Jul 22 2011

Sad Chicken Report

The first part of July was a rough time for my chickens. First we had the big storm, and I was afraid I’d go out in the morning to find pieces of the chicken house spread across the valley. But it held up fine, and they were all okay, and spent most of the day pecking around at the downed branches in the yard. But at some point before evening, the red rooster and about half the hens decided to go walkabout, and weren’t there when I went out to shut them up for the night. I don’t know whether they were freaked out by the storm and went looking for somewhere else to live, or got confused by all the branches down, or what. The strangest part was that the missing hens weren’t the group that normally ran with that rooster; they were a few of those and a few that ran with the other rooster. So there must have been all kinds of confusion.

A few days later, I forgot to close the henhouse door at night. I’ve done that before and gotten away with it, but this time something found the open door. When I went to let them out at dawn, only two hens were left in there, and there were a lot of feathers around. I assumed the others had been eaten, but then I found them later around the downed branches in the front porch. I guess when something got after them, it must have been early morning, so the rooster was able to fight it off and they all went to higher ground.

That night, they didn’t want anything to do with that chicken house again, so they roosted in a branch in the front yard. I had to go out with a flashlight and grab them, and carry them one-by-one down to the chicken house. After doing that a couple nights in a row, I decided it was time to move them into the barn with the younger chicks. I also moved the youngest batch from the basement out there. At this point I was starting to open the barn door during the day to let them get out and pick up some grass and bugs.

A few mornings later, I went out to check on them, and found about a dozen dead chicks on the floor. Coons had worked loose a piece of paneling I’d tacked up over a doorway, and squeezed through. They ended up killing about 30 of the 50 meat birds, and nearly all the younger egg layers. One Ameraucana was hurt but still alive, so I kept him in a box in the house with food and water for a few days, but he didn’t recover. I tacked a heavier piece of plywood up over the door, and shored up some windows better.

There were no more nighttime incursions, but a few evenings later I thought I would let the birds out for a few hours and then go keep an eye on them when it started getting dark, to keep them safe until they came in to roost. About 7:00, when it was still too light out for coons, I heard a chicken squawking and went running outside. There, poking its head out of the cornfield, was a fox! It had tried to nab one of the older hens, and either she or the rooster gave it a fight. I ran down to the barn, but there were already some feathers on the ground and a lot of birds missing. Pepper and I patrolled the area until dark, and several chicks wandered back out of the corn where they’d apparently fled when the foxes invaded. By the time I closed them up for the night, nearly all of them were back, but I’d lost my last Speckled Sussex pullet.

So after all the damage, I’m down to about 20 meat birds, 7 old hens and their rooster, two Barred Rocks that I’m raising for friends (although two is so few they may not want to bother with them, so I may get to keep them), and one Welsummer (which I hope isn’t the one rooster from that batch). About $250 gone in chick and feed costs. Ouch.

I’m not the only one; it seems like most people with chickens got hammered in that same week or so. Coons are awfully persistent, and they’ll spend hours with their little hands, prying and pulling and digging and looking for a way in. Pepper will chase them if she hears them, but she’s not out there patrolling all night long. Still, it’s a sickening feeling to go out there in the morning and realize half your birds are missing, and see dark spots on the floor that in the light turn out to be dead birds. After all, I locked them up in there to keep them safe, but if my protection fails, I’ve turned them into a smorgasbord. It’s a bad feeling.

Now I have to decide whether to get some more chicks started now or wait until spring. I’ll probably start some more meat birds, because they’d be ready to butcher by November, which isn’t a bad time of year for doing that. Cooler weather would actually be a plus. On egg layers, if I start them now, they won’t lay eggs until spring, but that’s better than starting them in the spring and not getting eggs until next September. Right now, I’m getting 2-4 eggs a day, not even enough for myself, and my old hens will completely shut down in the winter. It’s going to be a long time until I have a surplus of eggs again, but I’d like to make that wait as short as possible.

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