trouble in the barnyard

I was just telling Jenny at Ironwood Farm that since we got our livestock guardian dog, Thistle, we haven’t had any predator problems in the barnyard.

that is, until last night.

went out to do evening chores last night, and found one of our young chickens wedged between the two nesting boxes, dead. she had apparently stuffed herself back in there in an attempt to escape whatever got her. her back end was badly torn up, tail feathers gone, chunks of meat missing down the sides of her rear, and she was quite bloody, which of course prompted the other chickens to peck at her. another hen was also torn up, but alive and kicking (and hard to catch). she is missing tail feathers but does not look badly bitten.

we found four or five possible animal entrance routes, all of them small. three were inside the barnyard, on the east side of the chicken coop. holes dug through the berming, down under the fence. if something came in that way, it was small; the holes were small. raccoon, skunk? where was Thistle? another gap on the north side was about the same size, but didn’t look disturbed or dug at in any way. and there’s another hole under the fence on the west side, clearly dug at, again about the same size–maybe softball sized. could a raccoon get through a hole that small? Ironwood’s primary predator problems have been with raccoons going after their hens. they recently acquired a Livestock Guardian Dog to forestall the problem, which was why Alan and i were boasting about Thistle–who has caused one or two problems herself (three that i can clearly recall, actually), but is outgrowing her puppy foolishness and shaping into a very good dog.

So how did this happen, with the dog right there? our current theory is that she was napping, which she mostly does during the day, as she is awake most of the night. if she was sound asleep, and whatever-it-was was pretty quiet, she may not have woken until the chickens set up the alarm themselves. at which point, perhaps she barked and ran towards the coop to scare it, and the thing ran off. it didn’t finish eating the bird, after all, and there was no clear evidence (fur &c) to indicate what exactly it was that got in there. now i need to research predation patterns, and find out whether raccoons and/or skunks will leave their prey like that. a coyote would not, but i’m reasonably sure a coyote would not fit through that hole, either. not and still get back out again. could have been a small dog, i suppose, though the idea seems weird. i wish Thistle could tell us what happened.

when Alan asked for help in the barnyard, the whole house piled out to see what needed doing and do it. i had Rev over, and Alan had Ana over, and Jenny was home, and we all came out. Rev started mending the holes in the berm, placing temporary-but-effective cinderblocks along the fenceline of the coop. Alan and I caught the wounded chicken while Jenny went to get medical supplies, and we treated her backside and put her in a solitary pen. Hens will peck relentlessly at blood; they will absolutely not leave it alone. it’s pretty gory. they are very capable of killing each other when one has a wound like that. so, isolating her will prevent her from being pecked to death, and give her a chance to heal, as long as she herself does not peck the wound. I put the dead bird in the compost after we all examined it to verify, as much as we could, what had happened. We investigated the fenceline and found the gaps and put stuff in the way of them, a temporary fix that we probably have to redo on Saturday. there goes my hiking afternoon, pow. into gutters & cisterns and fence mending. the farm eats everything. it’s that, or take a day off work to do it, but i’m taking two days next week already (one for the farm and one for the solstice), so that’s pushing things.

good thing i’d rather be farming than doing most anything else. :-)