Friday, June 25, 2010

Massacre!

Ah, Summer. Lazy, sun-dappled days, marble-sized apples waving on deep green, breeze-tossed branches. Summer is finding shapes in high cumulus clouds, cookouts and creamie stands. It's watching those spring babies come into their own.

At least that's what you hope for.

But on Maggie's Farm, summer 2010 is more like a horror movie... a chicken horror movie. Something has been picking off those aforementioned spring babies left and right.

It started with the youngest chicks-- barely past fuzzy stage. We noticed a few of the brood were missing. Okay, we thought, chicks are fragile. Anything could have happened.

Then came a morning when we found the bodies of six young chickens scattered about the barnyard like windblown socks off the line.

We eyed adolescent pup Milo with suspicion. After all, he showed some interest in the fuzzies.... Milo spent a few days on a long leash, the words "NO! LEAVE IT!" raining down when he so much as looked at the birds.

But then the Mama hen, Pearl, disappeared. And, having fled, tail between his legs, from Pearl's defensive onslaughts, Milo wasn't a likely suspect in that particular murder.

Luka, for all her difficult traits, is gentle with the livestock, keeping a protective eye on her flock as any self-respecting sheepdog must.
So she's not a likely candidate. And Maggie-- after the infamous guinea massacre-- has figured out that herding does not generally involve teeth. (You can teach an old dog new tricks after all.)
So the terror was not homegrown.

Once the fuzzies (and mama) were out of the way, the adolescents started disappearing. Nearly full grown, this crowd hung out at the edge of the woods, far from the coop and the mature flock. We'd been offering them up to friends and neighbors there were so many of them!

... and then there weren't.

And now it appears ALL but two or three of them have disappeared. Whatever is taking them it's quick, bold. And super hungry.

We think it might be a hawk-- Dan found a hawk over a few chicken bodies in the woods-- but then today, I made a gristly discovery: a half eaten chicken up against the fence right beside the barn. I'll spare you the gristly details, but I don't think a hawk would hang around long enough to eat THAT much.

Most of the usual suspects-- foxes, racoons, fishers-- are nocturnal. But the massacres seem to occur in daylight, broad daylight. When the guinea hens start up their ear-shattering warning calls, I run out to check but its always too late. Another chick has bitten the dust.


So what the heck is it? And how do we remove it?

I suppose we're lucky it's taken the predators six blissful, free-ranging summers to figure out we had fresh meat on the wing, but this is little consolation.

We have two new hatches today-- brand new fuzzies still in the nest-- and it'd be nice if they could make it through this brutal, blood-drenched chicken-graveyard of a summer.



4 comments:

Lisa said...

Over the winter we lost a chicken to a hawk. He emptied the chicken and left a chicken case and that was pretty much it. Our coop is 25 feet from our back door and we have 3 great danes. One of which alerted my husband to look out the window where it was discovered.
hawk included.

He flew away but he comes back and the alert goes out and the chickens go running. Are you sure it isnt a hawk or hawks?

We are in Southern NH.

P said...

Hi Lisa,

Great to hear from you. I really enjoy your blog!

I found the last body crammed between the fence and a wooden pallet-- just one leg and thigh and a lot of feathers. It seemed un-hawklike to me. Maybe there are several predators out to get us this year(?)

One of our roosters also lost it's tail to an attack-- and he's a big guy!

Robin said...

That is awful. I hope you can find out what is doing it.

Nina said...

Our animal control officer told me last week that foxes will hunt in the daylight if they have kits to feed. We have seen a fox walk through the yard during the day a few times last week. We don't have chickens to worry about but the rabbit & squirrel population has noticeably shrunk in the last week or so. We are on the Southcoast of MA.