Relative Something

*this* John W. Hays' take on things and experiences

Posts Tagged ‘chicken predators

Today’s Lesson

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Today, Cyndie and I are trying to process what lesson we might learn from the ultimate demise of our entire brood of 14 chickens over a span of two weeks when previous years have allowed us so much more time. Whether the most likely threat was coyotes or possibly hawks, we feel completely outsmarted and helpless against these forces of nature.

Yesterday, when the last four birds were taken from us, a leftover pile of feathers in the middle of our back yard, just steps away from where I was obliviously lounging on a recliner beside the fireplace, provided a particularly harsh stab of our inability to protect them.

Should we have changed something about our routine after the first attack? After the second?

It’s a moot point now. Except, there remains the probability we won’t give up trying. After the second attack, Cyndie decided to order an incubator to hatch some of our own eggs. If predators are going to keep taking our birds, we might end up just raising even more.

Evidence pointed to the latest attack playing out in uncomfortably close proximity to the horses whom we are striving to make feel safe and welcome. For now, our focus of attention shifts much more in their direction.

They provide both solace and distraction from our grief over the decimation of the chickens. We are learning how to frame our recent experience losing chickens and trying to soothe the angst of relocated rescue Thoroughbreds.

It may be today’s lesson, but I sense it is going to take a lot more time than a single day to fully absorb.

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Written by johnwhays

April 25, 2021 at 9:39 am

Bloody Mystery

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It is never a good thing for chicken owners to come upon loose feathers and blood drops in the snow. Yesterday afternoon, that is precisely the scenario Cyndie happened upon.

First, here are the facts we know. All 14 of our chickens are still with us. Cyndie was walking Delilah and came upon spots of blood in the snow. As they approached the barn, the appearance of enough loose feathers to imply something amiss raised her alarm. She secured Delilah in the barn and rushed toward the coop.

We are putting the basis of our conjecture about what might have happened on her findings upon arrival. Rocky was standing guard outside the coop and all the hens/pullets were inside.

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After determining none of the chickens were missing, she went back and followed the blood trails. When she told me about it, I joined her and we walked a long way to see if any more information could be gleaned from the evidence. We could tell the tracks made it all the way to the road, and by that distance, it seemed clear the bleeding was greatly reduced.

The size of the footprints lead us to suspect a small cat, which aligns with the location where we have frequently seen a cat of unknown ownership prowling.

The rest remains a mystery, but we have developed a possible explanation from the data available.

We think our rooster, Rocky, took on the attacker and successfully fought it off, sending it away wounded.

Earlier in the day, while I was walking Delilah, Rocky let loose with a series of about seven “cock-a-doodle” calls. He is still about one syllable short of the classic rooster crow, but it gets closer each time we hear it.

Cyndie is hoping to get a closer look this morning to assess for possible injuries. It looked like there were mostly yellow feathers tossed about, which points toward the Buff Orpington. They all looked okay in the coop, but the birds do a pretty good job of masking any problems they might be suffering, which makes good sense as a survival instinct.

Here’s hoping the wounded visitor will lose interest in our flock now and redirect its attention somewhere a little less threatening, and that our theory about Rocky’s heroics happens to actually be true.

Written by johnwhays

January 11, 2021 at 7:00 am

Holding Out

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Turns out, our adult Golden Laced Wyandotte layer hen has been holding out on us. Yesterday, Cyndie’s mom, Marie, along with Sara and Althea, stopped by to see the new chicks on their way home from the lake place. While they were here, the group took a stroll to find the three adult hens free-ranging away on the property.

When they heard the Wyandotte cooing in a thicket of growth, closer inspection revealed she was sitting on a batch of seven eggs!

Why that little stinker.

When I got home and Cyndie shared some pictures of the scene with me, the thing that stood out more than the eggs was the appearance of poison ivy leaves around the spot.

That chicken really doesn’t seem to want us to take her eggs.

For that matter, I suddenly have very little interest in handling that hen! Her feathers are probably covered in poison ivy oils. I start to feel phantom itches all over just thinking about it, and I didn’t even touch any of the hens or eggs yesterday.

I touched a lot of cute little “henlets,” though.

Whose idea was it to allow our chickens to free-range around here, anyway? A fenced run off the coop would be a lot simpler than all the risks due to predators and the hens’ creativity with laying locations.

Speaking of predators, I believe there is now one less fox we need to worry about. Yesterday morning, just as I turned off our street on the way to work at the crack of dawn, I saw a roadkill fox in the oncoming lane.

I’m a little surprised no other marauders discovered the pile of eggs free for the taking from the ground in the last week. Maybe that bodes well for the chances of continued good luck for the last three surviving hens from our 2018 batch.

If it weren’t for the occasional random incursions of passing bands of coyotes, our regular number of free-ranging adults might increase from the usual three that we always end up with toward the end of their productive egg-laying years.

When we were in this same situation two years ago, with 3 adults and a new brood of twelve young-uns that we expected would need merging together, the adults all got taken by a fox over a series of a few days. Sad as that was, it saved us the hassle of introducing the different aged birds to each other.

This time, I may need to actually follow through on a plan to remodel the inside of the coop to add a barrier that will provide shared-but-segregated accommodations for some period of introduction.

