Two years ago, the awful moment of predator loss occurred on our farm. The attack happened in broad daylight, while we were on site and doing routine chores. The flocks were all in their runs attached to their coop. No one was free ranging, and yet the predator managed to severely reduce our flock that day. Even though it’s been almost two years, I still remember the way the run looked in the aftermath.
I share this with you, again, because some of you will be building new coops and runs this spring. I can’t emphasize enough that you should build the best structure you can. Keep the chickens safe and prevent predator loss.
We experienced a large loss on our farm. I needed some time to process the whole thing and while I am still very saddened and feeling a huge loss, I think there are some valuable lessons to take away from this tragedy.
Nothing is 100% Predator Proof
We were sort of prideful about the fact that we had such a strong, well built structure for our chicken coop. And, it is surrounded by a sturdy fence with the chicken wire around the outside tacked to the boards all the way up to seven feet high. The run is partially covered mostly to keep out flying predators and other birds. It has been years since we lost a chicken to a raccoon or fox. In the past when we had a loss, it was because the chicken flew out of the coop area and was free ranging on its own. So, we were feeling pretty smug and satisfied with ourselves and our well built structure.
Predator Loss Even When You do Everything Right
This past week, all that changed. We had all seen the large red fox lurking about. The dogs had chased it off numerous times. Even though it broke into a back corner of the fence last week and stole one hen. We still thought our repair was top notch and that it would not happen again. We were wrong.
Eight days later, on a normally busy day at the farm, the fox returned. It was during a brief period of time when all humans and dogs had left the area. But not long. Which leads me to believe it was watching carefully for the right time to strike and grab a meal. My beautiful flock was terrified and many lives were lost in the blink of an eye.
When my son pulled back in with a load of hay bales on his truck, his dog freaked out and took off chasing the fox away. But the damage had been done. As we collected the bodies that were left strewn inside and outside of the coop, I began to cry over the loss of my pets. We lost some we had had for a number of years and who were the personalities in the flock. Mr. Tweet and Mrs. Duck were gone. I found one of my beautiful Australorps dragged out behind the manure pile. She had been bitten on the neck and left to die. She was gone when I found her. We also lost a beautiful Silver Laced Wyandotte and a Jersey Giant.
Searching for Survivors
The rest of the flock was hiding in the coop as best they could. Feathers and blood spoke of the struggle and harm. Our hearts cracked more as we began to clean up and to search for the varmint. He was still close.
I found Yellow Chicken hiding under a nest box. She was bitten in three places and in shock but I was pretty certain she would live with some TLC. I treated her wounds with Veterycin Wound Spray and carried her in my arms while we looked for other missing birds. Abby was missing and I was worried that she was hurt like Yellow Chicken and afraid to come out. We checked everyone for wounds and put them in the coop for the rest of the day. I took Yellow Chicken back to the house to give her time to recover without being picked on, and to keep a close eye on the wounds. I treated her twice a day with Vetericyn spray and my homemade wound ointment of coconut oil, Melaleuca oil and Lavender essential oil. Abby was still missing along with another hen.
The Fox will Return
A little while later the fox returned and my son saw him but by the time he got the shotgun the fox had run off again. The fox was looking at the places where we had found the dead chickens earlier. Apparently they leave what they can’t carry off and return for it later. He had come back for more of his kills.
At feeding time, Abby and the red hen came walking back up the hill to the chicken yard as calm as you please. The only thing I can think is that they flew off somehow during the attack, and now were heading back to roost for the night. This was a happy sight to see on this otherwise dismal day.
As we were cleaning up and preparing to head back to the house for the night, Chief took off after something in the barn. The fox had returned again. This time he was tracked all the way back to his den in the woods but with multiple exits it was impossible to force him out in the open.
Predator Loss Extended
The next day, we had one more loss from the attack. One chicken must have had internal bleeding because she died overnight. Non-bleeding puncture wounds were found on her body that we had not seen when looking for wounds. Yellow Chicken is doing well and has returned to the coop. Her wounds seem to be healing well and today she is back to acting normally and scratching and pecking.
Here are the steps we are taking now to reinforce the coops, duck house and pens and rabbit enclosures.
What to Use to Prevent Predator Loss
The best wire to use on the runs surrounding the coops is hardware cloth, or welded wire fencing. We temporarily used the cattle panels that we had available. Even though I knew better than to use chicken wire around the coop, we used it when constructing the run. And it was easily broken by the fox.
The chicken run has been fully enclosed in Cattle Wire. This will not keep raccoon out but it will keep the fox from ripping apart the chicken wire again and gaining access that way. A hot wire is being run around the perimeter of each housing area about ten inches from the fence. The large predators will have to get through the hot wire barrier before being able to work on getting into the fence. I am sure I will be shocked more than once by the hot wire myself.
Nite Guard lights will be added to the exteriors of the buildings to hopefully deter the predators. The fox or more foxes will return. He did not get much of a meal this time because we have accounted for everyone. So he is still hungry. The spring is a particularly hard time for predators. Babies are being born, the mom’s are hungry and also trying to feed the kits. Smaller prey may not be readily available yet if the ground is still frozen over. Its hard for the predator and if they can find an easy dinner source, they will return. Its a time to be super vigilant about flock safety and small animal safety. Predator loss has to be in the back of your mind all the time.
The loss hurts. I get to know all of my animals and miss each one that is lost. I have been thinking about the lessons we can take away from the tragedy.
Lessons Learned About Predator Loss
Homesteading is hard on your heart
Even when you do everything the right way, the worst can happen.
No precaution is too much or goes to far. And unfortunately, you will always need to be outsmarting the wildlife.
I would not trade this life.
For more information on dealing with emergencies in your flock – Emergency Chicken Health Care