I am quite new to raising chickens. My husband and I have a piece of property that had a coop already built and he thought it would be fun for our 7 and 5 year old to experience raising chickens. Back in September 2008 we ordered the Rainbow Layer collection from Mc Murray Hatchery. All 25 arrived in good shape. We kept them in the empty garage in a box with a heat lamp. We were foolish and learned a tough lesson when my husband found them all dead- too hot. We couldnt tell the kids- they were so excited and I was sick to my stomach. So we ordered another batch (this time Ornamental Layers were the earliest available I think), kept the kids away and waited a couple weeks for them to arrive. This time we kept the chicks in the house in a box with a temperature controlled heater in the closed room. 23 out of the 25 made it. We were so excited when they were ready to go out to the coop. We gave a few of the pullets away and kept 18. My kids were loving them and named most of them. One, especially, was my daughters favorite and she carried her around everywhere. Imagine my shock when my husband called one day and said they were all GONE. He regularly went over to the property to check things out. One evening after feeding the pullets and cleaning the coop he left and everything was fine. He even stopped by during his lunch hour the next day and noticed nothing out of the ordinary. However, he didnt actually go over to check out the coop. After work that day when he went to feed the chickens, they were all gone. All 18 of them gone! Something had gnawed a hole through the chicken wire and got them all, we guess. One was dead in the coop (body intact) and there were a few feathers, but no other remnants. They just vanished. He searched all over the property but never found any sign of them. Needless to say, he was very upset and he didnt know what he was going to tell the kids. My 5 year old especially thinks of them as her pets and carries Socks around all the time. Well, we determined it was probably a raccoon because the way the wire was chewed through and turned in required a hand as opposed to a paw. It also had to be fairly big as the hole was about 2 feet off the ground. Something had to be sitting upright or standing on back feet. I also imagine it would also require a whole family to take away 18 like that. My husband had expected that perhaps something could get one or two, but never all 18. The section the raccoon got in was one small section that just had chicken wire. The rest of the pen had chicken wire layered over with a heavier gauge wire. So my husband reinforced the entire perimeter of the coop, up, down, as well as on the roof and installed an electric fence. Then came the task of replacing the birds. He luckily was able to replace 8 of them with similar, but older hens. The kids didnt realize and he told them the rest were at the vet. He also got a rooster and a guinea the person he got the hens from suggested they would help deter other predators. However, we still are trying to find a replacement for Socks. I researched and believe she was a Bantam Buff Brahma and I am searching local farmers and hen forums to find one already grown. Hopefully we can. So that is our beginning backyard-farming saga. I guess I should also say that my husband set traps and did catch 2 big raccoons, about 20 lbs each. But I am sure there are more where they came from, so he just decided to try to deter them with the electric fence. In the back of my head, this whole situation does not seem plausible. Are we just too green or does this sound like it could really happen? Some of our family thinks that people had to have taken them- that raccoons would never have taken them all leaving no remnants. But people could have easily opened the door to the coop and walked in. We are in North Carolina surrounded by 5 acres, no one around us has chickens that we know of, they didnt make noise or bother anyone. I just cant imagine anyone even knew they were there. My next question is whether or not I should continue to look for a replacement for Socks. I doubt I will find a pullet or hen it appears Bantam Buff Brahmas are hard to find anyway - so if I go though raising a chick, will this one be doomed upon being introduced to the other 8? And, of course, if I order from McMurray or another hatchery I will have to order a batch of 25 and I dont have room for that. Any thoughts or suggestions?