September 21, 2013

More Problems With Predators

We lost two more of our young chickens to predators, although I'm not entirely certain as to the culprit. I found the first new victim early one morning next to the coop, headless. Several of the young chickens had managed to spend the night in the cedar tree in the chicken yard. Something had plucked one out of the tree and killed it.

I found the second one several days later. This time in the pasture next to the farthest fenceline. It was midafternoon and I had just been out there a few hours before. This chick was also headless.

3 month old pullets and cockerels: Buff Orpingtons,
Speckled Sussex, and Silver Laced Wyandottes .

Quite a few chicken predators consume only the head and crop. Most of them, however, hunt either at night or during the day. Did that mean we had two different predators, a night hunter and a day hunter? Dan set out the live animal traps and I made sure all chickens were in the coop before closing up at night. I also changed the chickens free range area, directing them to the front pasture with the bucks.

We had already lost 7 young chicks to a rat and did not want to lose any more. Even though the chicks were now too big to be attacked by rats, we discovered that the "barn" was infested with them! I saw two in the coop when I did a night check, and Dan could hear them running in the walls.

Speckled Sussex pullets drinking whey from cheese making.

Our chicken coop/goat shed is an old building (as in about 85 years old) that has gone through several transformations. At some point, someone poured a concrete floor and put up paneling to turn it into a workshop. We turned it into a home for our critters and haven't had problems with rodents until this year. Now the rats had tunneled under the concrete floor and had a series of entries and exits into the walls and all around the building. Except for the chick killer we caught in a live animal trap, all the rest had deftly avoided all attempts to catch them. After searching YouTube, Dan build this.....

YouTube inspired rat trap. I don't have the video address for you, sorry.

A PVC pipe and elbow runs from a rat hole up to a tub of water. A strip of old towel in the pipe offers traction, and peanut better at the mouth of the elbow is the bait. The rats fall into the tub and drown. The fellow who invented this said he successfully disposes of rats on an ongoing basis.

The next morning we approached this contraption with anticipation. No joy. However, inside the chicken coop, I discovered this....

Snake skin

.... a newly shed snake skin.

This story is already long enough, so to shorten it up a bit, I can tell you that we never drowned a rat in the YouTube rat trap, but all the rats vacated thanks to that snake.

Dan did find the snake, a black snake, under the nest boxes. He removed it to the back of our property, and released it in the woods. If it would only catch and eat mice and rats we wouldn't have minded it being around, but they also eat eggs. He also ended up catching two possums, one in a live animal trap and one in the fig tree. They are gone now too.

Total loss from predation this year has been 9 out of 25 chicks. We're hoping that will be the end of it, but now we're entering autumn hawk migration. I reckon it all just comes with the territory.

More Problems With Predators © September 2013 


Susan said...

Last year, thanks to two mild winters in a row, everyone in our area (and even down to CT) had rat problems for the first time. I have been here almost 8 years and never had a problem until last year - I caught over 27! They are very destructive. It's always a battle to stay ahead of the predators. I walked out yesterday morning to find a large hawk poised in the trees above the youngest pullets! Your rat trap is fascinating!

Bill said...

So sorry you're having predator problems. It's a constant battle for us too. We lost 11 pullets to a hawk earlier this summer.

I'm glad the snake helped you out, and glad you relocated it. I discovered one in our chickenhouse last year eating a chick. They eat eggs, but they're a threat to the chickens as well.

Anonymous said...

Drats! Sure hope you can figure out what's getting them.

thewovenspoke said...

What a bummer! It sounds like you might have a weasel in the hen house, I hear they do that. Good luck ending losing your beautiful chickens.

Leigh said...

Susan, we've had mild winters recently too. Hmm. This was our first year for rats too. I just wonder how long before they move back in, now that the snake is gone!

Bill, that's a good point about snakes eating chicks. We initially suspected a snake when we began losing chicks. We always remove them to elsewhere when we see them in the yard.

Stephanie, there are some websites that help identify chicken predators by the damage they do to the chicken, but ours seemed to fall under quite a few possibilities.

Thewovenspoke, weasels are in our area, although we've never actually seen one. They seem to go for mass killings, which is why they are not high up on our suspect list.

Ed said...

Not sure about down south but up here, if I found a chicken with only it's head missing, I would most definitely blame raccoon. Back in the day when we used to have chickens, they would get one if we didn't get them locked up at night.

Jul said...

I can vouch for the efficacy of this item.
You do have to dump the dead beasts out, but it is seriously effective.

Willow said...

I hesitate to say it but this year we have had no predators be successful (yet). Last year we had a Fisher cat that wiped out one whole pen of chicken in the night as there was a way in .
We have had a fairly determined hawk hanging out lately and we free range our chickens. Our chickens are pretty savvy as to hiding spots and we have one HUGE rooster that puts off the alarm and is pretty daunting but I have been counting them every afternoon as that hawk is getting very bold.

Gill - That British Woman said...

and this is why I am cautious about getting chickens......I hope you don't lose anymore.


Leigh said...

Ed, we do have raccoons in our state but have never seen one in our area. The odd thing was that we lost one in the middle of the night and one in broad daylight.

Julie, thanks! Definitely looks like an option if the rats return. BTW, I wanted to return the blog visit but your Blogger profile is private.

