The Case of the Disappearing Hens

Mrs Moon

9 Years
Oct 3, 2010
Just stumbled across this forum while researching my disappearing hen problem and thought I'd ask if anyone here has any thoughts about what's happening to my hens.

We've been raising chickens here for about 7 years. Our hens are free range on our property during the day and cooped at night. Our property is fenced all around with a gate for the driveway. We are on a large city lot on the edge of a small town. We have had trouble over the years with dogs, coyotes, raccoons, skunks and chicken hawks. While all of these predators sometimes disappear with a hen without leaving a trace generally if they start to attack multiple times we'll find feathers or an injured hen.

Over the past 2 years we've lost 2 separate flocks of 15 hens. It is fairly sudden ... at first we'll notice 2 or 3 hens missing when they go into the coop. Next night, 1 or 2 more. Within 10-14 days they are all gone without a trace. My son generally lets them out in the morning and I don't think he counted them at that point so we don't know for sure that they didn't disappear during the night. He counts when they go into the coop at night. The coop is located in the far rear of the house. We have no dog. We would be unlikely to hear any trouble in the coop at night.

We are planning to start a new flock but don't want to begin without some idea what happened to the others. We are suspicious that it might be thieves. We have many neighbors that have fallen on hard times and are familiar with processing chickens. Or could it be an animal? What do you think?

Thanks for any and all help!
my guess would be two legged predators...put a lock on your coop and have a secure coop to start with. Sounds like someone is taking birds at night and your son is opening the coop in the morning and not counting. I could be wrong, but I doubt it. Also, at what age are they taking the birds; I'm guessing that they are somewhat if not completely filled out when they are taken.

It's awfully hard to say. I'm inclined to go with coyotes or possibly migrating hawks (if your in a flight path) for "natural" predators. I had a bad coyote problem a few months ago. My flock freeranges too so I lose one now and again but in this instance I was losing at least one a day. Darn thing wiped out most of my ducks, I guess they were slower. Anyhow, DH shot the coyote (we're tied at two each for the year) and she was older and in really bad shape. I was losing birds at all times of the day to her. I think she was so bold because she was starving and prob. couldn't catch anything else in the shape she was in. The 'yotes don't leave much sign when they grab a bird though if I know which direction they're coming from/leaving I can usually find a bunch of feathers 20-40 yards out in the bush. They just grab and go and then finish the bird off when they've got a little distance and feel safer.

It's possible it's a person, but I'd think they would be more likely to take birds off the roost at night when they would be easy to grab.

I'd leave the new flock in the coop/run for a few weeks and if possible buy or borrow a trail cam or two so hopefully you can see what is sneaking around.
Thanks for the welcome!

My nearest neighbor also keeps chickens and had spotted a coyote taking hens a couple of years back. He had tried to shoot it unsuccessfully. I suppose we might have another lurking nearby. We are right on the edge of several relatively large acreage properties and they'd be unlikely to notice. The best course of action seems to be locking them in at night with a keyed lock and see how that goes. I agree it's unlikely someone would take them during the day. Someone is always here and they would probably be spotted. They were full grown birds.
I am inclined to think 4-legged predator of larger size- coyote, fox, or bobcat (probably not these guys because they are pretty shy), since they are being carried away with little fuss or evidence left behind. I hope you figure out what's happening to your birds.

Good luck and
A couple years back at my old place, I had a fox coming over a 5 foot high chainlink fence into my backyard and taking chickens to the tune of 3-4 per day. He was coming during the day while I was at work. He would kill what he wanted and then start hauling them back over the fence to cache for the winter. I interrupted him one day but didn't actually see him. I saw the dead chickens laying in the yard. Then, one Saturday while I was sitting at the table enjoying some coffee and watching my birds, over the fence he came. I ran to the door and yelled at him and he took off. Didn't see him again after that.

If I wouldn't have seen him, I would have never known what was taking my birds. It's most likely that you are dealing with a fox, coyote, or some other 4 legged critter. Good luck with solving your mystery.
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I, too, had a fox problem. I would lose chickens in the middle of the day, two and three a day. I had no idea what it was until one day I saw it going into the woods - a fox! We never caught it, it just stopped coming. Hubby did build a run and we kept the chickens penned for a couple of weeks. I don't know if it found a better buffet somewhere else, or if maybe a neighbor caught or shot it.
So many thoughts on what this could be. I let my girls free range only when I am home so I can keep an eye on them. I sometimes have to put them in if we have to go somewhere and will be home well after dark which is easy with only seven. Maybe you could only let them out if you are around and have a timer on the door.

But anyway, for the disappearing issue, perhaps get a "game camera" from an outdoor supplier, or a hunting shop. They set up in minutes and take pics of anthing that enters your yard. The positioning would be inportant so you may have to limit the area the chickens are allowed to roam for a while. They also work at night.

Good luck!!!

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