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What ate my chicken?

 
master steward
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We came home from grocery shopping today to find three perfectly fine chickens, and one very dead chicken with a big hole where it's head and neck used to be in it's back. Lots of feathers--just from that chicken--along the fence. The rooster either didn't care to protect her (she was the bottom of the chicken hierarchy), or couldn't get to her in time?

I'm posting a nice happy picture in this post, and will post a graphic picture in the next post, which I will minimize so people don't have to see it. Anyone can click to maximize the post to view it (it will stay minimized for everyone else unless they maximize it for themselves)
20190728_200846.jpg
Orangie, being hugged by my son a few months ago. She was the chicken that would eat from my hands.
Orangie, being hugged by my son a few months ago. She was the chicken that would eat from my hands.
 
Nicole Alderman
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Here are the sad pictures. I should probably bury her in the dark so as not to lure more predators?
Orangie-(.jpg
Orangie :'(
Orangie :'(
Orangie-and-her-feathers-along-the-fence.jpg
Orangie and her feathers along the fence
Orangie and her feathers along the fence
Feathers-from-where-I-m-standing-all-the-way-to-Orangie.jpg
Feathers from where I'm standing, all the way to Orangie
Feathers from where I'm standing, all the way to Orangie
Content minimized. Click to view
 
pollinator
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I'd just place her in a bucket just inside the door and deal with it in daylight tomorrow.
 
Nicole Alderman
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We buried her under an apple tree by the light of headlamps. Upon further examination, she wasn't missing her head or neck. She just has a hole eaten out of her back. So weird and disturbing.

I transplanted a few wild strawberries on top of where we buried her, and planted some native pollinator seeds from a seed mix I had. My 3 year old daughter wanted me to put the lupine seeds we'd bought on the soil. My son came to help spread the seeds. "I came to say, 'Goodbye,'" he said.
 
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oh noses.  Huge hugs to you and yours.  

Do you have mink or ferrets in your area?  
 
pollinator
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Racoon?  Looks like the chicken was close to the fence.  I've heard of coons reaching through fencing and ripping heads off chickens.

When ravens killed 3 of my broilers a couple years ago they only took the heads.
 
Nicole Alderman
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We have owls, bobcats (they never leave a trace when they take an animal), coyote, and bald eagles (had some try to drown ducks). Our neighbor has seen large raccoons. Another neighbor had a hawk swoop down and rip the comb off of her bird before she got there and scared it away. I don't know if we have minks or ferrets. There's lots of wetlands nearby. I've also had various neighbors' dogs come on our property. Could a dog have done this?

We seem to have a lot higher diversity in predators this year. It used to just be bobcat and eagles. Now coyotes and hawks and whatever-this-was. But, 60 acres of untouched land got developed into 30 houses. They were supposed to keep 50% of tree cover, but it sure doesn't seem like that. They always seem to be removing just a few more trees in the strips between houses. I'm wondering if this flush of predators is from them losing their homes--and their normal prey. Not many prey or predators can live in giant expanses of lawn compared to a forest.
 
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My bet is Skunks,
Skunks are members of the weasel family
Skunks will kill every bird in the roost for sport, their preferred method of slaughter is cutting the arteries in the neck.
They will happily burrow to get under fences although a buried sheet of tin or stainless mesh will deter them long enough to fill the burrow with rock.....IF you check daily.
It would have to be a remarkable rooster to deter an adult Skunk,
Havahart traps, sized appropriately (larger is better than too small!) baited with cat food is your best bet for Skunks or Coons.
If Fluffy the cat goes after the cat food, pick up the trap and give her as much trauma as you can without incurring a vet bill!
If you catch a skunk approach the trap calmly with a tarp protecting your self and lay it over the entire trap, after the tarp is enclosing the space skunks will rarely spray. pick up tarp, trap and skunk, and gift it to your least favorite neighbor at least fifteen miles from your farm!
Bring a book and a thermos of coffee as skunks will take an inordinate amount of time to vacate the trap, and close attendance will inspire an olfactory review of the performance from the skunks perspective.!
 
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Aw, Nicole... I'm so very sorry. You've really had a rough time with predators, in the last year. I'd say it really does sound a lot like habitat displacement is the worst of the cause, and I've no idea how to fix that. It's good that the kids wanted to help - I know the losses have been rough on them, too. ~hugs you~
 
pollinator
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I'm sorry, Nicole. I mean, it's bound to happen, but it's pretty terrible that it's the tamest chicken that got it.

I am familiar with Havahart traps. We used one to trap and relocate a raccoon from under our back addition some years back. We aren't permitted to kill them, so we dropped it off in a ravine on the other side of downtown.

We have a problem here with anthropomorphising animals, I think. In the abstract, all things should be given all the chances possible to live their normal, animal lives, and should die of predation or old age.

