I went out this morning for my regular chore routine, which involves:
This amounts to a whole 10 minutes worth of “work”, so you can see I’ve got it pretty tough.
But then I checked the egg refrigerator and noticed that the eggs weren’t collected last night. That happens a lot when I work my two evenings at Atwood. It’s no big deal–really–it just means that I have to stick my arm under hens that are laying today’s eggs in order to collect yesterday’s eggs. Understandably, this doesn’t make the hens too happy. They squawk at me, fluff their feathers up all big and poofy, and once in awhile a real grumpy one will peck at my hand. Hen pecks don’t feel too good, so I’ve learned to hold their heads in one hand while fetching eggs with the other.
Well, as I walked with my egg basket into the dark corner of the barn where the nests are, I noticed a hen cowering on the floor. Her head was all bloody and she was looking pretty beat up. Oh no. She was injured badly enough that I knew it wasn’t just a pecking order injury–she had been attacked by something. And when something gets into our barn it’s usually one of three animals: a raccoon, an opossum, or a skunk.
Raccoons kill lots of chickens in one night. We’ve had raccoon attacks that wiped out 20 birds in one fell swoop. The most frustrating part is that they eat only the chicken’s brains and neck. They like the blood, not the meat, and so waste the rest of the carcass.
Opossums will kill only one or two chickens at a time because they will tend to sit and eat the meat. They are also a lot dumber, and don’t leave the barn once daytime rolls around. Instead they find a dark corner to hang in, where inevitably they meet their demise at the hands of a few unnamed farmers. Ahem.
Skunks usually go for the eggs first, although they’ll take a chicken if it’s conveniently in the way. I can usually tell if one’s around before I walk into the barn because of their signature perfume, but I have had 2 really close calls with skunks in my barn. I consider myself very lucky, because a skunk can accurately hit a target up to 12′ away. Yikes.
Obviously we don’t want any predation on our hens, but we’d prefer an opossum or even a skunk over a raccoon anyday. When I found that bloodied hen, however, my heart sank. Her head was bloodied, her body perfectly fine. It must have been a raccoon. Which means there will be other casualties.
I walked slowly around the barn and found 4 more hen carcasses. Four large, healthy, young hens…lost. And another dying.
That’s the type of week I’ve been having. A long, crappy, frustratingly bad week. What next?