Could this be a predator, mites or cold weather ? Your Opinion ...

Discussion in 'Predators and Pests' started by DTRM30, Feb 24, 2011.

  1. DTRM30

    DTRM30 Chillin' With My Peeps

    May 25, 2009
    Ok, so here is the rund down - is it a mink/weasel or is it piling b/c of the unusual cold we've had this year, illness or any clue idea suggestion ? I'm getting worried now !

    It started approx. 2 months ago. Never had a problem last winter or prior other than things that were my own fault - such as forgetting to close the coop run. I had chickens as a kid - and recently got back into keeping them a few years ago.

    History -

    September - had a silkie who got eaten before I could close up the coop - between dusk and 8pm ish. Think it was an opposum - seen him around the yard and actually caught it in the run one day over the summer. Kids saw her in the yard near the run when they were outside playing and about an hour later when I went to close up the coop she was MIA - we found her in the run - gutted. Completely my fault - the bird had been eaten - all that was left was wings, legs, skin, feathers and head. All the insides were gone from her bum end.

    October/November did my scheduled coop bedding change - cleaned out and dusted everything with poultry dust (can't get sevin in this state) (even the birds - and retreated the following week) - saw suspicious marks for lice/mites. About 3-4 months ago - use deep litter and change it out every 3-4 months as needed. Refresh with new bedding about once per month.

    December/January - my "runt" silkie - wasted away and died last week after a few months of being in the house infirmary. She was good until she reached about 6 months old in December - she was small (1/2 the size of the others), weak and was apparently being kept from the food by the stronger girls - she had balance trouble toward the end - But that I attributed to a physical defect and the others knew something was wrong - chickens are mean like that - survival of the fittest !- something I had no control over. She was in the house for about 2 months but nothing I did helped.

    Now the trouble started.

    I don't always get out to close the coop door - most nights, but every now and then if it's nice out our I'm home late - but the run area is pretty secure and I've never had trouble with coons, opposums, hawks, fox, skunk or otherwise get in - unless, like I said, I forget to close the run door (has happend only 2-3 times ever). My run is 10x16 made out of a dog kennel with the coop on one end - and I have smaller wire running around the bottom half of the run and burried into the ground and it is covered. Gravel run area - and no digging or evidence of anything getting in under or over the run. I've left the coop door open many a time while I've been away for the weekend or even for a week on vacation and NEVER once had a problem.

    January / February - Found a silkie dead in the run - no apparent wounds, was healthy the day before - figured maybe she was older than I thought (bought her as pet quality from a reputable breeder in NE) - and it was just her time or maybe the sub zero temps. Can't remember if the coop door was open - or if my kids had opened it in the am. She was just lying there on her side.

    February - found one silkie with a face mite problem about two weeks ago- she seemed weak so I brought her in for evaluation and walaa ... she is being treated separate - dusting, baths to remove mites/dead mites/ to be sure she's eating, didn't see anything on the others - they seemed OK - figure she's been targeted b/c she's a silkie and has been less mobil than the others in this cold -

    February - second week - I found one of my commets dead in her nest box - - no wounds - was perfectly fine the day before. Not underweight - was out and running about the day before ... died overnight. The coop was closed.

    February - about 4 days later I found my sons silkie dead in the coop when I went out in the am to let them out. She was otherwise fine the night before - first one out - eating fine - and was not underweight. No visible wounds (didn't look under each and every feather though) - and she was - even though small - on the higher end of the pecking order - just lying in the middle of the coop. The coop was closed.

    This got me nervous that I had a mite problem or something - two hens dead with no apparent reason in such a short time ... sooo

    Cleaned out the coop (did need it anyway- they've been staying indoors too much lately) - inspected and dusted all the girls - dusted the coop - and am treating all of them this weekend with Ivomec for worms and mites. But, on inspection - I have not seen any indication of a mite problem on the other birds or lice. But - they were due for treatment anyway.

