Thursday, January 20, 2011

The Part I Don't Like

I love having chickens.  I really, really do.  I love watching them out in the yard.  I love talking to them when I feed them kitchen scraps.  I love feeding our family (and other families) their eggs.  I love their little noises and how they bath themselves in dust and how they run head-down, as if they've heard of aerodynamics.

What I don't like is when we lose one to a predator.

The other afternoon, I looked out our kitchen window and saw what I thought was a hen standing underneath a bush between our house and our neighbor's house.  Now, the hen shouldn't have been there (the bush is not in the chicken yard) and I didn't have my glasses on, so I just stood there staring at her.  What I couldn't understand was why she wasn't moving, if she was, indeed, a hen and not some dark colored plastic bag that blew under the bush.  I willed my eyes to focus and soon could make out her little orange legs.  She was a hen alright.

I bundled up and headed outside with a container of scraps.  I tried my darnedest to lure her back to the hen house, but she wanted no part of leaving her bush.  Only six or so feet away, I finally spotted Merv (our rooster) standing completely still under a different nearby bush.  Uh oh.  This could mean trouble (not for me, for my chickens).

So, I left them where they obviously wanted to be and walked up to the chicken yard.  There were no chickens to be seen or heard anywhere.  My heart skipped a beat as I looked over by the chicken run at a gigantic hawk sitting atop a dead hen just outside the run.

I chased him off and he slowly lumbered up into the air and sat on a branch of our huge black walnut tree above the chicken house.  He wasn't finished eating.  Once I was out in the yard calling, our chickens began answering from all over the place.  I could hear some safe and sound in the hen house and others out in the yard huddled under brush piles and bushes everywhere.  The hawk flew off to another tree farther away and I ran inside and got Sam and Sadie (Miriam was asleep).

 At the very top of the tree in the center sits the culprit.

The three of us spent a good part of an hour coaxing all our shaken chickens from their hiding spots and into the hen house.  One sweet hen in particular was hunkered down head first, deep under a brush pile.  We tried everything to coax her out.  I didn't want to leave her there because I was afraid she'd come out later when the hawk was back (I couldn't stand watch the rest of the day) and he'd get her as well.  I gently prodded her with my broom and finally, she turned around enough to get a look at me and once she did she gladly came out.  I guess I sound like a hawk, but don't look like one.

We got all but a few back in and I shut the doors.  The ones that were left were in sheds, way in behind things making it very difficult for me to reach them.  Jamey rounded up the stragglers when he got home and took care of the carcass.  We're leaving the chickens shut in for a few days.

The whole rest of the day, I had an uneasy feeling in the pit of my stomach.  I know the hawk was just being a hawk, but I had been going about my merry way oblivious to the dangers that exist for our fine feathered friends.  I felt unprepared and even a tad embarrassed that the whole incident surprised me at all.  I do live in the country.  And, I do know about the food chain.  For some reason, it's okay for us to be a part of the chain, but I don't want to share the chain with others.

I'm not oblivious anymore and I'm afraid to leave the hens out again.  Maybe time will take this feeling in the pit of my stomach away.  I hope so because I really don't like it. Pin It


  1. This happend with our baby turkeys. 2 of the 4 were killed. We set a live trap to catch whatever had killed them (at the time we had no idea). We could not believe we caught a hawk in the trap! We had to let it go. I really did not want to! I know exactly what you mean about the "food chain" because that is exaclty how we felt!

  2. Our first batch of chickens were completely free range. And, when we'd shut them in their pen for the night I'd always do a count. And it seemed like every week we came up another short. We weren't sure if it was a hawk or a fox. Thankfully, I never actually saw it happen in person. I think if I did ( like you did) I would have been really traumatized. I was traumatized as it was knowing we were losing chickens to SOMETHING.

    One day I found a chicken huddled under a bush, obviously scared to death. And when I finally got her out I saw that she was injured. Here head was scratched and bleeding. Somehow she had escaped the clutches of whatever it was. That really shook me up.

