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Any idea what's been eating my girls?

Discussion in 'Predators and Pests' started by TehLizardKing, May 16, 2016.

  1. TehLizardKing

    TehLizardKing Chirping

    Jul 29, 2012
    Okay this is gonna be freakin long so hold on to your potatoes

    About four years ago, my parents bought three hens for the eggs... And obviously once I'd chickens for a while and seen how great they are, everything sort of took off. My parents didn't really have a great deal of input into the birds but they shared some of the duties, because the birds are family pets more than anything

    We had all the dramas of chooks, except predators. Came home one day to find all my quail except one lying on the floor with no heads (we moved the last one into the aviary and got her some new mates and she's all good now) but never anything to do with the chickens. Until now. I am ashamed to say this, but I hadn't even noticed until three weeks ago.

    The problem is at one point we had about 55 birds. They were all gorgeous backyard mutts that we got from crossing Amber Stars and Sablepoots with Cream Legbars. You wouldn't believe the colours I got out of them (I know that sounds irresponsible but I keep the birds as pets and they were never going to go on to pollute the gene pool of the breeds) They all had names and they were all really **** friendly (like arm-hopping friendly). We'd had five broodies go off and hatch in the brambles in a row, and 'oh the babies were just so cute' so we kept them all because it was no problem. Started selling eggs to our neighbours and mates at school and it was just all really chill.

    I especially enjoyed how the birds could go wherever they pleased, they just enjoyed life so much. They've been totally free range for three years, and I've never had any problems apart from one pullet drowning in the pond, so I've got complacent. About 6 months ago, two young cockerels were taken at one point, within a day of each other... Then a hen... And then nothing. It was over so quickly I didn't have time to fight back and I figured we'd had some predator passing through and it was a lucky escape for the rest of the flock. Then, about three weeks ago, I counted all the birds and there were only 25.

    I freaked out. I suddenly went through all the birds in my head and realised just how many had disappeared. It sounds so stupid but they'd been taken one at a time (presumably) over such a long period of time, months or more, that I just hadn't noticed. Sometimes the hens go off and brood for a while, we'd had a few really old girls pass away and we'd been selling a few birds round about then. Plus, with 55 totally free range chickens, no matter how friendly they are you won't end up seeing them all every day... So I'd just got used to a lot of them being missing.

    I told my parents and then they realised it too. I hate how we could all have been so ignorant not to notice it but it's done now so I've gotta do what I can for the guys that are left.

    I live on a two and a half acre bit of land, about 3/4 of an acre is a meadow paddock with some huge mounds of soil (we're building) and lots of tree coverage, with lots of old stable sections and piles of rubble from the building, and a good sized pond - so perfect habitats for just about all wildlife we have in the UK, it's really diverse here. There's also only an acre of crop field separating us from a sizeable wood, and they have access to next door's land which they regularly explore and is a further 3 acres.

    I know for a fact we have buzzards, sparrowhawks, stoats, weasels and obviously rats. I've also recently seen a ginger and white cat sat by the brambles staring at the coops that looks suspiciously well fed and (I'm presuming it's down to him but I just wanted to talk this through with some other poultry people) he's definitely not owned by anyone round here so I'm guessing he's a stray. About half a mile up the main road this morning there was a dead fox cub, which (scared the hell out of me) and there was a badger there the other day. They're new additions, hopefully far enough away? Never had foxes before because there's a well-practised hunt around here.

    The first birds I noticed that were taken were three chicks that had just left their mum, they decided to roost so high in a tree one night I couldn't get them down and in the morning they were gone. That could have been rats, but equally anything bigger as well. Since then I've lost nine birds. Two were bantam hens, three were medium/large hens and four were cockerels. Of those, two were sablepoots, two were legbars, and all of them were wicked quick and the best boys you can imagine, not easy pickings.

