Help! Murder!!!

Discussion in 'Predators and Pests' started by shoehorny, Mar 29, 2016.

  1. shoehorny

    shoehorny Hatching

    Mar 29, 2016
    Can someone please help me solve a murder mystery? Two weeks ago, I bought a dozen chicks. I put them in a large, plastic tub and then I put the tub into a large wooden crate. I covered part of the crate with plywood and draped chicken wire fence over the top. To weigh the chicken wire fence down, I placed small stacks of newspaper around the perimeter. In the middle, I placed a heat lamp to give the chicks some warmth. I stored the crate inside my chicken coop. I have been doing this for years without any problem!

    Last night, I went into the coop to feed the chicks and give them water. Everything was just as I had left it previously, except all of the chicks were gone! I removed the top and examined the inside. Not a single feather was visible. There was a very small blotch of blood in the corner of the floor. There were no droppings. The water container was knocked over and the feeding tray was empty.

    I moved the crate aside from the wall and noticed some gnawing marks on the wood with some small holes where a critter got in. There was dirt on either side of the small holes. Also, there were lots of new feathers on the ground, but no bones or other body parts. On the other side of the wall (outside of the coop) there were no signs of tunneling at all. I have a rock garden outside of the coop with a layer of river stones laying down right up to the building. Back inside the building, there is no sign of droppings on the floor. The floor was built using patio blocks that are placed tightly together. Usually, the coop (and the adjoining run) are impregnable by animals. The coop is built with pressure treated studs and 3/4" plywood with MDF over that. The run is completely covered with hardware cloth along the walls and floor.

    What kind of predator could have gotten in by tunneling such a small hole in the wall near the base and done such a neat job of completely devouring my baby chicks? The critter would have had to been able to pull the chicks body up along the side of a Rubbermaid tub and squeezing the chicks through the small space on the side of the chicken wire cover. Also, the chicks were gaining weight and were about the size of a softball. The critter ate all 12 of the chicks!!! Does anyone have any ideas?



  2. tcstoehr

    tcstoehr Chirping

    Mar 25, 2014
    Canby, Oregon
    Impossible to know.
  3. AllynTal

    AllynTal Songster

    Aug 22, 2014
    Mississippi Gulf Coast
    You are assuming it was a single predator. He might have come to the buffet with friends. Raccoons and rats can get through amazingly small holes. No matter how big their body is, if they can get their skull through the hole, they can get their whole body through.
    Last edited: Mar 29, 2016
  4. Nksg75

    Nksg75 Songster

    Aug 18, 2014
    Sugarland Texas
    If you have other chickens in the coop, were they acting spooked?
    I am assuming the chicken wire was not bent or broken anywhere?
    I would assume a predator on the smaller scale. Meaning obviously not a coyote or anything larger more like rodent size?
    Wow that's a tough one. If you don't have any other chickens I would set out some sort of sticky bait. If it comes back and the sticky bait is gone then you can at least rule out mice or small rat.
    Obviously they would stick to it and not be able to get away. If on the other hand the sticky bait is gone then you can assume larger predators.
    I do hope you find out the culprit!
    And I am sorry for your loss!

    Also do you think it's possible that whatever ate your chicks is also still in the run? Without seeing signs of digging or tunneling and you did say you had hardware cloth all around the run? Top, bottom and sides?
    Last edited: Mar 29, 2016
  5. realsis

    realsis Crazy for Silkies

    Jan 17, 2013
    I am guessing a RAT. They can squeeze their bodies into incredibly small spaces. I'm guessing this because this winter I had a HUGE rat problem and you wouldn't believe the spaces they can get in! I had a closed trunk outside and they chewed a small hole in it and had babies inside! I'm hoping we finally got rid of the last one due to trapping and my dog but it wasn't easy. I will tell you right now the chew marks are the first clue. a rat will make a small opening then drag each chick out the hole. And YES THEY ARE PREDATORS TO CHICKS!! They have been known to chew off chicks legs trying to get them out of enclosures. It's absolutely horrible. also unfortunately they are pretty smart. you might consider getting some RAT (not mice) traps. Put Peanut butter on the traps and you might be suprised and disgusted (like I was) how many you will catch. we caught over 20 RATS and my dog got three. YUCK!!! I'M not talking mice here but big huge rats!!! if I had to bet on it, id bet RATS got your chicks, likely more than one. If you live in the country or near farmland or even semi country like I do rats flourish around the farmland. I really hope this helps. By your description I can't imagine another predator being able to squeeze into a space like that it's most probable RATS. Best of luck.

