Thursday, July 26, 2012

Chicken Woe

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.


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23 comments:

  1. I feel your pain. One of our chickens got out and couldn't find her way back in. The dog got her, broke her neck and my hubby had to put her down too. It was a sad day. Hope you catch that possum!

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  2. So dramatic! What horrors!

    (I hope you catch that wicked possum, and soon.)

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  3. How sad! Chickens really do become a part of the family. My dad has a couple dozen up at his ranch in South Dakota and the other night a pair of coyotes came through, each leaving with a chicken in his mouth. So sad :( Glad to see that you've hopefully gotten to the bottom of the problem and your hens can sleep soundly tonight!

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  4. I'm so sorry about your chickens. :( We too have had predators after our chickens, so we have battened down the hatchet and sealed every possible nook and cranny. I hope yours stay safe tonight.

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  5. I am so sorry for your chicken losses! Please don't feel too badly - this summer has been brutal and there's only so much a busy family can handle.

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  6. Ugh. So sorry you've lost so many of your chickens. It seems to be a year when many are losing poultry to either possums or raccoons. The worst predator up here is the pine marten. They will get in a chicken house and kill every single last bird. For sport, it seems. Hope your chicken woes are over now.

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  7. I am so sorry for your loss. I wishe we could have chickens here but the won't let us.

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  8. Our neighbor had the same problem last summer. He told me their chickens had odd injuries too (missing a leg or head) and they could not figure out what was happening. One day he SAW one of his chickens disappear into a pile of feathers! It was a fox UNDER the hen house, patiently waiting under a quarter size hole in the floor. The fox would grab the chicken by her leg or head and pull her through - (usually he would just get that part)! eeek! Nature freaks me out!!!

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  9. Sometimes having chickens can be so hard! Hope you catch the stinker responsible for this. Oh, and I do mean stinker--have you ever smelled a possum? :)

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  10. there's a mistaken belief that possums dont kill chickens... but sadly you know now thats just not true. that possum will probably keep coming back until you trap him. and if other predators have figured out where the "chicken buffet" is then you'll probably need to keep them locked up at night from now on. i'm guessing the hens found in your neighbor's yard are from dog attacks. sorry for the losses!

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  11. I know exactly how you feel. Usually I love that we live in the middle of the woods, but we've lost four chickens to a fox this past month and almost lost our cat to a coyote last night. I woke up to unbelievable screeching on our front porch, when I turned on the light the coyote took off, but left a bunch of cat fur behind - I thought she was a gonner. Turns out it was a neighbor cat, our was safely inside, but still... And then this morning, just as I was getting ready to go for an early morning walk the dogs cornered a skunk. I decided I didn't want that kind of perfume so I stayed inside. Finally, a squirrell has been sneaking into the hen house and eating the chicken's corn and a possum has been eating the cat food. The only thing that seems safe right now is the garden - I hope the deer and the coons stay away from the corn! I was going to let the chickens out today for a supervised amount of time, but after seeing the coyote I think I'm going to order electric poultry netting and keep them in until I have that up. And, I've decided not to plant any more fruit trees because something (groundhog? squirrel? ) keeps eating all the fruit even when the trees are fenced in and covered.

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  12. Feeling sorry for my 17 hens this summer, while there were no dogs around, I let them out of their safe yard to "free range". Unfortunately, all but 3 wouldn't go back in for the night. That attracted a young raccoon that got a taste of chicken. 13 dead hens later, we had the same problem you had, with him getting into the smallest of holes in the wire and fence of the chicken yard. It even has netting on top! We finally resorted to our tried and true Mountain Dew/Gold Malrin (sp). It's a fly bait from the feed store. Use a small amount put it in a can of mountain dew and close the lid back. Place it under a 5 gallon bucket. That will keep your pets out of it hopefully. The varmit won't get very far. I know people think this may be cruel, but when you live in the country and something comes back every night, destroys your animals and property, a trap won't keep them away for long. So sorry for your loss.

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  13. Too bad so many of your chickens have disappeared, but as bad as you feel this is all part of life. It could be that some have wandered so far that no one knew who they belonged to and took them in as their own.

    It's better to have one dead opossum than a bunch of dead chickens, so I would definitely kill it rather than taking it off. I read that you can put out moth balls or ammonia soaked rags around the perimeter of your chicken enclosure to keep an opossum away. Then you could bait a trap with some canned dog food somewhere near the path the opossum takes to your hen enclosure, but far enough away that it wouldn't be repelled by the smell of the moth balls/ammonia. I would love to know how the story ends.

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  14. I feel your chicken sorrow and I am sorry for you. I recently lost an 8 week old chick to a neighborhood dog and it is very upsetting. I have not been letting them free range because I am concerned that the dog now knows where the chicken is served. We have a small run area connected to our secure coop and we have plans to enlarge the area once the budget allows that. I have always felt like you and let them enjoy our big yard, that is not possible any longer and we will make the best of the space they have. I have put some sand in a section of the run for dust bathing and have brought in some old limbs and stumps. My husband dumped some leaves in the run for them to scratch in as well. When one of my hens begins brooding again I am considering ordering a few more chicks to mix in with the flock in the hopes that the hen will accept and raise the bought chicks along with her own.
    Will you get more chicks or will you let your hens raise more? I hope you catch your possum.
    Holly

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    1. I think at this point, we'll just let broody hens set and see what we get. I'm so sorry you lost your chick:-(.

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  15. Just found your blog through Pinterest. Look forward to reading more of your posts.

    Blessings,
    Connie

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  16. So sorry to hear your sad story of loss of your chickens. Years ago, I lost a whole flock to raccoons,and now am very careful about getting my hens well secured at night. Good luck in the future and God bless...Margie

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  17. Talk about "chicken run" so sorry to hear about all your woes .we have had the heat and I always have the woes but otherwise we are not as bad of as you are,does that mean more chickens are on the way?

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  18. Oh my gosh...I am so sorry you have been dealing with so much strife lately. I would be so sad for the chickens, too...but you did what you could. You didn't know...because if you did know, you'd have fixed the problem sooner. I hope the rest of the summer goes better...xoxo

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  19. Dear Jane ~ So sorry....what a nasty experience you have been having! :( Hang in there...it can only get better now that the window is blocked!!

    Blessings to you!
    Camille

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  20. So sorry about your hens. I too have suffered Hen Loss this summer, fortunately not to predators though. It was the extreme heat at the end of June/first of July. I have patio umbrellas in the large 'free-range' area of their pen. We have a rather large area for our chickens with separate roosting and nesting box housing. in the extreme heat, they congregated under the umbrellas and in the roosting house. unfortunately out of 27 hens, only 5 survived. and I, like your husband, had to take care of removal. the 'survivors' didn't lay any eggs for about a week, I'm sure recuperating from the heat. God's Blessings on you, your family and your endeavors with your journey.

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  21. I found you via pinterest, and then found out that we live in the same area. Small world! The storm did a lot of damage at our house, too - and kinda caused all animals to go crazy. The chickens (we had 5 then) didn't know which way was up, and the preditors/more unsavory wildlife around here felt free to take what they wanted (racoons have been part of our problem). Our chickens were picked off, too. All except for 1, who roams and does what she wants now. But that's been a reoccuring theme around here for people with chickens. My grandfather lost 18 out of 20 in one night, due to a mink. Family friends lost all 6 of theirs in one day. I'm waiting for things to calm down/cool off, then we'll rebuild a coop and try again.

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