In reality, many of us with animal problems are trying to nurture food systems, which these animals think of not only as candy, but easy candy. First, they thrive on the fringes, eating things that we barely notice, and their lives improve. In the next season, though, this translates to reproductive success, and there are more mouths to feed. They won't control their own populations; like Malthus described, they will grow their populations until they've exceeded the carrying capacity.

The sustainable approach to dealing with livestock predation isn't accomodation, but lethal force. Those that learn not to venture near the human food systems will thrive.

We have unbalanced the cart here. Wherever we go, we concentrate nutrients, whether through our food systems or our refuse. We also do away with many of the natural predators for the detrivores that come to eat our scraps. If we don't control those populations, disease likely will, but only after all the chickens are dead and all the gardens chewed masses of leafless plants.

Do you have a nice, big, LGD onsite? Because if not, you might consider consoling everyone with a new puppy, one that will grow up to think of scavengers and chicken-killers as tasty snacks.

Good luck, though, Nicole. I hope things reach a state of equilibrium soon.

-CK
 
Andrew Mayflower
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Bill Haynes wrote:
If you catch a skunk approach the trap calmly with a tarp protecting your self and lay it over the entire trap, after the tarp is enclosing the space skunks will rarely spray. pick up tarp, trap and skunk, and gift it to your least favorite neighbor at least fifteen miles from your farm!
Bring a book and a thermos of coffee as skunks will take an inordinate amount of time to vacate the trap, and close attendance will inspire an olfactory review of the performance from the skunks perspective.!



If they haven't already sprayed the trap I might take it in the manner you suggest to the nearest forest land and bring the .22 and shoot it once out of the trap.  If it has sprayed the trap already I'd shoot it in the head and then remove it from the trap.  I wouldn't want to spread a problem.
 
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Bill Haynes wrote:My bet is Skunks,
Skunks are members of the weasel family
Skunks will kill every bird in the roost for sport, their preferred method of slaughter is cutting the arteries in the neck.
They will happily burrow to get under fences although a buried sheet of tin or stainless mesh will deter them long enough to fill the burrow with rock.....IF you check daily.
It would have to be a remarkable rooster to deter an adult Skunk,
Havahart traps, sized appropriately (larger is better than too small!) baited with cat food is your best bet for Skunks or Coons.
If Fluffy the cat goes after the cat food, pick up the trap and give her as much trauma as you can without incurring a vet bill!
If you catch a skunk approach the trap calmly with a tarp protecting your self and lay it over the entire trap, after the tarp is enclosing the space skunks will rarely spray. pick up tarp, trap and skunk, and gift it to your least favorite neighbor at least fifteen miles from your farm!
Bring a book and a thermos of coffee as skunks will take an inordinate amount of time to vacate the trap, and close attendance will inspire an olfactory review of the performance from the skunks perspective.!



I let a skunk live under my chicken coop for almost 3 years.  He (she?) never bothered a chicken.  The skunk would get into the nesting boxes and eat eggs but it never harmed a chicken.  I let it live there because there because as long as the skunk was there, the raccoons stayed away.  Raccoons have killed many, many of my chickens over the years.  The skunk would still be living there if my neighbor hadn't shot it.  It may be that a skunk will only kill the chickens if it doesn't have access to easier food, in this case, eggs.

Nicole, if the chicken was killed during the day while you were out shopping, it probably wasn't a raccoon.  They hunt at night.  My guess would be a dog if it was during daylight.  If you got home after dark, it could still have been a dog, but may well have been a raccoon.
 
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Oh man. I'm so sorry. This looks almost exactly like what happened to my goose this past July. It was racoons and they were out in the morning. They got one of my chickens a few days later and I had enough. There were a few groups of them and they were extremely destructive. If it is racoons and they know they can get a meal like this easily they will be back. Keep an eye out and make sure your chickens and feed are really secured.

Last year I had a possum get in the coop and it ate the head off a chicken and was trying to eat the head off the rooster when I got to it. If you have one, or know where you can borrow one, I would put up a trail camera for the next week or so. Odds are whatever did this will be back to see if they can do it again.
 
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Sorry to hear about your hen, how distressing.

R.Ranson is right I think. It seems to be the modus operandi of the weasel, stoat, marten family.  There are no minks or hermin where I live but I assume they would be the same.  They do not eat the bird, or only a tiny bit but they usually cut the head off and gorge on the blood.  They are also very clever at getting into small spaces; weasels for instance are only about 20cm long (in Europe that is) and will squeeze through very narrow gaps, a bit like a mouse under a door.  We've found that our Great Pyrenees dog has stopped the carnage that we had at some point.  I know that it is not always a possible solution for everyone: it's a big dog and it needs a lot of space.  The only thing I can suggest is that you make sure your girls are in a very tight and secure environment.  Those critters are a bit like foxes, if they know there are easy pickings nearby, they will come back.

I wish you good luck.
 
