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Who's Eating all the Chickens?

by Joan Kark-Wren
We left the house early on a beautiful spring morning. Allie, our black lab, excited to be going for a ride, jumped in the car with us. Ling the cat stretched out in the sunlight, knowing he’d have the house to himself. Outside, the 12 chicks — now 8 weeks old — where happily scratching in the garden, clucking as they found a bug or seed to eat. Our two older Bantams hens, still unhappy with
the intrusion of these younger chicks, were scolding them whenever they came too close to their spot in the yard. Dan and I headed off for a day of work with his brother and sister, looking forward to finishing up a long project.
When we arrived back home around 7 pm, I knew right away something was amiss. The flock was nowhere to be seen. Walking around the back of the house, we saw 10 of the chicks all huddled up in their home, unnaturally quiet. The two Bantams were noisily clucking as they paced
back and forth on the porch rail. We searched all over for the other two, but didn’t find so much as a feather. We started thinking of things that may have happened. Had they just wandered off? Maybe a fox, hawk, or the neighbor’s dog had seen them in the yard and decided they’d make a nice lunch? It had happened in broad daylight. Who-or what-would have been so bold?
Hoping they had just wandered off, we fed the others, leaving the light on to scare away would be predators.
We had brought these chicks home from the store, kept them in our house until it was warm enough outside for them, watching to see what they would look like as they grew. It was fun watching as the feathers grew out and we could tell what kind of birds we actually had. When we bought the chicks, the labels on the tubs didn’t seem to match the chicks in there, but we figured it didn’t really matter what types we got – as long as there were some meat birds.
The next morning we were eager to see if the other two chicks had returned, but only saw the remaining 10 – two Silkies, four Buff Orphingtons, and four Rhode Island Reds. They acted as if nothing had happened and started their day once again scratching in the garden.
I love having chickens, and we have had many over the years. They have such inquisitive personalities and always come to greet us when we step out the back door. They do a great job keeping the weeds down in the garden, although they may pluck an occasional tomato off the plants – a small price to pay for such a pretty sight in the yard. We had one rooster that loved to sneak up behind me when I was on my hands and knees in the garden, lost in thought weeding, and crow right in back of me. He did give me quite a few starts.
As the summer continued on, life went on without any incidences. The chickens were growing bigger, the Bantams still getting annoyed with them. I was delighted with the look of the Silkies. Both were white, and we were starting to think one maybe a rooster. They looked like little feathered soccer balls. The Buffs were quickly gaining weight, and my husband teased me about those being the ones we would eat. While we had bought them with the intention of using them as a meat bird, after seeing how gentle and sweet they were, I knew they would end up becoming old layers at our house.
In July we decided to spend a day at the lake, and took off early one morning. When we returned home later that afternoon, there were no chickens to greet us. Fearing the worse, we ran out back to see if there were any chickens. Once again, we found them in their house, all very quiet. But they weren’t all there – we were missing six. As we went around looking for them, we saw two sets of feathers, obviously from the Buffs, side by side on the lawn. It seemed as if whatever had attacked them had sat down to enjoy them right next to the house-how brazen! We again wondered about the neighbors two dogs who were frequent visitors on our property. Reasoning that a fox or hawk wouldn’t sit on the lawn and eat their prey, I silently cursed the dogs for killing the Buffs, two RIRs, and my beautiful Silkies. But without actual proof, I didn’t feel right about confronting the neighbors.
When we bought the chicks we wanted to be able to let them enjoy their freedom, clucking happily when they found something tasty in the garden, running to meet us as we came out outside, or pecking at the door when we didn’t come out soon enough with their food. But now it was apparent this wasn’t working out. While we talked about where to put them, we vowed to shoo the neighbor’s dogs away when we saw them in our yard — something Allie was more than happy to do if given the chance!
We talked with several people about what might have taken the chickens. It seemed there were as many different thoughts as people we asked. Some told us horror stories of their whole flock being eaten by a fox – one person had actually seen a fox sneaking off with their chickens. Another told us it was most likely a hawk that had grabbed
Them. Still others reasoned it was a coyote, taking them back to feed their young. One farmer told me it could also be a raccoon. But the thought of those two mounds of feathers side by side in the yard had me convinced it was the dogs.
Summer turned into fall and life seemed to be back to normal. The four remaining chickens were happy, the Bantams had finally started to accept them-as long as the younger ones remembered who got to eat first. We were lulled into a false sense of security as the two dogs down the street had been successfully kept off our property.
Then once again, we were missing chickens-this time it was two, a Buff and a RIR. No sign of them anywhere, no feathers, nothing. And again in broad daylight. Disheartened by this last attack, we decided we could no longer wait to fence in what was left of the flock.
This spring, I’m looking forward to heading back to the store to pick out our new chicks and watch as they change from little puffs to full grown chickens, safe within their fenced in area. We’ll let them out when we’re home, so they will have time to scour the gardens for bugs and weed seeds, but when we’re away, we’ll be happy to know they are safe and secure where no predator will sneak away with them.

Violet Stone

Violet Stone

Violet is the coordinator of the Baskets to Pallets project, which seeks to prepare small and mid-sized farmers to enter intermediated market channels such as food hubs, groceries, schools and cooperatives.  She also serves as the NY SARE Coordinator and can help farmers and educators navigate NESARE grant opportunities.
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