Something's killing my new hens (warning: a tad graphic)

Discussion in 'Predators and Pests' started by IowaLez, May 26, 2019.

  1. IowaLez

    IowaLez In the Brooder

    May 26, 2019
    Northern Iowa
    Hi Folks, I'm new to the forum, but not new to chickens. However, this is my first full year living on the prairie as a single person in northern Iowa. I lived in NE Iowa before this, and in the mountains of NorCal, since 1985. always rural since 1982, mostly with chickens.

    Here at my new home out in the stix, I have an old 14' x 14' shed I kept that's perfect for my small flock, 75 feet from my house. I put up portable mesh fencing to give them a yard to roam. It has a large oak in it for shade, the weeds growing taller every day. My 2.5 acres had to be dulldozed free of trash, old outbuildings, and garbage from the old residents, and last Fall all new construction done, from new well, septic, and my new manufactured home installed, so most of it is growing back from bare dirt.

    I've had chickens for years in different settings. From a small flock of 6 to 200 layers and several hundred fancy French meat birds for farmer's market meat sales. The only predator problems I had in Cali was from roaming neighbor's dogs, just twice, although there were plenty of varmints around, and my farm cats never harmed my chickens.

    I haven't had chickens since 2007, and not in Iowa. I was going to get 8 adult large hens and 2 big roosters from a friend a few miles away. I decided to just bring home 4 hens for now, about 2 weeks ago. All was fine for a week. I close them in at night, let them out in the morning.

    After a week, one was missing in the morning. I'd forgotten to close their door the evening before when it had started to rain, was very windy, cold for 24 hrs. But they all roost up in the rafters. I found her carcass out behind the shed, out of view from the house, but I have a windbreak of roundbales in between me and them, blocking my view from where I mainly spend my time when indoors, near a certain window. She was eaten clean, her carcass lying in the tall grass. I found some prints in the mud by my truck nearby, I think a racoon.

    Since then, I've been careful to lock them in each night. The shed is otherwise totally secure. This morning all 3 were fine, I let them out. I left for a few hours, returned, all was fine. They were outside, taking dirtbaths. I just went out a little bit ago to close them in (about 6:30pm). Only 2 were there. Searched everywhere in the hedges, ditches, pole barn, front yard; no loose hen. I went back, searched their yard again. No hen. Then I looked up and saw her. What remained of her. Sprawled over a big branch about 7 feet above the ground. It was a hot sunny day, and what remained was already dried out. Just wing feathers, head, feet; breast, legs, everything, picked clean to the bare bone. I heard nothing out there this afternoon. That branch is on the opposite side from the house, where I can't see it.

    My cats (who are new to chickens) didn't do this. A racoon didn't do this. A coyote didn't do this. There was no trail of feathers, no blood, and I'm a decent tracker, but it's grassy around the tree. I've not seen any hawks nor eagles here, at all. I've heard owls at night sometimes. I used to hear a single coyote howling out in the field a ways away on Winter nights, but not since the snow melted in March.

    Coincidentally, 4 days before the first hen was killed, one of my older cats also vanished without a trace in the late afternoon. I was outside working on my garden in the front yard. All 9 of my cats were with me, playing. Then Felix was gone. They do go along the ditches hunting, Felix was often going 1/4 mile up the road, but I could see him. He was 9 pounds, a large-bodied cat, a born farm cat, had never gotten lost in his 10 yrs, he knows where home is. I take them all indoors at dusk. Felix didn't come home, didn't respond to my calls all night, haven't seen a trace of him since - I keep hoping, but I'm losing hope, with the hens being killed, too.

    Tomorrow I'm going to take the last 2 hens back to my friend and their old flock, a few miles away, because this isn't fair to them - not until I can figure out what's going on and stop it. Looks like I'm going to have to build an enclosure of chicken wire, and cover it with chicken wire, too, before I can bring them back and get all of them. Bummer, I wanted them to have more room to roam.

    What predator would do this, in this manner, at this time of day, and possibly also snatch my cat? I think it's all related. I'm stumped, having seen and heard nothing today when this must have happened. Gotta go bring the kitties inside for the night now.
    Sequel, penny1960 and BirdsBeesTrees like this.
  2. mossychick

    mossychick In the Brooder

    :welcome im sorry to hear :hugs
    penny1960 likes this.
  3. SurferchickinSB

    SurferchickinSB Crowing

    Feb 23, 2018
    Sorry to hear your story :( if it happened during the day, I would guess a big hawk or maybe eagle.
  4. Criticalicious

    Criticalicious Songster

    Feb 25, 2017
    New Market, VA
    Don't use chicken wire. Use hardware cloth because it's more sturdy. A raccoon can tear through chicken wire like it's tissue paper.
  5. DellaMyDarling

    DellaMyDarling Songster

    Dec 13, 2017
    Mass Hilltowns
    Up in a tree in Iowa...
    I'd say coon, or bird of prey.

    However, I don't know Iowa animals. Do you have any big cat species? Cat's would do similar.
    penny1960 likes this.
  6. The carcus picked clean sounds like bird of prey.The carcus hung in a tree limb sounds like big cat.
    I dont know, but sounds like a couple different preditors.
    Your best bet is to buy a game camera and set it up. Then you will really see what is roaming around in your yard when you are not looking.
    Sorry you lost birds!
  7. Chelsa'sChicks

    Chelsa'sChicks Songster

    Aug 16, 2017
    I'm so sorry for your losses! I'm not sure what it is, but I'm eager to help. Can you put up a game camera? I do not think its your cats. Whatever took your hen was bigger and stronger then your hen, especially to carry it up in the trees and leaving no signs of feathers (or your cat/hair). I believe also that these deaths are all connected. I do not think it was a raccoon or opossum.. I feel its something bigger like a bobcat especially to take your cat and hens and eat so much of them. Usually a raccoon will eat the croup and head, unless really hungry, opossums eat the intestines, etc. Have you found claw marks in the tree where your last hen was located? or droppings around?

    I will add that I have never lived in Iowa and am not familiar with the predators, but that's why I'm also thinking bobcat because I have all the other predators in PA :(
  8. IowaLez

    IowaLez In the Brooder

    May 26, 2019
    Northern Iowa
    What size mesh? Could chicken wire do for covering the top of it? I've got a 50 ft roll of it on hand. It's the heavier weight stuff. I'm familiar with the tissue paper thin kind, useless stuff.
  9. You want 1" x 1" hardware cloth. Many creatures can get through or partially through the holes in chicken wire even if it is strong.
    Criticalicious likes this.
  10. BirdsBeesTrees

    BirdsBeesTrees Crowing

    Mar 10, 2019
    Hi! :frow :welcome So.... Here in Iowa the main predators are red tailed hawks, great horned owls, coyotes, red fox, bobcats, raccoons, opossum, rat snakes, mink, weasels, and yes although rare we get wolves, Black bears, and mountain lions. Welcome to Iowa lol. :clap
    Trux, starri33 and SurferchickinSB like this.

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