    Last night (5 days after I cleaned the coop and about 1 week after the last death) I found my only silkie roo - same thing - overnight - dead with no visible wounds. He was always either the first or second out of the coop when I let them out - and was alive and kicking last night when the coop was closed up. They are due for their follow up mite treatment this weekend.

    So, here is my question - is it a predator like a mink/weasel/rat? getting in through the small crack that the door won't close all the way? The only thing I can think of is mink but could be a rat - there is a horse barn a few hundred yards from where the coop is on the neighbors property - but that is kept VERY clean - don't think ive ever seen cleaner horse barn. Nothing larger can or has ever gotten in - and if it was a coon or opposum- the bird wouldn't be uneaten. I'm thinking preadator because the deaths are only in the overnight hours. If it was illness or mites- it wouldn't just be during the night -

    Or, is it mites ? I do watch them - from a distance - to make sure all see OK - for about 5-=10 minutes in the am and again when I close them up -

    No hunching, hiding, unusual behavior other than feather picking from boredom and not wanting to go outside even though they can go outside.
    All legs look clean - I didn't see any indication of mites or lice when I dusted them - but I know that doesn't mean they aren't there.
    Combs look proper color
    Poops look fine from what I can tell - no unusual color, consistency, blood or otherwise.
    Weight seems OK - and eating me out of house and home with this cold weather and no free ranging.
    Never been wormed - but doing that this weekend - oldest girls are 3 - youngest were about 9 months

    Door doesn't close tight - the door twisted or swelled and I need to remove the door and do some adjusting - just haven't gotten to it yet - so there is a small crack (an inch or so depending on how humid it is out) even though it's closed - been like that all summer and through to the present).

    HAD - 5 commets (red star), 1 RIR, 1 Barred Rock, 1 Leghorn, 1 EE, 1 Black Australorp (sp), 6 silkies.

    I have 10 sqft per bird outdoor run and about 4-5 sqft per bird indoor coop space. Was free ranging during the summer so space wasn't an issue - but they won't go out in the snow and I actually have to shovel the run or they stand in the door and look at me like - "you expect ME to go out and walk on THAT ?" We've had quite a bit of snow - so they wouldn't go out in the yard even if I wanted them to. brats.

    Down to 4 commets, 1 RIR, 1 Barred Rock, 1 Leghorn, 1 EE, 1 Black Australorp 2 silkies.

    I don't have a roost - had to remove it because it was causing foot issues from being the wrong size (used what I had at the time) - and just haven't gotten around to replacing it yet - so they sleep in the bedding (pine shavings). ANd when I dust, I dust - every crack and corner - and I wear a glove and even put dust in my hand and rub down all the wood - leaving a residue of dust on all the sides of the nest box boards etc. In fact, when I cleaned out the coop - under the bedding there was still the dusting from the last time I had cleaned it out. did watch for any crawling things - figured if it was a really bad infestation I'd see at least a few - didn't see anything.

    I'm worried now because this is the third bird in about two weeks that has died like this. Mostly my silkies who are slower than the other birds - but at the same time are also more prone to mites than the others.

    I am bringing my son's last silkie in the house - he will be devastated if he looses her - that one is "his".

    Sorry it's long - I guess I'm just trying to trouble shoot and figure out what the heck is going on these last few weeks - if it's predator, mites or just cold weather - any suggestions would be helpful - the more heads the better when it comes to problem solving, right ?

    Here is what I am doing - treating with Ivomec this weekend - and getting hubby to fix that darned door. Any other ideas ? I don't have a lot of $$ so I can't take them to be examined - and don't have the resources to change the run at this point in time - can only fix the door issue for now.
  2. sfw2

    sfw2 Global Menace

    If it was a predator like a weasel, you'd see injuries to the birds. Have you seen any signs of respiratory illness in your birds? How cold has it been getting at night?
  3. Lunachick

    Lunachick Chicken Slave

    Mar 19, 2007
    Brick, NJ
    Quote:Also, how old are your birds? Some that are older will drop dead like that. I had 2 RSLs die at age 3 after they were finished with egglaying. [​IMG] Not that that's old, but...........What are you using to treat for lice? Maybe you used too much - just a possibility, not saying you poisoned your birds [​IMG] I hope you find out soon. Good luck!
  4. DTRM30

    DTRM30 Chillin' With My Peeps

    May 25, 2009
    Hi, thanks [​IMG]

    No respritory illness going on - eyes are clear, noses are dry ... no coughing, labored breathing etc that I've observed anyway.