  3. Sorry about your chickens. Your story does sound like a Biblical analogy though. How many times do we go through our merry little lives and forget about the dangers of sin that are lurking around us, waiting for the most opportune times to attack us, when we have let down our guard.

  4. No, not a good feeling at all. But if it's any comfort, we've all experienced the same thing. We seem to be on a migration path for hawks in the fall which makes that a very bad time for us. But none of us want to keep our chickens confined like battery raised birds so it's hard to know what to do. I wish there was a simple solution. A not very nice part of nature. I hope your hawk has gone elsewhere by now.

  5. Awwww...I'm literally teary eyes for the sweet little chickens that were hiding away. Poor babies... Chickens are so defenseless... I'm glad that the hawk (and I love hawks by the way...I do have a thing for birds of prey...but not when they're preying on my friends chickens!) only got one little lady. I think it's wise to keep them in for a few the hawk moves on to another location. Sorry you had to deal with that...but like you said, it is the food's life, really.

  6. I'm so sorry, that must have been really hard. We don't raise chickens now, but plan to when we move cross country. Your chicken pen, I'm assuming is fenced off but w/o a roof? Could you section off a part of the run and put a roof on it so that the chickens could get outside but be more protected? We were thinking about doing that when we set things up, but I don't know if that would really work or not. Would be interested to hear feedback!

  7. So sorry about the loss of your poor little hen, death is definitely the hardest part of animal husbandry, especially when it comes in such a manner as this.

  8. I like Cindy's true! I'm not a chicken keeper, but wonder if a chicken friendly dog would help keep the predators away?

  9. Heather,
    Thanks for your suggestion. Our chicken yard is really large, like 1/3 an acre. If we closed off a small section and roofed-it, it would be all dirt in no time since we have ~25 chickens. We love letting them free-range- we think they enjoy it more and we know it makes for healthier eggs. We're just going to have to be brave and let them out soon:-).

  10. Amy,
    A chicken friendly dog would probably help a lot more than our chicken friendly cat- she's on the small side and tends toward the lazy.

  11. We lost one of our chickens to a hawk a couple of months ago... feathers everywhere, it was awful! We kept them cooped up for a couple of weeks after that so the hawk would move along... You're right, that's the food chain, but it's still horrifying to see one of your feathered babes murdered!

  12. sorry about your loss... the hawks seem to be bolder in the winter. onward and upward, right?

  13. We lost another chicken last weekend... He (Ricky the Raccoon) has eaten 3 of them in the last month or so... We finally put the chickens in lock down... and they have to stay in their 5'by 10' pen all day. It is sad when they die... The Girl was heart broken for a few days... but now she is talking about ordering some new baby chicks... we'll see.

  14. We lost a hen to a hawk last week too, and he came back the next day looking for seconds. We chased him off before he could do any more damage, but had to find another solution. We bought a battery powered fake owl, one that hoots and turns its head if it senses motion, and placed it out in the chicken yard. Haven't seen a hawk since!

  15. So sorry to hear about your loss. I experienced something similar last week with some mallard ducks that frequent our business. I was lucky enough to scare the hawk off of the duck and they both flew away. I have never seen a wild hawk that close up before! Extremely beautiful, but the trauma of what was happening in front of me sickened me for days. And the duck lived! I hope to never see anything like that ever again!

  16. I'm so sorry. We lost all five of our chicken hens and 4 of our 5 duck hens to raccoons in one night in September. It was our fault, we did not have them in securely enough, but it was still heart-wrenching (something I found interesting, since we had just the month before slaughtered the roosters and I was perfectly fine with that).

    We nursed the one surviving duck back to health (she was wounded), got a couple of adult hens to keep her company, and now have the Fort Knox of chicken runs. We can't let ours truly free-range because 1) we don't have the space and 2) we are in suburbia with cats, dogs, coyotes, raccoons, opposums, hawks, etc etc etc and we can't have roosters to help protect the hens. We give them lots of bugs, weeds, and excess greens from the garden and are in the middle of building a portable, fully enclosed run so we can give them some time in different areas of the yard and garden without worrying about their safety (or the safety of my garden!).


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