We never run out of new things to learn around here. Particularly, how to outsmart a hen that decides she’s too good for the silly nest boxes in the coop for laying her precious eggs.

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Luck Ends

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Our surprising run of luck with keeping our latest eight free-range chickens in the wilds of rural Wisconsin farm country ended yesterday in a very similar fashion to our first attempt a couple of years earlier. In the waning hours of daylight, when Cyndie went out to close the chicken door on the coop, there were only three hens on the roost.

A cursory survey of the surroundings turned up one body and one pile of feathers. No other clues were found.

Some predator or predators had a good meal last night. It, or they, made off with four gorgeous hens.

It was a real joy while it lasted. Unfortunately, it is not joyous at all when lives come to an end. The cycles of natural life can be harsh.

The unwelcome drama made for a pretty crummy end to an otherwise rainy, gloomy day.

And then there were three…

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Written by johnwhays

April 29, 2020 at 6:00 am

Who’s This?

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We have a new intruder on the property, one we didn’t even recognize. When Delilah triggered on something in one of the stalls in the barn, Cyndie reeled in the leash to keep them separated and stepped up to snap a photo of the mysterious critter.

Do you know what this is?

We searched a range of wild animal images and whittled our way down to this: fisher.

This led to more questions than answers. Is it just passing through? Was it seeking a chicken dinner? Why was it out in the daylight?

Cyndie brought Delilah up to the house, grabbed my pocket camera and headed back to the barn in hopes of capturing a better image. By the time she got there, the animal had vanished.

Where did it go?

Cyndie subsequently made multiple trips out to check on the chickens, just in case. By sundown, all eight hens were secure on the roost in the coop.

In a curious side note, we have not been finding very many eggs in the nest boxes lately. Oddly, Cyndie found an egg on the ground outside the coop this afternoon. We don’t know what’s going on there.

Maybe the fisher is smart enough to take eggs instead of hens. Wouldn’t want to harm the golden goose chicken.

Time to set up the trail cam again, I guess.

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Written by johnwhays

August 16, 2019 at 6:00 am

Last One

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And then there was one. Cyndie came inside from feeding the horses yesterday around dinner time and reported that the Buff Orpington was the only chicken under the barn overhang.

The chickens are usually eager for her afternoon chores because they get a fresh serving of treats to eat. It was uncharacteristic for the two Barred Plymouth Rock hens to not show up. In addition, it was snowing like crazy, so it seemed odd that they would be off gallivanting around the property without the Buff.

That pointed to nothing good.

I put on my winter gear and joined Cyndie and Delilah in a scouting mission around the grounds. We circled past the trail cam, and I grabbed the memory card from it.

Cyndie had picked up three eggs from the coop in the afternoon, but our search didn’t come across any tracks revealing recent activity in the vicinity.

We headed inside with a sinking feeling of more loss.

For all the multitude of empty scenes that regularly show up on the trail cam, this time we landed one positive ID out of the nine images on the card.

That little fox walking toward the fence was ten minutes ahead of Cyndie and Delilah walking down that trail on their noon trek. They never saw it, but I bet Delilah smelled the scent.

We took a tiny bit of solace in the fact there was no chicken in the fox’s mouth in the image.

At dusk, with a looming trepidation, Cyndie went down to close the coop. The Buff was in there all by herself. With Delilah, Cyndie walked one more loop around the back pasture for any sign of what may have happened.

It was Delilah who took noticeable interest in a dark spot inside the fence. Cyndie tied Delilah outside and climbed through the wires and found the proof of our worst fear.

Now we are wondering if we will be able to accelerate the introduction of our new chicks to the lone surviving chicken from last year’s flock. The poor girl must have been cold and lonely¬†all alone¬†last night in the coop.

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Written by johnwhays

April 3, 2018 at 6:00 am

Close Watch

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I think the trail cam was too close to the coop. It seemed to trigger upon the movement of the shadow across the front door. There were 400 images recorded over the 24 hour period! That was really only 200 triggers, because I had left the setting at 2 images per activation.

The chick(en)s were under close watch for this first day in the coop. Temperature is not controlled as much as it was in the brooder located inside the barn. As far as I can see, they are not showing any signs of discomfort or distress. Why would they? These birds have moved into a Taj Mahal of chicken coops.

Still, Cyndie is not sure we are avoiding minimal desired temperature and is checking on them regularly.

I peeked in the window after setting up the camera Sunday night.

Cyndie checked on them first thing in the morning, yesterday.

Then she stopped by several times during the day.

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Delilah even made an attempt to monitor their status on her own. Luckily, Cyndie was on the other end of the leash.

Finally, at the end of the day, the front door got opened for some adjustments and the introduction of a larger food dispenser. With little in the way of bugs to eat, the poor birds are devouring the starter granules faster than Cyndie can keep up.

That was all interesting enough, but the real winner on the trail cam was the night vision capture. It didn’t take long for us to have the first visitor make an appearance. There is no doubt in my mind that my attempts to critter-proof our coop will be well-tested.

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Let the games begin…

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Written by johnwhays

April 18, 2017 at 6:00 am