Saturday, February 13, 2010

murder and mayhem

Marauders have been in the chicken yard.

My sister and brother-in-law have been having trouble with the chickens for some time now. The newer (blue egg) hens never did lay as well as the older (brown egg) hens and the older hens pretty much just stopped laying and then the newer hens basically quit laying as well. They were getting 2 or 3 eggs every other day from about two dozen chickens. Or none at all. They seemed to be in continual molt. I mean, there is something seriously wrong when you have two dozen hens you are feeding and still have to go buy eggs.

The whole no egg thing was bad enough and though they had lost an occasional hen now and then (including all Ethyl's little ducklings), the violence started to escalate as the weather got colder. They’ve lost half their hens since winter set in. And Gorgeous George the rooster and poor Ping the duck.

Every three or four days, they would lose a hen. Usually at night. They surmised that they had a coon or a possum living somewhere nearby. Their duck and chicken pens had high fencing but no cover. But now and then they would find evidence in the form of feathers or a carcass during the day.

Then one morning during the arctic blast in January, their two little terriers bolted out of the house at dawn barking madly. Upon investigation they discovered that poor Ping was woefully injured and Ethyl was missing. They brought Ping in afraid he would not recover from his injuries and left for the day. When they got home that afternoon, Ethyl was there waiting for them so they brought Ethyl in too since the water in the pond was frozen over and she had no safe haven from the assailant. The chickens were being closed up in the coop at night.

They acquired a live trap and caught a very large possum which they dispatched immediately. I asked her why they didn't just take it elsewhere and let it go. She said she didn't think it was fair to send their problem to someone else. I can understand that. Country life can be cruel.

Ping was recovering from his injuries and they had started leaving him out at night. One day soon after though, they came home to find Ping dead in the duck yard. Their neighbor behind them has two miniature dachshunds that they surmise have been getting in the chicken yard and doing the killing that occurs during the day, but although they have found places where holes have been dug under the fence, they have never caught them at it. Ping was the last straw. They finally confronted their neighbor and threatened harm to those little dogs if they are caught on the wrong side of the fence.

And poor Ethyl is so traumatized that she stays on the ramp to the pond, ready to swim to safety if need be.

This has been enough for my sister who hasn't lived in the country long enough to be inured to the death of the 'livestock'. So the chicken keeping is over. She'll keep the ones she has until they are gone but she's not replacing the ones already lost.

That means no more fresh eggs for me and no more chicken stories.


  1. That's a shame about the livestock - which sound more like pets. My sister-in-law raised pigs as a young 4-H participant, showed them at the fair, and then commented to dinner guests that they were eating "Suzy." Now, they have a potbelly pig which has been at the center of this suburban family's life for most of two decades. In my burg, more and more urban pioneers are raising chickens in town. I wonder how they keep then safe?

  2. Oh, how sad for everybody. Country life can be way too demanding.

  3. Oh, that's sad. Darn. I loved the chicken stories.

  4. that's tough ellen - as a city-dweller who has on occasion romanticized country life i learn a lot from stories like this about the reality of rural dwellers. have a peaceful evening, steven

  5. We were upset when our next door neighbor's chicken Cluckles went missing - I'm just glad that we never saw any evidence of "fowl" play (I know - terrible). I don't think I could handle the realities of raising livestock - and I KNOW that Dr. M couldn't - so I reckon we'll just continue to drive by the sheep farms & imagine that they're all raised for their wool!

  6. That is a shame! But it is country life. I grew up raising chickens.

  7. That is really awful! To keep losing them is so sad. I can surely understand why she has had enough. I would be heart broken!!

  8. Argh that's such a shame :0( I think it would devastate me...

  9. It's one thing to say, well, even the predators need to eat. But weiner dogs? They're just nasty.

  10. Even for the tough seasoned farmer, where life and death are daily company, it is still very hard to loose stock. We may act tough but it does touch our heart.

    Before I raised miniature horses, if you had told me I would hold a wet from birth still born filly to my chest and scream to the sky, I would have called you a liar.

    Now I know, farming is not easy.
    Never was, never will be. Farmers and ranchers do have hearts and we mourn at each loss completely...we just act tough and don't show it.

    A chicken pen with the wire buried into the ground will avert digging and a top will keep most predators out. Tell your sister to take heart and not to give up. The joy is farming does out weigh the sorrow.

    Have a wonderful day filled with love and laughter and contentment.

  11. The food chain is really a bitch.

    I know I'm part of it, though removed enough to feel above it all. I know I'm not.


  12. I can understand how she feels. That's how we are - modern people. We had a canary that died of natura causes and it felt terrible. And the hamster! Seeing them killed must be so much worse!

    On the other hand, I'm mot a vegetarian, so... I feel like a hypocrit. If we all had to kill what we eat, many more people would be vegetarian, I'm sure.

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  14. I know that I'm a soft-hearted urban dweller, but I'm still sad about the unnecessary death of ducks.

  15. Country living realities are difficult when it comes to insuring the safety of egg makers, bacon makers and wool. So sorry to hear about that- close to home actually- I had a pet pig, she had piglets- I loved every one of them, brought them in and gave them apples. Momma pig died of grief after the neighbor dogs got in and killed every piglet. I won't be doing that again...though pigs are the smartest animals EVER! Sorry for your egg loss...those were beautiful!

  16. How traumatic! I of course am dreaming of doing the same thing, and would definitely be bringing all the birds into covered shelters at night but things apparently can still get at them. I'd be devastated!

    I wonder how they all do so well at Hermann Park (save baby ducklings -- though there was one mother who raised 18 babies from birth all the way by herself in the open) for years and years I see the same ones.

  17. I think there is something about dogs, in a pack mentality, that makes them much more violent than normal.

    We had a mini dachshund and he was do docile. I can't imagine him killing anything (even though he liked to put on a big show when he'd see deer in the field).

    Nevertheless, that's awful. I hate hearing about things like this, although I know it happens all the time, on farms all over the country. It's just sad.

    Sorry there won't be more fresh eggs for you. :(

  18. And now I'm all caught up on the chickens. My gosh - what a saga. I wonder if there's such a thing as a Chicken Whisperer? It seems like one could have been useful through all this.

    Thanks for pointing me to all these entries. They were great!


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