Now I’ve gone and done it. I’ve jinxed my hens. After introducing our girls, doesn’t it gosh-darn figure that once I write about them in detail, they start getting picked off, one by one?
Granted, we have lost five hens over the past three years to predators (six if you count the teenagers that chicken-napped Roaster) as explained in Chicken Shit and Eggs. But a whole new world of carnage has befallen our chickens over the past week. Four, four have been eliminated, consecutively over the past few days.
We bought our house and the land surrounding it over three years ago. It was a foreclosed home, and we got one hell of a deal. The guy who owned it prior to the bank had raised a hog for slaughter, so there was already an established hog shed and enclosure. After deciding that we wanted to raise chickens, it was as simple as converting the hog shed into a chicken shed, and reinforcing the already erected fence.
Over the past couple of years, however, the fence has taken a beating by our always-changing Illinois weather, and the original log posts have slowly deteriorated, pulling the fence down around them. Last weekend, my husband and I decided it was due time to replace the fence around the chicken shed, so we spent two days ripping the approximately 100 foot long fencing down. It was tiring work, and took a lot longer, and a lot more beer, than anticipated.
A usual day in the life of one of our chickens is so: if no one is home during the day because of school/work, the chicken shed door is opened around 6:00 a.m., and the hens are allowed to roam around the chicken “playground”, until my oldest gets home from school, who then lets them out to range. If the family is home, we usually just let them free range all day long. When we didn’t get the new fence up by last weekend, my husband and I didn’t really think anything about letting them roam over the next few days, even though we were going to be at work.
Monday afternoon… I get a call at work from my frantic daughter. Two chickens are missing!! Kit-Kat and Blue are nowhere to be seen. The 17-year old thinks she remembers seeing them at 6:00 a.m. when she let them out before school, but her attention to detail has been a little “off” and her head has been in the clouds since her new relationship with some boy named Aiden (more on that on a later post).
Tuesday morning…. I get an enthusiastic call from the 17-year old again. She just spotted Blue walking on the driveway! She darted off before Alaina was able to corral her towards the back yard and the chicken coop, however. We are hopeful that perhaps the girls wandered over to the neighbors coop and decided to roost with them.
Tuesday afternoon… Another panicky call from the daughter. This time Chrome has turned up missing after a day of free-ranging, and no sign of Kit-Kat or Blue. After I get home from work, Alaina, Jameson and I decide to spy on the neighbor’s coop for a bit, to see if our girls have been taken. We lay on the hillside, with a pair of binoculars and watch. Passing the binoculars back and forth between my children, I prepare the statement to the neighbors in my head: “I don’t know who you are. I don’t know what you want. If you are looking for ransom, I can tell you I don’t have any money. But what I do have is a very particular set of skills I have acquired over a very long career. Skills that make me a nightmare for people like you. If you let my chickens go now, that’ll be the end of it. I will not look for you. I will not pursue you. But if you don’t, I will –“. “Mom,” the 8-year old interrupts my train of thought. “I don’t think those are our chickens. They are all white and brown.” We retreat down the hill and decide as a family that it would be best to not let the hens range until after someone is home in the afternoon.
Wednesday afternoon…. The phone rings at my desk; the 17-year old is hysterical and the 8-year old is yelling in the background. “Mom!! I saw it; I saw a fox grab Peep!!” I question my daughter. As brilliant as she is, in the past she has confused a cat for a raccoon, a beaver for a groundhog, and a dog for a coyote. “Are you sure it was a fox?” “Yes, Mom, I waited until I got home from school and let them out this afternoon, and I just happened to look out the window a few minutes later, and I see Peep, and I was all, that’s not Peep, wait, it is Peep but what is, like wrong with Peep, and this thing, this fox had Peep in its mouth – it had a red face and beady eyes and a tail, that was like, bushy, and I ran out after it, but it was, like, really fast and it ran into the woods and there were feathers! Oh Mom!!!!” Sure enough, there were two piles of feathers; one, where Peep was initially grabbed and she fought back, the second where the jaws of death had snatched her life. We decided, once again as a family, that as inhumane as keeping the hens in their coop all day was, they would be better off than running the risk of their untimely death. My husband, who happened to see the fox himself, which solidified Alaina’s story, set out a raccoon trap, with get this, a frozen chicken breast as a lure.
Thursday evening… No more dead chickens, but no fox in the trap either. It was not a bit surprising to me that the meat-sicle didn’t entice a predator…. Earlier that day at work, my husband talked with an Entomologist (a.k.a. exterminator) that explained that once a fox tastes blood, he will keep going back, until one by one, all of our chickens are dead. My husband explained that, according to this dude, the best type of trap is a sort of leg-hold trap that snaps the poor little guy’s leg, holding him until the trapper can put the fox out of his misery. I can see only one of three possibilities with this type of scenario: (a) Alaina gets her foot caught in the trap, (b) Jameson gets his foot caught in the trap, or (c) my husband gets his hand/arm caught setting up the trap. Plus, even though this fox has been the presumed murderer of four of our chickens, they are kinda cute, and I don’t know if anyone in my family could be callous enough to end its life. Okay, maybe my husband would…. He has been itching to try out the new scope on his .22 rifle.
This weekend’s plans include finishing the chicken playground, so my girls have a safe haven during the day, and setting up the raccoon trap, with something other than a meat-sicle as bait. I would love to hear anyone else’s fox deterrent method(s). I read somewhere that male human urine is a deterrent for predators. My 8-year old son was ecstatic to hear about this preventative measure, and has taken the opportunity to piss all around the chicken coop as often as he can. We will be mid-dinner when James will jump up, declare he has to go to the “bathroom”, and run outside to the coop. Watching out the window, we will see him drop his pants around his ankles, his little 8-year old bare butt out for the world to see, and do a little dance, spraying urine all around. Maybe it is working, I don’t know. I don’t have the heart to enforce our normal dinner etiquette when we have chickens dying. We haven’t had any attacks since these urine festivals. Until we get the fence up, I guess I will allow these little redneck pee parties to continue.