Chicken behavior 7 days after predator--how do we get back to normal?

Discussion in 'Chicken Behaviors and Egglaying' started by chickensonmymind, Jan 11, 2010.

  1. chickensonmymind

    chickensonmymind Hatching

    Jan 11, 2010
    Hi to all,

    I'm a new member. I've learned a lot from this forum and now have some specific questions about chicken behavior and recovery from predators. I hope I'm posting in the right area...

    Last spring we raised 6 chicks, named them all (of course!) and watched every behavior. The chickens have been free ranging in our yard and loving it. We had 2 Buff Orps, 2 Rhode Island Red and 2 Ameracaunas. 8 days ago, my chickens started to put themselves to bed around 4pm and I had 2 missing. I started looking around and Dotty was limping toward the coop, barely able to move. The other one never came home. (both RI Reds--the friendliest in my bunch) The injured one had a big patch of feathers missing under her wing and what looked like a bite--2 puncture wounds on the top and a U shaped cut under. I patched her up, have been making sure she's healing and she'll be ok.

    The one that's missing, presumed dead, was the alpha. She herded everyone, was the lookout, tried to be responsible. I'm guessing the attacker probably went for Dotty (now injured) but the other tried to protect her and got attacked herself.

    Here are my questions:
    Predator: We live on 5 acres in WA--any number of animals could be the culprit. It was afternoon when this happened. I'm thinking coyote, dog, maybe even bobcat. I haven't found even 1 feather to show where a scuffle might have taken place. Other ideas?

    Behavior since the attack:
    The hens have barely left the coop. Our setup has a 2 story compact coop inside a 20x10 6' high pen. Usually they're lined up in the a.m. to get out of the coop and when I open the pen door, they all run to the yard to free range. If I don't open the pen, I have 2 that can still fly over the fence and have fun on the outside. None of that since the attack. I'm rethinking free ranging--maybe in winter there are too many hungry things. We'll start up again in the spring or maybe look into a chicken tractor of some sort. But I'm concerned because the chickens aren't eating much, and hardly leave the top floor of the coop (where they sleep and where the nest boxes are). Anyone else seen this?

    They huddle together and make a quiet purring. Doesn't seem like a happy noise. Even yesterday I was still hearing it. Grieving? Scared? I haven't heard any happy clucks.

    They were barely laying any, being that it's winter, but for the few that have come the shells are paper thin. Stress?

    I was kind of grateful not to end up with a rooster last year but now I'm wondering if we need a new leader. Do I get an adult rooster and go through quarantine, etc or will the new pecking order evolve and the girls will recover without adding anyone?

    Thanks in advance for the advice.

  2. Noble Rooster

    Noble Rooster Songster

    Apr 28, 2009
    Hi there, chicksonmymind, and welcome to BYC!

    First, I'm sorry to hear about your lost alpha girl and your poor recovering Dotty. I hope she'll be OK.

    I can't answer all of your questions, but I can say that PTSD after a predator attack does take place. Your girls probably have had more of a chance to hone their instincts than mine (mine are in a coop plus run and get to free range under my supervision), but until they encounter something they are more likely to be friendly/curious rather than fearful, unfortunately. I had 2 girls attacked by a hawk while I was standing right there with them [​IMG]. They both managed to escape by squishing themselves through a 4-inch-high gap under a stall door and because I deflected the hawk's dive. Neither of them was touched, but they sure knew they had had a very serious near miss. Both of them hid in the back of the barn and wouldn't come out until I picked them up, and then they were still in shock. Now both of them are pretty skittish about being picked up, being left behind by the group, or crossing open ground (understandably!). They stay near my feet if we're walking across open parts of the yard, or if they were distracted and get left behind when the group heads into the open, will start to panic but refuse to come into the open until I go and rescue them. So I just take this into consideration now when we're out and about and try to help them feel safe. I'm also even more gentle than usual when picking them up and they're starting to be a little more comfortable, but some days not. One of them decided that she would learn to load herself back into the coop rather than go through the anxiety of being picked up when it's time to go "home" and taught the others how to hop back in on their own, which was actually kind of useful. This attack took place over 2 months ago and they don't really seem like they're ready to fully recover just yet. [​IMG]

    At the time, it didn't seem like the 4 girls who were not attacked realized what was going on since they weren't panicked or nervous, and wondered why we were all trooping back into the barn when it was such a beautiful day out. But about a week after the attack, we were outside and heard first the crows start to go nuts, and then a hawk's scream. When the crows sent up the alarm, all 6 girls started to move towards the barn, and when the hawk screamed, they managed to hide under the little "bridge" leading to their run within a split second. None moved until I gave the all clear, and then it was alpha and beta girls first to help secure the area. The hawk had not screamed when it attacked my 2 girls, nor had the crows made noise, so it was interesting to me that they had learned to put all these signs together. They had never really paid attention to the calls of other birds before (why would they, since they had no context for it) or to birds passing overhead. Now when the crows start up everyone comes to me, we look to see what's going on, and if I can do so safely I move them near low bushes, etc. where they can take cover or back to the barn.