  6. shoehorny

    shoehorny Hatching

    Mar 29, 2016
    Thanks for all the replies, suggestions and condolences. I thought about adding a camera to the coup (baby cam) but have not gotten around to it yet. I should point out that I live in New Jersey and on farmland. I have never seen a rat on my property, although that is my chief suspect. The only thing is how the heck did they get the baby chicks out of the plastic tub so neatly? My other thought would be a possum, which I have found inhabiting the coop on occasion. They usually harmlessly lay down in the nest boxes. Once, I went into the coop to collect eggs and saw the possum curled up sleeping in the nest box. At first, I thought it was one of the chickens and I put my hand on it to pet it thinking it was a chicken. It popped its head out and showed me its sharp teeth!

    We have also had problems with raccoons in the coop. In fact, early last fall the raccoons tore off part of the roofing to get inside and killed a bunch of chickens. These raccoons were slobs and left a mess everywhere! What a nasty job it was cleaning up the mess. I can't see how a raccoon could get through the small, quarter sized hole.

    I am going to patch everything up and try again. I am also laying down baited traps to try and snag the culprit.. If caught, that will be it for the end for the predator.

    Thanks everyone!
  7. shoehorny

    shoehorny Hatching

    Mar 29, 2016
    More clues:

    Today I went out to the chicken coop during the day with a backup powerful light. I removed the huge crate that I used to put the baby chicks in. (Actually, I put the baby chicks into a large plastic Rubbermaid tub and I put this tub into the crate....). I turned the crate over and discovered a hole gnawed in the bottom that is about the size of a computer mouse! Also, I saw all of the feathers from the dead chicks (and some bones) and a bigger hole gnawed at the base of the chicken coop wall. There was dirt all around. Also, some of the patio paver had sunk into the dirt and the dirt was on top. So, presumably, the critter was something that tunnels, gnaws, and can climb the outside of a plastic tub, get inside, kill 12 chicks and move their bodies up the wall of the plastic tub into the wooden crate, then drag the chicks bodies out of the hole in the bottom and eat them leaving just feathers and bones.

    I also failed to mention I do have two very healthy older chickens that roost in the rafters of this coop. They seem to be okay and they are continuing to lay eggs, eat well, and enjoy free ranging.

    I set a rat glue trap and covered it with chicken wire. It is set near the hole in the wall. We shall see tomorrow...

  8. bigoledude

    bigoledude Songster

    Jan 16, 2011
    SE, Louisiana
    Any of the weasel family can crawl through the most incredibly small holes. It is amazing! The only weasel we have here is the mink. And I haven't, nor any of the neighbors who call me for predator problems have caught or killed a mink in the coop. Every member of the weasel family is very cunning, resourceful and tenacious. They will not give up trying to get at your chicks/chickens. The ABSOLUTE best strategy is to prevent them from gaining entry into your enclosure in the first place. This can be a skull-cramping task! If what you have is the weasel (the small one in the weasel family), you can usually dispatch them pretty effectively with the old reliable Victor rat traps baited with smelly meat fastened well onto the trigger of the trap.

    I fully realize that this may not be your culprit. But, if you can make your coop/run weasel-proof, you should be good-to-go for just about any small-ish predator.

    If you are dealing with rats, Realsis gave you some excellent advice. You will most likely find that there are a lot of them. Rats can cause severe losses to your chick numbers. The good thing is they're easy to catch or kill. Just as Realsis said, the standard Victor rat trap baited with peanut butter is deadly effective on rats. Just be ready to use a lot of them! D-Con can be used to great effect on poisoning them. I have no qualms poisoning these vermin. But, you must be careful in not to poison non-target animals and birds.

    I hope you find a quick and effective solution to your problem.
  9. rottlady

    rottlady Songster

    Mar 20, 2016
    Georges Mills, NH
    Least and shorttailed weasels can get through holes as small as 1" BUT they won't chew a hole through wood or plastic totes that would be a rat and they will kill and carry off baby chicks with ease

  10. Butterfly65

    Butterfly65 In the Brooder

    Mar 24, 2016
    Woah, We are in the process of building a large chicken run. I have never had chickens before and new to country living. Wild animals to me were squirrels being I was raised in the city. Reading your post describing how weasels can get through 1 inch diameter holes has me worried. We have long tailed weasels and southeastern weasels where I live in Northern Florida. I only have 8 chicks, but of course I do not want to lose any of them. Am I to assume that chicken wire will not prevent predators like weasels and rats from entering the run? My significant other was planning to only have about 3 feet of welded wire along the bottom of the run and chicken wire above that. I am feeling now that the welded wire would possibly need chicken wire over it. I'm worried about predators. We live smack dab in the country and have foxes, coyotes, o'possums, weasels, raccoons and God only knows what else.

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