July 3rd, 2012
Devastation here tonight. At 3pm I went to do a welfare check and refill water bowls. At 6:30pm, I headed back down there with a bowl of kitchen scraps. Upon approaching the yard I saw JB, my silkie roo lying in the sun in the middle of the yard and something didn't look right. I called to him and started running. He raised his head at the sound of my voice but when I got to him he was in bad shape. Then I saw a dead body near him, and then another. Between 3pm and 6:30pm, something got in and wiped out a good portion of my flock.
This is the work of dogs. There was no blood and no one was eaten. As soon as one bird stopped fighting, this predator moved onto the next moving target. I built a Fort Knox coop because most of the predators in my area are nocturnal. I've never even seen a dog here since we moved in, other than my neighbor's dogs who never leave her property. Yet a passing dog found my coop and my birds and wreaked havoc. I can't even see where they got in. DH and I walked the yard multiple times after my discovery and there were no gaps in the fence and nowhere that is dug under.
When I first got there I could see only JB and 3 living birds. As time wore on, birds came out of hiding. But I am down 10 confirmed dead and 2 are still MIA. Of the dead, five were roos and one of the MIA's is a roo, which accounts for all 6 of my roos. That tells me the roos were doing their best to defend their hens and paid for it with their lives.
One of the ducks and JB were alive but had broken necks so we had to cull them. We decided rather than let their lives be a total waste, we would process and eat them and say a prayer of gratitude to them when we do.
Needless to say, I am feeling pretty devastated. 3 years keeping hens in the city, and only lost 2 to the neighbor's dogs next door. 3 weeks living in the country, and 1/4 of my flock is gone in a matter of hours. DH and I were here - but heard nothing. He is livid and wants to know what got to them and kill it. Tomorrow morning we will NOT be greeted by the sound of crowing and I will be reminded of my loss.
July 4th, 2012
I am moving slowly today - there is just this terrible sadness whenever I think about it. DH is so mad he is installing cameras that will also allow us to see what is happening outside the coop and in the chicken yard right now. We are both carrying our handguns (9mm) with us and have a .22 rifle by the backdoor too. I'm a reasonable shot and now I want it to come back so I can deal with it. I can't relax not knowing what it was or when it will be back but knowing it WILL be back sometime. Right now I'm sitting looking out a window at the chicken yard so any movement will clue me in something is going on. Half of the year we have windows open and would hear something. Even now we sleep with windows open to let cool air in overnight. But of course this happened late afternoon - the hottest part of the day when the windows were closed and the A/C running and I think we didn't hear it because of that.
What we know:
- Something got in the yard and chased and killed them. There was not a single feather outside of the chicken yard. There were feathers everywhere around each kill, and the bodies were scattered literally from one end of the yard to the other - and the yard is 240 feet long.
- Two are still missing. I don't expect to find them alive now. I don't know if they were carried off (seems unlikely) but don't know why else they would be missing. There are some areas with very long grass and its still possible they are in one of those pockets, dead. They are somewhat inaccessible to me but not to the birds.
What we don't know:
- What did this. We are positive it was not our dogs. They've been around poultry as long as we've had them without showing the slightest interest in chasing them (both when we are around and when we are not. I've observed them tons of times from the window when they didn't know we were watching and even with the little 3-week-old chicks, they didn't pay any attention to them.) Not only that, neither of them was hot, panting or sweaty like they had just spent time chasing birds. And, when I went outside, one was lying in the shade next to the backdoor and accompanied me down to the chicken yard and the other emerged from her favorite shady place when we called her after making the discovery.
- How it got in. We've walked the fence line multiple times. There are no spots dug and no holes. The "gate" is the only unfinished part of the yard. Its on the to-do list but for now, we have a nail in a post and the end of the roll of wire gets hooked onto the nail. I can sometimes do it one-handed but more often than not I need 2 hands. It has occasionally come unhooked when the nail rotated around and then has gaped open wide enough for one of the birds to squeeze through. If that had happened yesterday a dog could have squeezed through too, but when I got down there, the wire was over the nail and no animal could or would return it to that state after squeezing through. So the entry point is still a mystery. Unless it climbed right over the top.
I don't believe my next-door neighbor's dogs did this because:
- Dog #1 is an 11-year-old lab who is very arthritic. She hobbles a little when she walks, and whoever did this needed agility and speed - Sallie doesn't have either. Also, she was trained as a pup by their old dog they had at the time, to stay on the property. My neighbor says she never leaves and certainly I've not only never seen her off the property but never even seen her leave the immediate area of the house to use any of the rest of their acreage.