    None of mine went off their feed the way yours seem to have done (though the one whom the hawk almost brushed didn't lay the next day), but also yours was a much more serious attack. In addition to missing their alpha and having the peck order disorganized I'm sure they heard what went down and it must have been terrifying. Since having a rooster isn't an option for us and they already saw me as flock leader anyway, I've stepped up my "rooster" role and make sure I do some patrolling while they range, give them the signal that it's OK to eat, etc. This seems to help them feel secure. You might want to try this in lieu of a rooster or until you decide to get one. The girls will eventually sort out their own new pecking order. Also, if I pick the 2 nervous girls up not from above but by kneeling next to them and scooping them up from below, they seem to find comfort in being held and petted.

    On the noises, I know mine make a low trilling sound when they've heard something that makes them nervous -- it's not a full alarm call (which the alpha will occasionally do if she thinks it's warranted -- unfortunately this didn't happen with the hawk attack), but more of a "Wait, everyone, listen..." Usually the trilling subsides if they listen and don't hear anything further or if I tell them things are OK. If your girls are trilling a lot, they must be awfully jumpy, poor things.

    I apologize that this is a bit rambly, but I guess the bottom line is that yes, it really will take them some time to recover, and a way you can help them is to assume alpha duties yourself when you're with them. You might also want to set up a covered run for them if your space permits it so they can learn to venture outside safely again and just do supervised free-ranging until spring since yes, things are only going to get hungrier as winter continues. Offer their favorite foods (you can even turn their layer ration into a porridge by mixing it with hot water -- it seems to transform ordinary food into a treat) and slowly work on coaxing them to hop down, eat, etc.

    Good luck, I hope Dotty feels better soon, and that everyone starts clucking happily again!
  3. chickensonmymind

    chickensonmymind Hatching

    Jan 11, 2010
    Thanks for you reply--hearing your experience and knowing that their behavior is normal given the situation makes me feel better. I've read lots of chicken books, but haven't seen a section on trauma/scared chickens.

    I've been spending lots of time in the coop/pen area, hoping they'd feel more secure and I'll keep that up. When we go back to free-range, I'm guessing the hens will stay closer to me. Sounds like your chickens free-range onlywhile you're outside supervising--how do you herd them back inside in the middle of the day? I haven't figured out how to lure them back to the pen.

    I'll try the porridge idea too.

  4. cactus-hen

    cactus-hen Songster

    Jun 21, 2008
    Sorry for your loss. I know how you feel.We have had hawk and coyote attacks. The older girls stay close to cover but the younger ones don't seem to be very aware. I call mine back to the yard with a high pitched chiiiiiick, chiiiik, chiiiik, chiiiik. I also give them several hands full of scratch. This brings them all running. If you teach your chickens a specific call to come to you, it is easier to bring them in. Kate
  5. Noble Rooster

    Noble Rooster Songster

    Apr 28, 2009
    Like cactus-hen, I taught mine a specific call to come to me -- reinforcing with scratch or another favorite treat helps (scratch has the bonus of being "noisy," i.e., as soon as they hear you shake it in its container they come flying from wherever). Also, because I've spent so much time with them ever since we got them when they were 2 days old, they're pretty imprinted on me and follow me around in a little posse. If I move with a purpose they know we're going somewhere and follow; if I kind of mosey they don't necessarily jump to follow me right away. (My DH complains that they don't follow him. [​IMG]) And thanks to that girl who is nervous after the hawk attack, I've been able to teach them to return to the coop and hop back in themselves (again, treats help reinforce). I do only supervised free ranging since we have an insane number of predators at our place, so that hour to hour and a half a day that I spend with them outside has given me lots of opportunity to become flock leader as well as observe all sorts of cute behavior. [​IMG]

    Good luck!! They learn very quickly so I'm sure you'll have them trained to come to you in no time. And please keep us posted on how everyone does!

  6. SallyF

    SallyF Songster

    Jul 5, 2009
    Middle Tennessee
    We had a raccoon attack last July: lost two hens outright, and had an injured rooster who eventually had to be culled. The other hens suffered just as you describe for over a month, then seemed to gradually get better. In the early Fall, I added two new roosters to the flock and then three more pullets. By then everybody was back to normal.

    Fortunately, chicken brains are pretty small and what behaviors/events which are not reinforced frequently will eventually disappear. Maybe some distractions will help them recover... special treats, cabbage hockey or something like that. When I free-range mine, they don't get treats during the day; only when it's time to come into the run and only in the run. That's their "scratch" time. My two roos will follow me anywhere for cracked corn!
  7. teach1rusl

    teach1rusl Love My Chickens

    Quote:Yes...THIS!!! Get a noisy container that holds your scratch. I shake mine right after giving a loud "Chicky chicky chicky!!!" So now they come running to me (even if I'm out of sight) when I give that call, double time if I'm shaking the canister while

    So sorry about the girl you lost...
  8. mamagardener

    mamagardener Songster

    Sorry to hear about what happened to your chickens. My chickens are acting the same way, last Friday we had a hawk attack for the first time and one of my chickens was killed. Now the rest of my chickens don't want to leave the coop even to go in the run. I am hoping that it will get better, but for now I won't let them free range even if they want to. I think I will wait until spring when food is more plentiful for hawks and other predators.

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