Monday, August 13, 2012

Death on My Watch

Just over a week ago, I got a call from a lady down the road that needed to get rid of her laying hens.  They were a year and a half old, laying well, but a storm blew a huge tree onto their Chicken Condominium (man, this thing was spiffy!!) and they just wanted to get out of the chicken business.

Anyhow, I said I'd come over and help her round up the hens and give them a good home, be it with us or our neighbor's place.

Got the hens, a bunch of chicken "accessories" (no, not bracelets and hats for the biddies, just feeders and waterers) and took them home.  Paul put up some wire mesh on the door of the kidding pen so the new hens couldn't get out and I put them in their new abode:

They were quite the motley crew of chickens as five of them were missing almost all of their butt feathers and one had a naked neck.  The dominant hen was pretty much full of feathers, so I'm assuming that the nakedness was from picking & pecking.  But other than being a bit revealing, they were laying the first day I had them in the pen.

I wasn't sure how I was going to integrate the new gals into the flock, especially with their exposed skin, which was sure to be noticed by the current flock.  I figured I would just keep them locked up in the pen until they grew their feathers back then just let them out & fend for themselves.  This would probably have taken several weeks.  And I wasn't really sure if I wanted to be babysitting another flock of birds.

Our neighbors have been chicken-less for several months now.  They've been having predator problems, even with them locked up at night.  Something was taking their hens at night, inside the coop, one by one.  No blood, no big pile of feathers, just missing chickens.  So when they got down to a few hens, one of them an egg-eater at that, they just gave them away and figured they'd start over again after the heat of summer.

I have chickens I didn't really want, and I had neighbors that wanted chickens again.  So I gave them to the neighbors who were more than happy to have a small flock of already-laying hens.

The neighbors had planned a short weekend vacation prior to acquiring the new hens, so they asked if we would watch the hens.  Of course, no problem!  Open the coop in the morning, feed & water them, collect eggs, close the coop up at night.  Repeat.

Except instead of finding seven hens one morning, there were only four.  There were seven when I locked them up.  No blood, no chicken "parts" no more than a few feathers scattered here or there.  The neighbors are gone one stinking night and almost half of their flock is already gone!  That night I made sure that the coop door was locked and walked around to see if there were any obvious breaches in the floor or door.  The coop door itself is a bit wobbly, and if you pushed on it a certain way there is a gap of a few inches, so I pushed a big rock in front of the door to keep it from being pulled open.  Said goodnight to the biddies and walked back home.

Next morning.  Only three hens.  Another one was taken during the night.  And the only evidence I saw were three or four feathers on the other side of the pen, over a 4' fence, and led out into the woods.

That evening Paul and I went over the coop and found a window where the chicken wire could have been pulled back, so he secured it with wire.  We also jammed a big piece of wood in front of the coop door and more importantly, brought the live trap and a can of cat food.  The next morning there were still three hens, but a big, fat opossum in the live trap.  Which quickly became a "dead" trap for him.

Of course, I was anxiously awaiting the neighbor's phone call the next day.  I had to tell them that four of their seven hens were eaten on my watch.  Man, did I feel crummy.  But of course, they understood and didn't hold it against me.  Not that I thought that they would, but it's just a bummer of a feeling when livestock "happenings" happen when you're the one who just so happens to be watching them.


  1. I still can't figure how the possum got inside...were the openings large enough for it to squeeze through carrying the hens? We had a fox carry off chickens once.

  2. There seems to be some evil rule that says bad things happen when you're watching animals for someone else! Either the dog runs away or the old cat kicks the bucket or an opossum gets the chickens. It's just the way it works. Sigh.

    I think the good thing here is that because of your and Paul's efforts one fat opossum is no more. (His family is really going to miss his nightly trips to KFC.)

  3. Carolyn Renee,

    Don't feel bad, you did the best you could possibly do. You even caught the little monster that was killing the chickens. It wouldn't surprise me if there were more opossum family members running around.

  4. Great job catching the predator! I can't help but think the whole sequence of events you describe was "meant to be," since now you've made it possible for your neighbors to safely keep chickens again! Can you come catch our day-hunting fox please? We've had no luck catching it, and I've had to keep my remaining hens in the barn all day :(

  5. My question is, what was up with the neighbors? Why didn't THEY set the live trap and check for openings in the coop? Heaven's sake - you should be congratulated. You and Paul (and the squirt) could move next to me any old day.

  6. gld, I'm assuming the opening in the door was large enough for him to get in/out, or the not-very-secure chicken-wired window covering. But I still don't get how he got in, and then OUT with an entire chicken.

    Mama Pea, I was half-expecting their older-than-dirt dog to keel over while I was there.

    Sandy, I guess there was some family business going on because FOUR chickens gone in two nights?? How much can one opossum eat?

    Nancy, one less opossum is good in my book.

    Jaime, luckily our predators have only been raccoons & opossums these past three years. Before then, it was bobcats and coyotes. Hope that doesn't happen again.

    Susan, not sure why the coop isn't secure as it should be, technically, they weren't really anticipating more chickens and I just kind'a threw the chickens at them. But hopefully they'll get it secured before they lose the remaining hens.

  7. I'm glad you dispatched that chicken-eatin' 'possum! I'm soooo glad we don't have those nasty guys here!
    P.S. I agree with Susan, what up with the neighbors?!?

  8. Grendel? Now you know how Beowulf felt!

  9. wow, you should charge for predator removal! Crazy that the neighbors didn't set a trap and see what popped up! Glad you have solved the mystery, that's the kind of thing that would keep me awake and probably camo'd up and hiding out there LOL

  10. I think you were most neighborly in not only caring for the chickens so they'd be able to get away, but catching and taking care of the predator that had obviously been snacking on their hens for far too long. Love to be your neighbor!