- Dog #2 is a little ankle-biter - and I know they can be devastating to livestock too - but this one is really fat and can't move very fast. My neighbor says that dog is not as good at staying around as Sallie but I've never seen her off the property. I told DH of the two she would be the more likely but he pointed out that as fat as she is, she wouldn't have had the stamina to do this much damage either.
Later on July 4th, 2012
Update: It was a fox and I got him!
I spent most of today nervously checking the birds every few minutes out the windows or in person. They were clearly freaked out by the horror of yesterday and spent the whole day within feet of the coop. Fortunately there is a lot of shade there. All was well and DH and I were eating dinner when I heard a sound. Now honestly, every time I heard a sound today I dashed to a window so I really didn't expect this sound to be any different. What I saw wouldn't have alarmed me yesterday but it did today. Several of the chickens were wandering in the chicken yard. Since they had stayed so close to the coop all day, I was concerned this meant the predator had returned so I grabbed my 9mm and RAN down to the coop, with DH in hot pursuit with his weapon of choice. Everything looked fine when I got there but a half dozen of the hens were in the chicken yard and when they saw me they ran full blast towards me and back to the coop, where they immediately ran behind the horse shelter to hide. Meanwhile Mama Sultan was hiding in the long grass behind the coop. I told DH - "its been here - I just know it. Look how they're all hiding". He went up to the house to bring back better tools, and I pulled up my lawn chair next to the coop.
About 10 mins went by and I suddenly realized I was being watched by what I thought was a small coyote. It was 200' away from me on the other side of my far fence. I tried to sight my pistol on it but knew it just didn't have that kind of range. Just then DH came back out and I tried to signal to him to stop walking but he didn't see me. The "coyote" saw him and ran off our property and across the road. I told him it had been there and that I hadn't fired because it was too far away so he said he'd go get his AR-15 and went back to the house. While he was gone, I saw it come back across the road and then hide in the hedgerow. When DH got there I told him it was there but I couldn't see it right then. He had his AR-15 and had brought me a .22 Long Rifle. He decided to go sit on the front porch where he thought he might have a better chance of seeing it, and I stayed where I was. 20 minutes later I got a brief sighting but it disappeared again real fast. More time went by and the chickens started singing the egg song which I saw as a sign of distress. I figured they could see it but although I kept scanning back and forth, I couldn't. I was afraid it was coming up behind us and kept looking that way too. Nothing. The adrenaline was really pumping now. And then I saw it and it was close. I hadn't seen it earlier because I was still looking too far away. First it solved the question for me as to how it was getting in. It climbed my fence like it was a ladder. Halfway up it either fell or jumped off the fence. I had been trying to get it in the crosshairs but it was moving too fast and when it jumped off I thought it was headed back to the trees and I had lost my chance, but instead it stood and looked in the direction of DH. That gave me a chance to get it in the crosshairs and fire. It was a clean kill - one shot to the head and it dropped immediately. By the time I set the rifle down and ran over there it was dead. That was the first time I realized it was a fox and not a coyote. It looked pretty darn small lying there on the ground but it was hard to feel sorry for it given the devastation of the previous 24 hours.
In the time between hearing that sound and getting out there, it had managed to kill another duck. I later realized my little black chick hatched by Mama Sultan is also missing. Another hen was missing but I later found her in the sewer lagoon. She must have flown over that fence in a panic and was desperately trying to find a way back home. I was very relieved she was okay. My cuckoo marans was attacked and is in shock. She has several puncture wounds that I've treated with Neosporin. She is still walking and *looks* okay. I just hope she survives the shock and doesn't die of infection from the wounds. So between the 12 yesterday and the two today, with a third injured, that fox did a lot of damage.
I'm actually relieved it was a fox and not a neighborhood dog. The rampage - killing without eating them - looked like what a dog does to me. I've since researched it a little and what I learned is that foxes will kill a bunch and then bury them to return to later. Since he was interrupted he didn't get a chance to do that part. But I kind of can't blame him since he was just trying to survive. A dog doing it for play/fun/sport, would be harder to take.
I'm under no illusions it is "over". It is just over in the short-term. I can relax tonight and hopefully get the remaining birds over it before the next predator finds us.