Traumatized Flock

Kate E

Chirping
Jun 30, 2017
45
15
59
Wisconsin
About 2 weeks ago I let my small flock of hens out of their coop and run in the morning to free range in the back yard. We live on a large piece of property, too big to fence in but pretty well protected by natural barriers of woods, wetlands, etc. on all sides. For more than a year I’ve been in the routine to let the girls roam the yard from morning until mid afternoon when I am home and we’ve never run into trouble. I don’t keep a constant eye on them but I check out the back window often to make sure they’re doing well. Well, 2 weeks ago on a Sunday I went into the backyard to get them back into the coop so I could run off for some errands and I couldn’t find any of them. Finally after a few good shakes of their favorite treats, one of them came wandering out of some bushes nearby. The other 4 girls were nowhere to be found though. So, I put the one hen back in the run and sprinkled some treats for her while I went off to find the others. Normally they come to my call and/ or the sound of treats shaking around in their container. I finally decided to check in the coop for the other 4 hens because I couldn’t find them anywhere else. When I looked inside I found 3 of them but one was still missing. Her name was Dixie and I have spent 2 weeks looking for her without any luck. I don’t know what happened to her but I suspect a dog, coyote or hawk got her and I also suspect that the other hens saw what happened. They would NEVER spend the day in the coop when the run door is open and they are free to roam the yard. They would NEVER not come at the sound of my voice or treats. Since that day the remaining 4 hens spend all of their time in the coop unless I coax them into the run with treats. I think they are traumatized from that day and they probably miss Dixie just like I do. I’m sad Dixie is gone and I wish I knew what happened to her but now my primary focus is the other 4 girls. Will they eventually snap out of it and get back to scratching about their run and wanting to roam the yard? I don’t know what else to do for them right now. I haven’t let them back into the yard just yet because I’m nervous that whatever got Dixie may come back for the others so for now I’m keeping them in their coop and run but like I said, they won’t leave the coop and enter the run (which is 100% enclosed and safe, FYI) unless I come and coax them out of the coop. Any suggestions on how I may be able to get them back to some normalcy would be appreciated. I feel so bad for them…

I should also note… I’m not positive that they’re eating. I work so I feed and water them every other day or at least check on the feed and water. We have a system that allows me to fill up in bulk so that on days when I’m not home I don’t have to worry about them not having access to food and water. They’re also going through a pretty hard molt- all of them- so they’re a bit off to begin with. Anyway, suggestions for how to get them back to some normalcy would be great.

Oh, also worth noting. We live in Wisconsin where the weather has officially turned to winter. Its not getting above 40 degrees any longer. Last year we were in the negatives for days on end and these bird were still in their run scratching around, roosting on outdoor roosts, etc. Pretty sure them staying in their coop now has nothing to do with the cold weather since its never affected them before.
 

oldhenlikesdogs

Grateful
BYC Staff
Premium Feather Member
5 Years
Jul 16, 2015
45,459
79,200
1,462
Wisconsin
After I lose one to a predator it's pretty normal for them to stay in the shed. Sometimes it lasts a month, other times a week. They are scared and uncertain. They will go back out eventually.
 

Beckaberry

Chirping
7 Years
Jun 12, 2012
45
23
89
Glen Mills, PA
I'm going to bet that it was a fox. They are so sneaky and quick and can leave no trace when they attack. (sometimes there are feathers, sometimes not)
I don't want to knock the way you do things, but it sounds a little careless to let the flock out with "natural" barriers. Those barriers are exactly where predators will hide to snag your girls. We all have learned the hard way! And you are correct. If something has come to eat one of your girls, they will come back. Even a hawk will learn where there is an easy meal.
That being said, chickens are pretty resilient and will snap back to eventually. My best advice is electric fence for perimeters. It's the only thing besides by LGD that has worked. They are fully worth the investment and that way your girls can still have freedom but with a little more protection.
Good luck!!!
 

adstowe

Songster
Aug 8, 2016
387
518
181
Colorado
Beckaberry has good points. Those same terrain features give the predators ambush points. Using some electric poultry netting would be a good idea. It comes in rolls with posts already attached. It won't stop hawks, but it will deter ground predators.
Your girls will recover. Just give them time.
 

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