It's been an emotional month, chicken-wise.
It all started back when we had that big storm which took down much of our beloved black walnut tree. It took a while to saw up the logs and cart away the brush. In addition to our pear tree and sour cherry tree being damaged by the huge limbs, the chicken run and that end of the chicken yard fence were flattened. Before we could repair them, we had to remove all the surrounding mess.
You may shake your finger at us, but we've never shut our chickens in at night (with the exception of hens with chicks). The only predator-trouble we've had has been hawks and we are not willing to keep our hens locked up in their house away from bugs and plants to protect them from rare hawk attacks. We have had possums get into the hen house to steal eggs, so we've killed and/or trapped them (to be carted off down the road a ways).
So, when the fences came down, the chickens quickly found their way out of their run and yard and into our main yard and the surrounding neighbor's yards. For days we were aware of this, but assumed they were finding their way back into the hen house at night. We were occupied by the clean up and making sure our neighbors without power had all the water, freezer space and anything else they needed.
One day, near our campfire ring, we noticed a bunch of feathers under our bench. That same evening, neighbors from both sides of us came calling. One neighbor pointed out a hen just sitting and not moving in his backyard. That was the hen who had lost the feathers. She had evidently tried roosting out in the open on the bench and something came along and tried to get her. She got away, but she was pretty messed up and Jamey had to put her down. The neighbor on the other side told us that another of our chickens was in the road in front of his house and looked like it got hit by a car. She had a broken leg and also had to be put down. Well. Talk about motivation for getting those fences back in order. That night, we put them back up, making sure they were super secure. Then we chased in all the chickens we could find and closed them up tight.
The next morning, when I took out scraps, I made sure I had all the chickens in the yard waiting to see what goodies I had for them (before I dumped them) so I could count them. We were down 10 (out of 39). Two of which were put down the evening before. The others must have wandered too far, did their best to roost where they could and gotten killed. I felt terrible. I checked the roost and house to make sure I didn't have any stragglers and there, in the roost, was a hen, half alive. It was obvious she had been attacked. She was still able to walk around a little, but her head was messed up and we were pretty sure she couldn't see. Jamey, bless his heart, had another one to take care of.
So. What was it that was getting into a locked-down hen house and attacking, but not able to kill, a hen? Sam and I went around the hen house and batted down the hatches even more so- every nook and cranny we could imagine anything could get into. Sam kept saying, "Mom, why are you blocking that hole? Only a mouse could get in there." I was fearful for my birds and was...well, maybe...overdoing it a bit.
The next day, the same thing happened. Another hen was found attacked in the roost. This time, she was dead. Jamey inspected her well and then went online to determine what it was that would inflict that type of damage so we could figure out how best to trap it. Whatever it was (please skip to the next paragraph if you get queasy) was attacking the head and once the chicken was subdued, went directly for the innards, leaving the rest of the bird behind.
His online search revealed that it was likely a possum. What in the world?! We've had possums in the hen house several times before and never had they attacked the chickens. Jamey set a trap in the hen house, using an egg for bait, but the next morning the egg was still there and all the hens were accounted for. They next night, Jamey went out with his flashlight to check on things before heading to bed. And guess what he discovered? With the flashlight, he was able to see possum tracks on and around the (very high) broken window above the recently-erected wood pile (because of the storm damage). The stinker was climbing the wood pile, crawling in over broken glass (a small opening) and then walking along a precariously little ledge that lead right to the roost slats where all our dear chickens were sleeping soundly.
Again, we felt terrible. We never suspected that little window, but it all made sense. Whether he was after the chickens in the first place or not, we don't know, but he walked right into them. I can't imagine the turmoil that went on in that roost. And, it made me miss Marv, our overly-protective and a little crazy rooster. I don't think he would've let a hen be taken without a real fight. But, then again, all chickens assume a strange sort of stupor during the night. Our current rooster is a bit of a wimp- good when there are children around, but not so helpful when it comes to predators.
So now the window is blocked soundly until it can be repaired and we've noticed new holes where the possum seems to be trying to find his way in. The trap with the egg is now on the wood pile outside, but so far...no luck.
Hopefully, he's not passing up the eggs because he's developed a taste for chicken.