Something's taking my hens...

Discussion in 'Predators and Pests' started by Brillig, Nov 5, 2016.

  1. Brillig

    Brillig Out Of The Brooder

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    I've lost six hens in the last ten weeks...Last night I lost two...They free range all day and then the rooster leads them back to the coop at night...He's a juvenile rooster and the hens used to separate into two different flocks, so (in the beginning) I didn't question it much...I just figured he hadn't got the hang of rounding everyone up and taking them home...But, since we lost most of the members of the older flock (older by a month) the others have merged into on flock...So, for awhile, Bob (the rooster) was doing a good job of watching them and getting home at night, but now I've lost two more...

    To be clear...The birds are either being taken during the day (which doesn't seem likely as I'm around all day and they tend to stay out in the open), or they are being lost at dusk on their way back to the coop...That seems more likely, as our yard is surrounded on all sides by national forest...We have a creek, so it could be weasels, fox, opossum, coyote, or something else...There's no sign of them...Not feathers, not a carcass, so that probably rules out opossum and raccoons...Our neighbors live about an eighth of a mile from us, and she has only lost one hen in the last few years (and she doesn't even lock hers up at night)...

    I'm starting to worry that I won't have any hens by the time they are old enough to start laying...Am I going to have to keep them penned for the rest of their lives in order to keep them safe??? I've never lost chickens like this before and I've kept poultry for years (but then again, I've never lived in the middle of the forest before)...I once had a mother raccoon kill half of my duck flock including nesting mothers and their eggs...She came back every night to teach her kits how to hunt, but I've never just had anything just disappear without a trace...Kinda makes it harder to figure out what I'm up against...

    Any advice would be greatly appreciated...

    Thanks in advance...
     
  2. aart

    aart Chicken Juggler! Premium Member

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    I'd keep them penned for now anyway.
    Think about some electric poultry netting to form a protected pasture area.
     
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  3. FoodFreedomNow

    FoodFreedomNow Chillin' With My Peeps

    x2 on @aart 's recommendation. I feel your pain - I had a similar situation with nearly daily losses last year (lost half of my layers [​IMG]) to a hawk, and was seriously considering either tractoring the girls full-time or acquiring a livestock guardian animal. After locking the chickens in their coop for about a week and going crazy stringing fishing line, reflective mylar tape, plastic owls, and CDs in the "kill" area, I let the chickens back out. I'm not actually sure that the countermeasures did anything, but they made me feel better. I think the hawk just moved on after not seeing plump chicken dinners running around here for a week.

    It's really deflating to lose layers - almost 6 months of lead time for them to even start laying - and it sounds like you have predators aplenty there. There may just be one hawk or fox that has developed a taste for your chickens and knows their routine, so changing that routine might help protect them.
     
  4. Howard E

    Howard E Chillin' With My Peeps

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    Sounds like a fox to me. One got all of my daughter's birds last year. One at time until all were gone. Gone without a trace. We knew it was a fox because it kept coming around in broad daylight to check out the empty coop. Day after day after day it kept coming back.
     
  5. Brillig

    Brillig Out Of The Brooder

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    I would have gone with fox too, but the thing is, I've left the coop door open for several hours after dark, as sometimes I can't get home right when the sun sets...I've never had a loss in the coop...They get picked off USUALLY because they DON'T go back to the coop...For whatever reason, they sometimes don't go back to the coop at dusk and if I can't round them up, I can count on losing the ones I can't wrangle (mainly because they run into the woods to get away from me...Herding cats is actually easier I think)...The two I lost the day I wrote this post were taken by something that lives down by the creek...I found their carcasses (which was the first time that's happened) and I know they were taken before dark...

    My rooster is about 4 months old, and he does his best, but I don't think he's very good at getting them to follow him home, or maybe he's just not smart enough to go home himself, but either way, I repeatedly have to go out at dusk and get the birds into the coop...It's time consuming and frustrating, but I really don't want to keep chickens if I have to keep them cooped up all day, so I'm hoping for some sage advice at this point...
     
  6. Howard E

    Howard E Chillin' With My Peeps

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    How big of an area do you have and/or how much area to cover?

    Small areas can use electric poultry netting. Larger areas (acres sized areas) can use electric wire systems. Much more effective than you might imagine for most of the larger furry types of predators (dogs, cats, coons, possums, skunks, coyotes, foxes, etc).

