Happy Peeps

October 7, 2012


We lost two chickens last night.  We. lost. two. chickens. last. night.

It is sobering to me to see these words in print; I strongly felt that we had not done our job. The Man disagreed with me. We free range our hens, and found early on that they would all march back into the coop at dusk. Perhaps we had become complacent about this arrangement.

This time (it's been 2 years now), we heard some squawking out there at dusk. I ran to the window to check; we frequently will see hawks soaring above our yard and the chickens will squawk when they detect her. I scanned the sky and scanned the yard and seeing nothing, determined it was the chickens themselves. We introduced the chooks to the older hens a few weeks ago and they still squabble a bit and are still going through the stage of determining the pecking order, so the "arguing" amongst them wasn't unusual.

I returned to my spot in the kitchen where I had been having a conversation with The Man. Interestingly, it was about gun control and restraints. For people, not animals.

The sky hadn't yet darkened completely but was very close to it. It's not been unusual this year for us to go out and lock everything/electrify the fence surrounding the chicken yard at 8:30 p.m. when it's completely dark, whereas in the beginning, we religiously were out there before sunset, trying to shoo them in ourselves, worried that they wouldn't get in on time to escape the ravages of evening predators on the prowl.

Chickens began screeching again and time stood still, as we both jumped into our yard boots, grabbed jackets on the run and ran out the door. I was the first one out and upon reaching the fenced in yard around the run, saw him. A large red fox was in the yard and very likely could have been in the coop as well.  He was running around the perimeter trying to get out. I was screaming for The Man to come as I didn't know how to handle a fox. When he reached the run, the fox finally jumped over our electric fence (which was bad news in and of itself) and headed toward the road at the east (front) end of the yard. We headed into the coop to count the chickens, filled with doom. I was expecting to see a blood bath.

There were none dead in the coop and no blood or feathers, thankfully. However, there were plenty of hens missing. We had no idea where they might have been able to retreat in our forested perimeter, but armed only with our flashlights and a bucket of corn, we began our search.

An hour later, we had rounded up almost all of them, some of which had been up in trees, some cowering by fences, one I even found perched on the bench on our front porch!

And two, sadly, we found decapitated. As upsetting as this was, we had to continue our search, as three remained missing:  two young reds, and Oprah, one of my prized Silver Laced Wyandottes.

We split up to cover the entire yard more quickly; I was on the north side of the coop when I heard her screeching. It was Oprah and she was somewhere near the garden. We both ran to the site, sweeping our flashlights to find her. A fox was on her and due to our hot pursuit, he ran away from her toward the north of our property along the fenceline separating us from our closest neighbor. I scooped up Oprah and ran with her to the coop; she was alive and I couldn't see any blood, but she had a huge amount of feathers missing from her back; she was completely bald in one spot. I placed her carefully into a nest box so she could rest and returned to the yard where The Man was shouting for me to come with the flashlight. He had found the fox running up and down the fence and was going to try to shoot him. I wanted to shoot him myself. He had already killed two of our hens and now had injured, possibly fatally, Oprah. I was seeing red. The Man ran to get his gun while I kept the light on the predator. His eyes were staring at me -the light was reflecting off them and the effect was eerie. He turned his head and began to trot east along the fenceline toward the house. Not finding a way out, he retreated back in the direction he had come, and The Man took a shot. It appeared he may have grazed him as the fox jumped upon contact but then ran and disappeared into brush.  We didn't expect him back that night.

We spent another hour searching; I had blisters forming on the backs of my heels from wearing rubber boots with no socks; I had scratches on my hands from the barbs of weeds in the woods and briefly wondered about poisoned ivy, but realized it was too late to try to avoid it. We searched the entire acre up and down and over and over. I stepped over the rickety fence and headed down the embankment at the back of the property toward the golf course; (we are situated above the 9th hole). It was strange walking on that property at night. I had walked on that hole only once 6 or 7 years prior, golfing. I walked up and down the perimeter of the 9th hole shining my light into the trees to see if the two young reds which were still missing had roosted there, to no avail.  I had been determined to find them, and not to come back until I had done so, but it was clearly going to be impossible, and the thought finally occurred to me that they could have been carried off. Fox aren't known to hunt in groups, but we had seen the first one escaping in one direction, and the second had come from a complete opposite end of the property; it was very possible that several could have been involved and that one or more could have already taken the two young reds. We gave up for the night.

Oprah recovering inside the day after the attack.
It was so sad to go inside not knowing of their whereabouts. The Man bagged up the decapitated hens. I didn't ask him what he did with them beyond that.

He put up a trap for the night, in the hopes of catching a fox.

In the morning, thankfully, the two young red hens had returned to the door of the coop and were waiting there. We were never so relieved. We had lost two friends, but we had done everything we could to save them all.

Our methods will change, as the fox family undoubtedly see our property as a source of food now and return again and again.

We won't be letting the hens out in the yard for a while. It's getting colder anyway, and they have plenty of room in their run and coop, with all the food and water they need. I took them a nice big tray of warm oatmeal this morning which they thoroughly enjoyed. However, Oprah was clearly traumatized more than we had suspected. She was hiding behind a hay bale, but came out when she heard my voice, limping and with her head bowed. I gave her water and oatmeal which she ate and drank slowly. It appears her left wing is broken, and I'm not sure if she has any internal damage. I decided to keep her in the house so that the others wouldn't pick on her, and she is currently residing in a large cardboard box in the kitchen with plenty of cotton rags around her to rest on and her own water and food. I'm not sure how this will turn out.