July 9, 2013

Keeping Our Baby Chickens Safe

Mama Buff Orpington and her 2 & 1/2 week old brood of chicks

This is the third year we've had hen raised chicks. This is the first year we've had problems. This year we have an an upsetting loss of six chicks.

The chicks at one week old

Since we started with 25, I might not have noticed the first one missing, except that I am a habitual counter. I find myself counting things, whether they need to be counted or not. Chicks do need to be counted, however, so it was alarming to come up one short. After rechecking my count about a zillion times, I was at a loss at to where the one had gotten to. No body, no sign, just disappeared.

Our 3 breeds: Speckled Sussex, Buff Orpington, & Silver Laced Wyandotte

After the second one disappeared into thin air, we became alarmed. The coop is fairly tight against intruders. It has a concrete floor, so no burrowing from underneath. It has three solid exterior walls and one interior wall of 1-inch poultry netting. The windows are covered with half-inch hardware cloth. The building is shut up at night.

Whatever it was, was either too sneaky or more than Mama could protect them from.

The only openings we could find were under the eaves of the roof. But what could fit through those narrow openings? We suspected a snake, so we researched how to trap snakes. From Backyard Chickens, we found this idea....

Snake trap made from a minnow trap

We plugged the holes in the coop and set the trap near the back of the coop and waited.

Although we didn't catch anything, all seemed well until a few days later. I was finishing up milking and it was just getting light enough to see around in the coop. I discovered a dead chick in the corner of the chick pen. It's neck was covered with dry blood. I began to count and realized three more were missing besides. We had to do something else.

After racking my brain for a quick solution, I thought perhaps we could do something with our old homemade corn crib (photo in this post. It isn't at all like a traditional corn crib). We ended up cutting it down and covering it with half-inch hardware cloth. It became a bedroom for mother and chicks.

Our failed "corn crib" becomes a chicken bedroom!

We also considered it might be rats, and set out rat traps. So far we've caught nothing.

Mama Buff has done an excellent job at mothering

Mama is none too pleased to be put into the safety cage at night with her chicks. In fact, she came up with her own solution....

Somehow Mama Buff managed to coax all 19 chicks into a nest box.
Looks to make for rather precarious sleeping arrangements, however.

I didn't really trust this arrangement, however, so they all had to be put into the safety cage anyway.

It's amazing how quickly they grow up

We're down from 25 to 19 chicks: 6 Buff Orpingtons, 5 Speckled Sussex, and 8 Silver Laced Wyandottes. The other loss was my rare breed chick, which I figured out wasn't the black one, but a Golden Polish.

So far we've caught nothing, but neither have there been other losses. I reckon as long as they bed down on the floor and can fit into the safety cage, I'll continue to put them up at dusk. Eventually they'll start roosting. Hopefully by that time they'll be too big for whatever has been killing my chicks.

[UPDATE: 19 July 2013 Chick Killer Caught]


  1. I hope you catch the chick stealing varmit soon. With the 3 almost 4 gone in one sitting it seems as if you have a mother teaching her young how to hunt. I hope that isn't the case.

  2. Do you have a video camera you could set up for a night? Just a thought.

  3. Do you have weasels? Weasels can get in a hole as small as one inch. After losing 10 full grown hens (it took a while to figure out what could possibly be getting into the coop) we finally enclosed their entire roost with 1/2 inch hardware cloth. We call it the "Biddy Barn Bunker". No losses since then.

  4. ARgh! This must be stopped. Please keep us informed. This would drive me nuts! I would put out a video camera at this point.

  5. Oh that is not good :( Sorry to hear this Leigh, but glad you were able to come up with a working solution for now.
    My landlord was losing eggs, and found a black rat snack taking up in the nest box. He is no more.

  6. Hope you find the culprit. Serious I know but I still can't help comparing it to an Agatha Christie mystery. A number of titles might be appropriate. Good luck with the sleuthing.

  7. I hope you find the culprit. We lost 5 chicks ourselves out of 20, and believe it was a rat. It ate just the heads off (gross). We found the rat, and our terrier mix, Miss Izzy took care of it for us in a matter of seconds! Since then, no more issues.

  8. Renee, yeah, those 4 in one night was a real blow, as well as a huge puzzle. Others have suggested a camera, which would have been helpful

    Erin, no video camera, but that's an excellent idea. The other option would be a movement triggered wildlife camera

    Anonymous, we wondered that as well. I just looked that up and apparently there are very scant and farly scattered groups of long-tail weasels in our state. Good thing the hardware cloth keeps them out.

    OJD, it's driving me nuts! No video cam, but we've talked about getting a wildlife camera, one with a motion sensor for taking pics.

    Stephanie, yes, those black and rat snakes love eggs! I caught one in a nest, not here, but another place I lived. We could be losing eggs too, but unless I see the snake there's no way of knowing. Egg count is down, but it may be because these are upsetting events to chickens.

    Theresa, thanks and I hope so too! I love Agatha Christie, BTW. :)

    Izzy, hurray for terriers! And boo on rats. We know we have rats. Fat ones that Riley catches. I think there is more to catch around here than one cat can manage, however.

  9. The night before last we had a snake get in and take four babies so yesterday the wife rounded up all the chicks around the mini farm and put them in a brooder in the house. It's the only way we can keep them safe.

  10. Wow, what a mystery. I love the chickens, but it would drive me nuts trying to figure out why they are disappearing or dying. I sure hope you find out why soon.

  11. Sad to hear.. hope you find the culprit and fast. Let us know if you catch the menace.

  12. That's strange. You've thought of the usual suspects and guarded against them. Hope the remainder of them stay safe and grow up healthy.