    In fact, the commets crack me up because when it's been really cold (which has been almost every day this winter) and they choose not to go out - I go out to close them up and they all give me the "evil" eye and growl at me like it was my fault !

    I treated with poultry dust from TSC- which is permethryn - just the one time to date - and they are due for follow up this weekend. The dust under the bedding is per manufacturer specs - for application amounts . The deaths started before I treated - though.

    I think age is a possibility - the Commets (red star) - will be 3 this spring. My son's silkie would have been 3 this coming fall. Still laying good - but suppose it could be.

    The first silkie I found outside in the run I think was also older - I never saw her lay at all - I know stress of a new home at first - but I think she was older than the year or two that I said would be OK. which I don't really mind as long as they are healthy (she shows her birds and her flock is tested by the state each year and were mite and lice free from what I could tell on inspection - she said she treated with frontline - ). I didn't pay a lot for her - $10 or $15 I think. But still .... It kinda clued me in b/c she wasn't laying. My kids just love their personality and their "poofie" heads - sooo I don't mind keeping them even if they don't produce much for eggs. They're cute, fun, friendly - I'm actually kinda hooked on the little buggers now so it's extremely disappointing to see them having trouble.

    But the rooster was only 9 months old - hadn't even started to crow yet. From a batch of eggs we hatched out this past June.

    strange thing is that the roo and the silkie hen were in the middle of the coop - and the silkies always sleep in the nest boxes (makes me nuts with all the poop they leave in there). but with the red heat lamp - the coop is lighted all night (not what I prefer, but better than frozen water) - so their sleep cycle I'm sure is a bit off.

    I'm wondering if it's just bad luck - I know last night was near zero - again - last night. I can't remember how cold it's been on the nights they've died - but I do know it's been single digits a LOT - but average has been around 15.

    I didn't see any visible bite marks, but I didn't really do a thorough look under all the feathers - just nothing immediately visible. But I did read somewhere that sometimes a mink / weasel can get in, bite them and kill them, but not be able to carry them out so leave them - and unless you really search under the feathers, you won't see the bite mark. that is what got me wondering about the mink thing. Or a Rat.

    And now that I'm on this - something else just came to mind - I also saw - just once - some strange footprints inside the run in the snow - thought maybe it was a mouse but seemed big for a mouse - so thouht rat - but to me it looked more like a house cat - that went 2/3 the way up the ramp to the door, and back down. I couldn't follow them though to see where they came in or out. They were small though. no more than an about 1/8 - 1/4 inch long. Never saw them again - I even look around the coop for prints, digging, anything that might clue me in that there is someone interested in my chickens for dinner. I never did figure out how it got in and never saw any prints leading up to the coop - but the birds were fine - but it was around the start of all this trouble. Another reason I'm thinking mink/rat etc. It could easily get in through the kennel fense. If it was a house cat - it would have to be really really small - I had a cat that weighed about 3 lbs tops and she couldn't get in.


    I appreciate the help - hopefully I figure it out - but I think I just may not. [​IMG]
    Last edited: Feb 24, 2011
  5. DTRM30

    DTRM30 Chillin' With My Peeps

    May 25, 2009

    - here is the foot print chart I found - and the closest match to the prints I saw are white footed mouse or weasel - based on size and shape - and the fact that they were in snow making it more difficult to determine ...

    I guess I'll just continue on my course of preventative med for the mites, and fix that door and hope for the best. Looks like I'm in the market for B/B/S and White Silkies - no show girls - and since I'm at it - a blue marans, another EE and another light brown leghorn would be nice too. Oh my, I don't have enough room [​IMG]

    Oh Darling - My sweet Hubby .... It's time to add on to the coop !

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