    Every time I do something to try and keep them safe, I can't find one and it has obviously ended up roosting in a tree overnight or sleeping in the barn where I can't see it and I wake up to another pile of feathers. They've been free ranging so long they don't know any other way, they get stir-crazy when they're locked inside and my dad has been too busy all of the last weekends to build a bigger pen... And my first GCSE exam was today. So yeah, fun times.

    I'm overwhelmed by this. I've set a big live-catch trap with some tuna in a few days in a row but the rats keep triggering it and then squeezing out through the sides. I've ordered a trail camera that I'm going to set up pointing at a some meat I'll leave on the floor and see what pops by, but it's all just too much with exams at the moment, I know I sound like a right sissy and even if no one can help its quite cathartic to post this.

    Every time a bird is killed, there's a poof of feathers, but not loads, just a couple of handfuls. They haven't been chewed, and there's no sign of any skin, blood, or the body being dragged off. There was one hen that was brooding in a stable, got off her nest and was killed ten minutes after, our builders heard the commotion but got there too late. Whatever it was left well before they got there and just left the body there, eating nothing. She was on concrete and there was hardly any blood on the floor. She was also a big hen. All the eggs went cold too, so it was a double loss. Anyway, I've never had this experience before, like I said I'm in the UK and very lucky, so no experience with predators before and the birds have lived around stoats for two and a bit years with no deaths at all so I wouldn't expect it to be them; we have a ton of rabbits. That one girl that was killed for sport in broad daylight really puzzled me. I didn't get a look at her body because my dad black-bagged her before I got home that day. I don't think it's birds of prey and I would expect a fox to have killed all the birds at once. Perhaps I'm past helping and I'll just have to stay up all night with my rifle at the weekend, but if anyone even has any suggestions about what I could do or what it might be, I would be very grateful. Whatever it is eats a lot of chicken, and I couldn't bear my flock of 12 to get any smaller.

    Thanks guys, sorry for the novel, I realise it's long and inane but I don't know what else to do.

  2. Eggsoteric

    Eggsoteric Songster

    Nov 25, 2010
    My initial guess would be fox. This is the time of year they're feeding their kits.
  3. FarmerMac

    FarmerMac Chirping

    Dec 28, 2014
    At night time up in the tree could be owls or raccoons. During the day Hawks or eagles if you have any where you live. Those foxes are sneaky, I lost a few to them this year.
  4. bobbi-j

    bobbi-j Free Ranging Premium Member

    Mar 15, 2010
    On the MN prairie.
    Not knowing what kinds of predators you have, I will go with my other standard answer. You need to secure your chickens better at night. Free range chickens at night are just a buffet waiting to happen for predators. They're pretty much helpless. A secure coop with attached run can be most helpful eve if you don't plan on keeping them locked up permanently, just long enough to discourage whatever is nabbing your chickens.
    Last edited: May 16, 2016
  5. bigoledude

    bigoledude Songster

    Jan 16, 2011
    SE, Louisiana
    There is not enough information here for even a clairvoyant to determine your killer!! No kidding, you must provide more info if you can gather some.

    The trail cam is a great idea but, with your birds scattered all over the English countryside, where would you put it to catch the culprit on camera? You have taken some serious losses. Try to convince your dad to put up something to help the situation. Even if all you can do is erect a flimsy temporary enclosure, at least you'd have a place to aim your trail cam to capture photographic evidence of what your killer is.

    As for catching your birds, do you feed them in a specific place? Capture them there. Or, tempt them with treats into the enclosure you do have and close the door behind them.

    It sounds like you have no qualms about killing this killer. Good!!! First, eliminate the cat. Although I don't believe he is the only culprit. I had to look up what a stoat was, since the only member of the weasel family we have here is the mink. And they are only very near the water's edge. Every weasel-family animal I've ever heard of is a vicious killer. If one gets in a coop, it is very likely to kill every bird in the coop.

    If the birds could vote on being stir-crazy for a while or eaten alive .........

    Look, I'm not being flippant about your situation. I absolutely hate having animals killed more than anything. But, you must do SOMETHING in response to these attacks or expect more of the same.
    Last edited: May 16, 2016
    1 person likes this.

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