  13. MDR. Four is a lot to lose in one night. I thought about bringing ours in the house, but figured Mama Hen wouldn't like that. :)

    vlb5757, I'm beginning to wonder if we'll ever find out. At least they seem safe now.

    Shannon, I'll do that!

    FFG, I know there are many hazards, but this was something we could do something about. During the day, I worry about hawks!

  14. A trail cam would be the way to go, and BUSHNEL would be the ONLY brand I would suggest. I did get an ACRON one, and it was HORRIBLE! I sent it back. Pictures were awful, and it was NOT user friendly. My Bushnel one takes fantastic still photos and movies, and even has sound! Very user friendly too. This is IF you get a camera. Be surprised just how entertaining, watching what you record can be! I hope you do catch the varmit!

  15. Leigh,

    Now that you're trying to catch (figure out)what's killing off your chicks the little critter is not coming around. It probably smells that you've been in the coop and is waiting until your sent isn't around before he/she comes back.

    I do know that when a critter has found a food source, they will eventually come back and when they do they're in for some trouble.........

  16. Awww, poor chicks! They may not be happy about the current arrangement, but better mad than eaten.

  17. I'm so so sorry . . . and sure hope you're able to figure it out. But in the meantime you've seemed to, yet again, come up with a great solution to keep mama and babies safe for the time being.

  18. Hi Leigh,
    Weasels or mink will generally kill by sucking all the blood out and leaving the body. They can get in, even a very small space, if they can fit their head in, they can get the rest of there body in. You can train dogs to sniff out weasels and go after them. Rats tho will also drink the blood but they will also eat the carcass, or drag part of it away. Weasels will kill rats, but then the weasel will go after the chicks. We lost a few when I was kid that way. I am sorry for you, I hope you find whatever is getting your girls. steph

  19. That's too bad, sneaky varmint!

  20. MrsCravitz, thank you for the recommendation. We've talked about getting a trail cam before, but never got serious until now!

    Sandy, either that or we are now varmint proof! It's true they'll keep coming back if they know where food is. Except now, all they can do is window shop!

    Candace, well put!

    Janice, at least there was a solution!

    Steph, thank you for the information. If weasels leave the body, then it wasn't a weasel (or mink) killing the first 5 chicks, because there were no bodies. That's why we suspected snake (along with no large openings for a larger critter to go through). As to why the last was left is a puzzle. The body wasn't chewed on, so perhaps we've had two predators(?) Snakes and a weasel(?)

    Nancy, I agree!

  21. Our great Pyrenees is amazing she sleeps by the coop when she suspects a varmint, killing raccoons, possums and rats she brings them to our back door! Since we got Peacocks (They roam the farm) we don't ever see snakes anymore If nothing bothering the chicks she wanders the farm to keep the coyotes at bay. We've lost a few poultry but very few. We love our GP!

  22. That's a terrible loss and a curious situation, not knowing what beastie is the culprit. We've been lucky so far that we've not lost any chooks inside. Outside is a different ball game though as we have a fair number of predators now that the neighbours dogs no longer roam the farms around here. They kept all the hunters down to nothing. Thankfully, we don't have much of a snake issue here, but rats, weasels, racoons, skunks and coyotes are big problems.

  23. We lost 16 chicks last year the day after we got them. Loss is always something to consider when planning for the year. How about an old fashioned trap. I bought my son a gopher snap trap and told him I'd pay 50 cents for every gopher he caught. I owe him $5 since for the past 3 days worth of work. They work well. Grandpa says he'll pay a dollar a gopher so I'm not sure I can afford him too much longer. Got any boys in your area you can sequester for the cause?

  24. We had this happen to us once and we lost every single chick (and the hen) without ever discovering the culprit. But in that case the mother refused to bring them into the chickenhouse at night. They were in a well-fenced area, but still vulnerable to owls or other night predators.

    Later I wished I had bought a wildlife camera. They're not very expensive, are motion activated and can be mounted so that you'll get photographic evidence of the cause of this.

    Good luck figuring it out.

  25. Thought I was reading a very sad tale or Murder Mystery, Leigh!

  26. Peaceful, exactly!

    Donna, gotta love a good livestock guardian. I only wish our Pyr had worked out. Interesting that your peacocks keep the snakes under control.

    Nina, outside is a bigger problem, really. It makes it such a puzzle to lock them up well at night and still have losses.

    Doug, that would have been devastating. Dan is talking about getting a trap. And I just read in another book about "hiring" boys for groundhog control! These would have to pull all-night duty though. :)

    Bill, that would be tough. The mother hen probably wanted to keep them away from the other chickens, who can be terribly mean to chicks. We have owls as well, and always worry about our cat when we hear them nearby.

    Quite the mystery, Cloud. Dan's talking about getting a field camera, so maybe we'll find out in the end.

  27. Does sound very much like a rat. They also have the ability to go under the sitting hen & due to all the movement from the chicks under her, she often doesn't realize what's going on..... we had just that happen to us a few years back when I had mother hens raising chicks. Pleased you have not lost them all & they seem safe for now. Hugs Sharm

  28. They are so cute! :)


  29. I had 4 baby chicks - first in a box with the heat lamp, their food/water. Then I put all of that in a sealed crate on the off chance they got out of the smaller box.There are no holes in the crate. Just mesh for the windows. Absolutely no way to get out of the enclosure. But they are gone. No feathers, no struggle. Completely vanished.

  30. Unknown, what a bummer. It's almost as though someone stole them. Very discouraging, isn't it?


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