Friday, September 15, 2006

Chicken Update: Nature Red in Tooth and Claw

We must sadly report that we lost three of our four chickens to predators. It started with a daylight attack on one of our Barred Plymouth Rocks, which Julie found dead in the back corner of the yard, inside the chicken enclosure. We didn't know what did it but we suspected it was a possum that the dogs were barking at the night before (at least we think they were barking at a possum).

We were surprised that a chicken was attacked in daylight and disappointed that the dogs had not kept it away (but where it attacked was a place where dogs could not go--it had apparently cornered the chicken in a corner of the fence inside the chicken run behind the garage).

This was on a Friday while Dada and I were at the pool.

We were sort of at a loss as to what do--we couldn't really confine the chickens to their cage (it's too small) so we put them in the garage and kept a closer watch on them.

On Saturday we let them out to run in the yard and keep an eye on them. Dada and I went to the pool again and while we were there Julie sent me a text message to tell me that the second Barred Rock had been killed. This was very distressing to Julie and me, especially to Julie who had now found two dead chickens in two days. We were feeling rather helpless to protect the two remaining chickens, although we observed that it had been the Rocks that were attacked, not the Brown Leghorns, suggesting that the Leghorns were better able to avoid predators.

On Sunday we decided that the best thing would be to build a new enclosure closer to the house with an electrified barrier that would repel both vermin and the dogs (we had put the chickens behind the garage both because we thought at the time that the law required chickens be 50 feet from your own house and to keep them separated from the dogs, who had the run of the rest of the back yard).

So we went to Callahan's General Store and got a little electified wire fence kit and went to Home Depot and bought some fence stakes and more chicken wire. I got to work making a bigger enclosure behind the house. To make this enclosure I had to disassemble the existing fence in order to use the wire in the new enclosure.

While I was doing this one of the two remaining chickens was in the back part of the yard as was Lucy, one of our two Bassett Hounds. While my attention as focused on the construction, Lucy attacked the chicken and killed it (in the same spot behind the garage where I couldn't see). We couldn't blame Lucy for being a dog but we did blame ourselves for not being more careful to keep the dogs away from the chickens.

This was very distressing. We caught the lone surviving Leghorn and got her into the cage.

That afternoon we placed the remaining Leghorn, Dusy, with our friend Joanna, who has a flock of her own. Unfortunately, Dusty is a flier and kept getting into the neighbor's yard, so we placed her with our friend Mindy who lives out the in the country and has her own flock with more room to roam.

It took us a while to process these traumatic events (it's surprising how much emotion a few birds can trigger, but we did raise them from chicks and we were responsible for their care and wellbeing), but we have decided to try again with chickens. Our plan is to build a full enclosure that is as vermin-proof as we can make it, with a proper chicken house. We will get another batch of chicks and raise them over the winter, which will have them at laying age in the early spring. But we really miss having the chickens around. We have also gotten approval from our neighbors to get a rooster, which should help keep predators at bay.

We now think that the chickens may have been killed by the ferral cats that roam the yard--since our neighbor across the creek (the one who also had chickens) moved away, nobody has been feeding the cats (which were obviously being fed before) and there is no flock of chickens closer to the creek. We think the cats may have gotten desperate enough to go after the chickens. It's also possible that the drought and hot weather has stressed the normal vermin population enough to motivate daylight attacks.

We feel very bad about having allowed the chickens to be attacked but I just couldn't bring myself to have the chickens confined all the time--they clearly enjoyed roaming so much it just seemed wrong to cage them.

Their new enclosure will be big enough to give them some room and we'll have an entry that opens into the unfenced yard rather than into the back yard where they can be trapped in the corner of the fence. This will allow us to let them roam in the mornings or evenings when we can supervise them.


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