Willo, I've read that those Fisher cats are particularly vicious. We don't have them here, fortunately. I have lost chickens to hawks however. No fun.

Gill, thanks. You might consider a chicken tractor if you have a serious predator problem. They are an excellent way to keep chickens safe!

Thistle Cove Farm said...

my first thought was a raccoon but without a camera or catching the culprit in the act, you'll never know.

The Stay @ Home-Gardener said...

Nature and weather just does what it wants. I see you are taking it all in stride. At least on the blog you are. ;)

Farmer Barb said...

I always feel so sorry for my animals who die from predation. I am a kinder killer than that heart wrenching terrified screaming that one hears when they are being attacked. I am preparing for my possible predators as though I am doing battle with the whole planet.

Good luck during the migration! It is such a challenge.

Leigh said...

Sandra, yes, a camera would definitely be an aid here. Getting one is on our to-do list!

Cloud, you sum it up beautifully. It's up to us humans to work with it. Trying to change those things are a long road to frustration. And yes, we're taking it in stride. Nobody wants to lose animals and in the end, the we just have to rely on having done our best and learning as we go.

Barb, that brings up another good point, that the animal world is intrinsically cruel. And just because something is cute, doesn't mean it's kind. May your efforts to protect your critters be of great success!

Cat Eye Cottage said...

I hope you get ahead of the predators soon. It's an ongoing battle it seems like. We had a hawk sitting on a low limb in a tree watching the chickens yesterday. Thankfully when it appeared, they all took cover in the bushes, and they didn't come out until it finally gave up and flew off.

badgerpendous said...

Sorry to hear about the losses...

We're in the suburbs, but we've faced just about all the same predators you have (all except the snake). I can sympathize!

We had a rat outbreak a couple of years ago where the weather and lack of predators resulted in a population explosion.

One of our neighbors tried to blame our chickens (even though the real causes were listed in an article in the newspapers), but our food was kept locked up in the garage while she had nearly half a dozen open bird feeders filled to the brim!

Luckily the predator population bounced back and this year we haven't lost any garden produce to rats. Fingers crossed!

Leigh said...

Candace, it is an ongoing battle. That's why, I suppose, I can't ever think we have a true victory. One battle won doesn't mean the war is over!

Badgerpendous, it's tough when things like that happen, and worse when others want to point the finger in the wrong direction! I'm glad to hear things are under contol in your neck of the woods.

Ellen and Adrian said...

Sounds like you have a lot of pressure on your livestock out there. Hopefully your balance will be restored for the fall and winter. Are the cats going to be spending time outside to catch rodents?

We have also had a rat and mouse problem this year in our suburban area. All of my neighbours are gardeners, and we've had a terrible year of tomatoes and grains, etc. being knocked to the ground and snacked on - sometimes in the open, and sometimes hauled somewhere more concealed for eating in private (much of my heritage grain was consumed, and not by frustrating!) I've seen racoons, opossums, and neighbourhood cats in my yard (though the cats seem aware that the chickens are too big and alert for them, and I hope the presence of cats keeps *more* rodents away). We never figured out what dug into our tractor our first winter and killed one of our hens - the tractor now has a wire floor covered over with dirt and straw.
We keep all of our feed in bins or inside the house, though the grass and hay is kept outside. We too have many neighbours with bird feeders - I just have to look in the garden and see all of the sunflowers (and peanuts) I didn't plant!

Anonymous said...

We lost 27 chicken and three rabbits in three different raids. The first time we had no idea what was doing it. The second time we saw 2 large dogs leaving the scene. We called the Sheriff's Dept. and explained. The dogs got into our fenced yard and into our fenced coop. The sheriff's deputy said they couldn't do anything unless we had the dogs there and then they would site the owner IF they could find them. They suggested that we protect our chickens and rabbits by shooting the animals responsible.
The third time the dogs met our 12 gage. It turns out that someone was letting their dogs run loose at night (they had collars with no tags). These were not wild animals looking for a meal, they were killing my laying hens for fun. I have had people tell me I shouldn't have killed the poor dogs, but I say they shouldn't have killed my poor hens. The local sheriff agrees with me.

Leigh said...

Ellen and Adrian, our cats are definitely on rodent duty! I'm sorry to hear your neighborhood has been having such problems. From the comments to this post, it would seem that predation of both animals and gardens has been higher this year. "Balance" would be wonderful. I'm trying to figure out how to see our homestead as an ecosystem, but there are still lots of questions as to how all the parts fit together in that balance.

Anonymous, I can so empathize with your comment. It seems incredulous that some folks thing dogs should have free reign as killers. Awhile back we had a neighbor's dog jump our fence and chase our goats and chickens. I was in a panic (so were the chickens and goats). I did manage to get our animals out of the pasture with the dog left in. As I was on my way to call the sheriff's dept, the dog climbed out and ran home.

I blogged about this and mentioned that if I'd had a gun, I would have used it. I received the wrath of dog lovers in my comments for that statement! (I don't think the title of my post helped, "I'm Not A Dog Person But...", because some folks seemed to think that meant I was a dog hater!).

For many things in our culture, there seems to be an imbalance in perspective, which is rooted entirely in emotion. I agree with you about your situation. Our chickens have the right to be protected from all predators. In fact, I would say that as chicken and livestock keepers, we have the duty and responsibility to protect what we have taken under our care.