Friday, March 28, 2014

(De)Feathered Friday: Hard Lessons

On Monday, Bug and I went to feed the chickens and kitties next door.  As we approached, I saw three hens in the run.  The rooster is usually the first to greet us when they hear us coming, but sometimes he's inside doing other rooster duties.

Then I noticed one of the hens outside was limping.  As I approached, I saw tufts of feathers around the run.  These weren't normal lost feathers.  These were plucked.  And the limping hen had dried blood on her foot.  

Another careful look around the run showed that the other two hens weren't acting right.  They were outside, so they should've been scratching and pecking at the ground.  But they weren't.  They were hovering in one corner, looking around with nervous movements.

Oh crap.

I went to the coop door and unlatched it.  I was met by the scene of a slaughter.  Feathers were every where.  And there, across the coop from where I stood in shock, was the half-devoured body of our beautiful rooster.  Blood spattered on the wall next to him, and soaked into the straw beneath.  
Cleaned up a little, but you get the point.
I had my 4-year-old boy with me.  The rooster was his favorite chicken.  The other hen was gone, but it was One Eye, my dark red girl.  My favorite.  Now I had to not only clean up the carnage, but explain to my son that they were gone and why.  I don't believe in lying or telling stories to "protect" my child. He deserves to know the truth.  I just had to tell him in such a way that it wouldn't be as traumatic.

So I told him that a fox got into the coop and took One Eye.  He repeated it, but didn't seem to fully grasp it. Then I told him that the fox killed the rooster.  And I used the word kill, a word we don't use casually because of the meaning.  

He looked at me, understanding dawning on his angel face.  "It killed the rooster?  He's not coming back?"

I shook my head and said, "No, baby."  

I wrapped my arms around him, and he hugged me hard and cried.  I cried. It broke my heart to see my baby so distraught.

To keep him occupied while I removed the body from the coop, I gave him some corn and sent him inside the run to toss it out for the remaining hens.  I told him to stay on the far side of the run, away from the pop door.  (He loves to peek in through it, and I didn't want that.)  I was able to clean out the coop without incident, thank God.

We had another traumatic situation involving Bug bringing me the carcass of a cat he found in a stall.  My reaction to this freaked him out, so we just went home and cleaned up.  I had had enough of death for a month at that point.  

I went back over later, after seeking advice from The Chicken Chick and The Chicken Whisperer, both of whom were very supportive and helpful.  The first thing I did was catch the injured hen, clean up her leg, and put triple antibiotic ointment on the wound.  Then I shushed the other two back inside.  (Ironically, the injured hen was the calmest.  She was even acting normal and eating.)  I was able to force the pop door closed and shimmy the lock into place.

Upon returning to the run, I brought some plywood pieces to cover the entry hole I found.  It was a temporary fix, but I felt confident the hens were safely locked inside.  While I was rearranging the bricks and wood pieces, I discovered five places where the (presumed) fox tried to get in.  It succeeded in two of those.  
Entry hole from under the coop.
Smaller entry hole blocked with a brick.
Wood and bricks at larger hole.

Inside of wash-out hole.
Outside of wash-out hole.

There is an area beside and under the gate that has a gaping hole due to water runoff.  this was previously blocked up with a stack of bricks, but since I needed the bricks to help support the wood pieces I had to block it with wood as well.

The attempted hole that was successful Monday night.
When we went over Tuesday, the hens were safe inside and happy to see me.  I brought them some herbal tea and honey-cinnamon rice, both warm.  They came right to me, seeking their treats.  They must have been hungry because they hadn't eaten much since the attack.  But they dug right in.  One girl even left me an egg.

In the run, the wood blocking the larger hole had been pushed in, the bricks moved.  One of the unsuccessful holes had become a successful entry point, as well.  Two nights, each with two holes dug.  It makes me think there may be two predators.  I was given advice on how to make the fencing better, and I found some extra chicken wire upstairs in the barn, so I will be getting on that this week.  I just need clippers and wire to attach it.

Wednesday night, while taking my dog outside, I heard the pterodactyl cry of a fox. identifies the sound as a "territorial response."  (You can hear it here.)  Fox vocalizations were already creepy at night, but after this experience, it's worse.  Last year, about this same time, the chickens were attacked and two hens taken.  My neighbor behind me has an old barn that a vixen used as a den for her kits.  I can only think that she's either back or never left.  

Either way, this has left me with different plans for the run i build for my chickens.  I will do more than just bury the fence.  I have a plan that will make it impenetrable without significant work on the fox's part.

Rest in peace Rooster and One Eye.  
We love and miss you.

No comments:

Post a Comment