    Some will go so far as to suggest the ONLY way to keep chickens is with a bomb proof coop to keep them safe from all harm at night, and an electric fence to establish a perimeter to keep predators at bay during the day and at night.
     
  7. Brillig

    Brillig Out Of The Brooder

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    We've got 20 acres (most of which is woodlands)...There's really no way to surround the perimeter with electric fence...We live in the mountains and the terrain around the cleared land is steep, uneven and vast...The chickens roam the majority of the cleared area...They don't seem drawn to the creek anymore...The rooster doesn't bring them there anymore since he lost two in that area on the same day...My biggest problem is that the hens nest under the shrubs and things instead of going home...Bob (the rooster) is good at leading them, but if they settle he stays with them instead of insisting they follow him back to the coop...It can take close to an hour to round them up and herd them home...Quite frankly, I'm losing my patience...I thought chickens just naturally went home to roost at night and these ones don't...I've raised ducks, peacocks, quail, pigeons, geese and the occasional chicken for many of the last three decades...I've never had chickens that didn't roost naturally, but I'm starting to buy into Darwin's theory on these ones...Maybe a new batch will be smarter, or maybe I need a better rooster...I clearly don't know the answer...
     
  8. bobbi-j

    bobbi-j Chicken Obsessed

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    First of all, your "rooster" is still a "cockerel". He's immature and just learning his job. Secondly, you might need to build a run attached to your coop so you can keep them locked up for a week or so to "home" them to the coop at night. It helps. Chickens are creatures of habit and once you get one instilled in them, it takes and act of congress to change their minds. I would also keep them in the coop/run for a bit just to discourage whatever has been taking them. (I'd guess mink if remains were found by water, but that's just a guess.)
     
  9. Brillig

    Brillig Out Of The Brooder

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    Whatever it was, it stripped all the feathers off of the hens before it ate them...
     
  10. eamoret

    eamoret Out Of The Brooder

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    Having a similar problem here too with regards to predators. Something is snatching the chickens during the day and killing them here. I have some young ones, maybe 8 weeks old or so. It's killed a couple of those, plucked and ate them entirely in the yard. I know this because I've found a single pile of feathers which appears to be nearly every feather on it's body and today I found a small piece of what appears to be spine in the pile of feathers. Another young chicken it ate it in the bushes next to the coop. Same thing, except I didn't find a piece of bone left behind. I didn't really look much either. Just found a large pile of feathers where it clearly killed and ate the chicken.

    Now, I'm also lost a few adult hens to this predator as well. Their's is a much larger struggle. Usually starts at one end of the yard and ends at another. With two of the hens, I didn't find the carcass. Just large piles of feathers scattered in the yard. I lost a rooster a couple months back too. He was a very large bird and again.. same method of operation, struggle started at one end of the yard and ended at another, except I actually found half of his body in the woods. Just the lower half. Again.. he was a very large bird and would've been hard to carry off.

    My guesses at this point.. fox or raccoon. I've got a live trap set with chickens remains in it and something has gotten in the trap and managed to get back out. This leads me to believe a fox.. because the trap door may have landed on the fox and he was able to quickly back out before the door fully closed and latched. It hasn't gone for the trap since that happened.

    One more thing to note, I believe these attacks are happening either during the day or at dusk, just before I go out to lock them up. I thought a couple times that maybe those hens just didn't go back to the coop at night and were thus left outside to the predators when I locked everyone else up.. but I'm not believing that to be the case anymore. I see no reason that the younger chickens would separate from each other like that, especially at bed time.

    As far as your chickens not going back to the coop, you should keep them locked in the coop for AT LEAST 48 hours so they learn that this is home and where they live. They should get the point and start coming back on their own.. but being that you free range them, you ARE going to lose chickens to predators. Regardless of whether they are the weakest genetic link or not. I've lost nearly 30 in the past two years and they ONLY get taken when they are free ranging. I use Premier 1 electric poultry netting otherwise but I stubbornly still insist that they be allowed out to free range. Some of my hens are 4+ years old and the ones I've lost were primarily young pullets. 8 of them in a single night last year.

    Anyway, hope this helps. Again.. I'm thinking fox or raccoon. I've trapped and/or seen both around here. Just wish I could figure out which one uses this method of operation so I can narrow down how to trap this thing.
     

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