know of farm dogs on its head. From what we could see, our massive dog wanted to mother these tiny creatures. And, they wanted to be mothered by her. It was, perhaps, the most adorable cross-species encounter I have ever seen. Our dog sniffed, then licked, then did the same to each baby fox. We called the neighbours over.

The next day, our dog buried her torso in the den and teased out five more kits. This time her mothering instincts seemed ramped up. Each kit got a little more attention from her.

The three brown, furry clumps my wife saw laying on the crushed rock inches from our house when she got home from work the next day caused her heart to skip a beat. Those clumps are baby foxes, and they are dead, she thought. A big dog can do bad things to small things without intending to.

They were very much alive. My wife walked towards them, heavy-hearted, and the little bundles perked up and started scurrying around. They were sunning themselves. But they were away from their den, and away from their mother. The woods can be a cruel place. Mothers will desert their litter for fraternizing with other species. We wore gloves.

This happened a few times, our dog bringing the kits back to our deck and yard, and us returning them to the den. The most calloused among us would have felt the same heaviness we felt.

The forest is still singing with frogs, birds and other things we haven’t discovered yet. And the fox den has matured enough to be of little interest to our dog. The mother is still with them, and the creek, which, for a day or two, left the kits marooned on their mound, is now at normal levels.

It was a nice distraction from a winter that didn’t seem to end, and a seeding season that couldn’t start soon enough.

We still hear the kits when we walk by. They are alive and well. †

About the author

Columnist

Toban Dyck is a freelance writer and a new farmer on an old farm. Follow him on Twitter @tobandyck or email [email protected]

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