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Caleb Mayfield wrote:Last year I had a possum get in the coop and it ate the head off a chicken and was trying to eat the head off the rooster when I got to it. If you have one, or know where you can borrow one, I would put up a trail camera for the next week or so. Odds are whatever did this will be back to see if they can do it again.



Really?
We have possums eating the eggs before, but I never thought these slow creatures were our head-eaters.
Everyone around here thinks its a weasel/mink, despite me never seeing one around. I thought it was an owl (which as a kid only we had proof that they'd eat our cats' heads)

When I laid out traps, I'd only ever catch possums and skunks, both of which I've only caught in the egg laying bin.

Thanks for this info. I won't feel sorry any more for getting rid of these gentle looking creatures. There's not a lot of meat on them, but they do taste like chicken when fried up right.
 
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If the head was actually missing, I would think raccoon. If upon further inspection, the head and neck are fine but the back has been munched on, I’d put money on dog. We had both on our property and coons were taking the heads and nothing else, dogs were making holes in their backs and a bobcat left only a hint of feathers (except the day he was interrupted and ran off, leaving a row of perfectly lined up dead birds. They were even all facing the same direction and ordered by size. If we hadn’t seen the bobcat ourselves, I would have wondered if it had been done by a human. It was super creepy!)
 
Trace Oswald
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Nikki Corey wrote:If the head was actually missing, I would think raccoon. If upon further inspection, the head and neck are fine but the back has been munched on, I’d put money on dog. We had both on our property and coons were taking the heads and nothing else, dogs were making holes in their backs and a bobcat left only a hint of feathers (except the day he was interrupted and ran off, leaving a row of perfectly lined up dead birds. They were even all facing the same direction and ordered by size. If we hadn’t seen the bobcat ourselves, I would have wondered if it had been done by a human. It was super creepy!)



The raccoons that have killed my birds have always eaten them.  They can't eat a whole bird, but they will come back the next night to eat the rest.  I have used the half-eaten bird to bait my live traps and caught a lot of raccoons that way.  Last year I had a bird eaten that insisted on flying out of the run and nesting overnight in the big white pines nearby, in spite of their being a number of pines in their run.  I found blood and feathers in the morning and tracked the blood trail until I found half a chicken a hundred yards or so away on my neighbors property.  Damage having already been done, I left the bird and set up my game cam.  Sure enough, that night the raccoon returned to eat the rest. I've never had a raccoon kill chickens "for fun".  All of mine that were killed were partially eaten.  Usually the backs are eaten first on mine.

 
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My opinion for what it's worth, is the culprit is a stoat/polecat/ferret. This is a typical kill pattern that I saw with my own chickens. These beasties seem to love eating heads and brains, then may drag away the rest of the corpse if they have young to feed. My badgers and foxes will just kill the whole flock then remove the corpses at their leisure. You can guess that I've given up keeping chooks now....too heartbreaking.
 
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Sorry to hear about your loss.  It's always sad when preyed upon.  I vote for raccoon.  One morning the nailed-down nest box on my coop was completely ripped off and no sign of all chicks.  I saw a raccoon the next night come out of the storm drain.  They are persistent and can manipulate most anything.  I don't know how big your coop is but for mine, I was able to put a second round of fencing using chain link, with digging down a barrier underneath.  They are probably already looking for the weak link to work on.

Regarding a relocation of a predator, is that successful?  I saw a beautiful coyote running across the expressway on several nights to go between two open fields.  I called Wildlife Game control.  They said it was probably a healthy male that has grown up and now looking for a mate and to establish his own territory.   That they will not trap and relocate because the coyote at the new territory will fight him to the death.  Consequently, they would  euthanize him.

Yikes!  I worry about my livestock but I could never send a beautiful wild predator to a kill facility.  I'm all about fencing or strong quarters to keep them out.  Get their food elsewhere.

Chris
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Chris Ferguson
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Just a P.S.:
Los Angeles is proposing a wildlife overpass to the Highway 101 so that the pumas (mountain lions/cougars) can go from one forest preserve to the other without getting hit.  It's up for debate because some say it's a bottleneck choke point which the wild cats would not likely go through.   I like the idea since the highway does cut the Los Angeles National forest in half.  Why didn't they allow bridge overpasses.underpasses along the highway when originally built.  $$$ of course.  The other debate is about increasing their population.  Last weekend, a 2-year-old toddler was grabbed by the neck and dragged away while the family was hiking.  The Dad threw his backpack at him and successfully chased him off.  They euthanized that animal.  Geez.  Is our overpopulation causing problems for them.  Ya think?

I wonder, how does your large electrified fencing work on the big permaculture homesteads?  I enjoy Geoff Lawton's videos about moving their grazing animals around the acreage.  And the chicken tractor seems to be successful with an electrified wire on the field fence, then well-closed trailer coop for moving later on.

No easy answers,
Chris
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