When we first received our maiden batch of chicks, I thought, “These are lucky chicks.” Out of all the places these chicks could have ended up, they came to our farm. A cozy, happy little chicken-topia where they will be treated well, fed tasty kitchen scraps and unmedicated food, and allowed freedom to roam, flap their wings, peck at bugs, and spread out in green, shady spaces.
What more could a chicken want in life, right?
Wrong. A chicken needs a safe, predator-proof coop. We thought our coop was safe. Each and every evening all the chickens and ducks would head into their coop as the sun sank, darkening the sky and signaling them to seek cover. We would shut and secure the door before we went to bed, then sleep soundly knowing our birds were protected. Our turkeys liked to perch on top of the door, as the door was about ¾ of the way high, leaving open space at the top. This space never bothered me, as I knew a coyote or fox wouldn’t be able to scale the door. Sometimes the turkeys would roost in the sapling next to the coop. We allowed them to, knowing they would fly into the coop through the open space above the door when they were ready to call it a night, as they have done in the past.
Wrong again. One fateful morning, about two weeks ago, I was out gathering some leaves that had blown out of the trees during a rainstorm the previous night. The rabbits love leaves so I thought I would give them a treat rather than have all those leaves go to waste. As I’m gathering these leaves, enjoying the sunny, pleasant and quiet country morning, I was thinking how amazing it is that we never have any predator problems. Nothing had ever tried to rip into our broiler pen when it housed broilers, nor now as it houses rabbits. Nothing has ever bothered our rabbit hutches, and we’ve never lost any chickens to birds of prey or stray dogs during the day. I’m naively thinking this to myself, not knowing that in a few minutes, Hannah would discover one of our beloved turkeys, decapitated, lying on the ground near the sapling. Body uneaten, head missing. Her sad and startled scream cuts through the cheerful morning air and bursts my chicken-topia bubble.
We think the turkeys stayed in the tree all night. We think something must have either flown into the tree or climbed up it to get the turkey. We think, based on the turkey remains, it could have been a mink. Ryan decided to cut down the sapling. Now no birds would be tempted to roost in it and the new barnyard rule is all birds go into the coop every night, no exceptions. This seemed to solve the problem.
Wrong a third time.
Yesterday morning, Ryan walks out to open our coop and release the normally eager birds. When he comes back in, he makes an announcement. We have more dead birds. My heart pounds. “Please not our remaining turkey! Not our favorite hen, Henrietta!” Thankfully, our turkey, which we have now named Lucky, and Henrietta were spared. Six other chickens were not. Something infiltrated the coop, the structure meant to keep them safe, and killed them, the same way the unlucky turkey was killed. Head gone, body intact, no blood. We even found one of the heads near a body. Two hens were not decapitated at all, just dead. We couldn’t even find a fatal wound. It’s possible they piled up in fear and suffocated. Suddenly the project we had planned for that day, digging a new duck pond, became postponed. We would spend the day beefing up security around the chicken coop.
Ryan fixed the neon “Predators Enter Here” sign above the chicken coop door. He cut some plywood and screwed it to the door so nothing could crawl in that way. In hindsight, I can’t believe we didn’t think our quasi-door would be a problem. We were thinking predators in terms of coyote and fox, not mink, owl, weasel, opossum, and raccoon. We’re living and learning here, folks. He also put some smaller wire mesh over the window, as the current mesh looked like a cattle panel and would allow smaller animals such as mink to get through. Ryan and his dad discovered a tunnel leading under a wall and into the chicken coop, recently dug in one of our barn stalls. Ryan just cleaned all the bedding out of that stall to mulch the garden, so he is sure the tunnel didn’t exist a couple weeks ago. Now, it is clear an animal has dug its way from the stall into the chicken coop. Ryan’s dad placed a trap in this tunnel. Hopefully we’ll know soon the creator of the tunnel and whether its mission was chicken or chicken feed.
We had a couple hens that were still so terrified from the attack they refused to go into the coop the next evening. Ryan chased one around the homestead and finally persuaded her to go in. We did not sleep soundly last night. Every noise was cause for us to jump up, listen for frightened squawks and check out the window for vicious intruders.
I’m not sure what else we could do to keep predators out of our coop. I hope our birds will be safe during the night and I hope we’ll be able to sleep soundly once again, knowing we’ve tucked them into their coop and secured the now full-length door.
I hope we’re not proven wrong yet again.