Three chickens dead

June 27, 2010


In the midst of their routine morning care of the chickens, Matt and Whitney found three of our four chickens dead on Wednesday of last week.  The three chicken corpses were found mostly intact in the coop nestbox.  The coop had been under attack for a couple of weeks prior to the incident, as Matt reported.  We thought that we had reinforced the coop structure enough with extra chicken wire; more screws; bigger staples; and, of course, duct tape.  The duct tape was meant to seal a gap that would form between two panels on the coop if an animal pressed up against one of the panels.

We added the duct tape as a sort of last-minute, half-way sort of fix, thinking that the gap was probably too awkward for an animal to enter.  Unfortunately, that gap in the panels was the likely entrance point of the culprit.  We suspect that the beast climbed up the chicken wire we had, ironically, added for reinforcement and then slipped through the gap in the panels.  We think then the chickens, following their typical behavior when spooked, flew into the nesting box, but their was only enough room in the nest box for three of the four chickens.  The three chickens were then killed in the nest box, and the Red Star chicken was, we believe, saved by being lowest in the pecking order.

Knowing how the chickens were killed and using information from Joel Salatin’s Pastured Poultry Profits, we were able to guess what the mystery beast might be.  For the squeamish, you may not want to read the rest of this paragraph.  Joel Salatin says that opossums seem to “enjoy killing for pleasure,” not just killing what they can eat; when they do eat chicken, they tend just to eat the innards.  They will leave the birds on site.  This pattern seems to match what Matt and Whitney found.  Raccoons also eat on site, but will generally only eat what they need.  They are good at pulling on chicken wire, and seem to have an affinity for chicken heads.  The fact that multiple chickens were killed and that they still had their heads attached makes ‘coons seem like an unlikely culprit, but the way we’ve had chicken wire pulled seems to match the raccoon modus operandi.  Foxes only kill what they need to eat, carry their prey away, and don’t like to be around places where there is a strong human scent, so they are probably the least likely to be our problem animal.  Weasels kill in mass and just suck the chickens’ blood, making them also a candidate.  Between opossums and weasels, opossums are more common.

The night after the attack we set a Hav-A-Hart trap for the beast baited with cat food, and we “sewed” shut the gap in the panels with wire.  We didn’t catch anything that first night.  However, in the past several nights we have caught two raccoons after changing our bait to tuna fish.  A raccoon may have killed our chickens even though the evidence doesn’t completely match.  We probably won’t ever know for sure what did the dirty deed.  Although the beast was doing what beasts do, I most certainly want to protect the remaining chicken in our care, but I’m not sure how effective setting the trap is.  I want to be mindful of the local ecology.  We probably could catch an animal every few days indefinitely without knowing whether any of them are actually causing us problems.  In any case, so far nothing has gotten to our remaining chicken.

I have learned a lesson that in future designs, if there will be any, I’ll need to take stronger consideration of pests.  I got some great information from Gail Damerow’s Storey’s Guide to Raising Chickens for coop design (floor area, chickens per nest box, perch length, etc.), but I didn’t put enough thought into pest proofing.  Had I the chance to build the coop over again, I would cover the entire coop with chicken wire fastened down with heavy-duty staples.  The panels on the coop should have been screwed in rather than stapled.  I would hope I would have more time to do some engineering analysis on any future designs, too.

We are looking into purchasing more chickens, but we haven’t finished our investigation.  There will probably be an update on this.  Obviously we would have to make extra sure our coop is secure before getting any more chickens.


I would have cried.

Angie — July 21, 2010