After nine years of chicken husbandry we had our first predatory fatality. Over the years, we’ve lost chickens to old age and disease, but we’ve been lucky. We once had a possum take up residence in the coop, but it was mostly interested in the chicken food and warm, dry space. Last spring we had a racoon rip into the temporary coop walls and try to pull out one of our hens. Of course we were out of town at the time and our intrepid neighbors heard the squawking and saved the day, scaring away the ‘coon, reinforcing the walls, and nursing one of the hens back to health.
On Sunday we were out painting the garage when we heard alarm squawking. The flock is adjusting to new additions, including a few roosters, so this isn’t completely out of the ordinary, but this seemed louder. As I walked back to the coop, a large red-tailed hawk took off from our large pine tree. I thought it had just been menacing the girls, so I helped gather them back up as they had scattered once they noticed the hawk.
That night when I went to close up the coop, only nine chickens were present and accounted for. A quick walk around the yard revealed a dead and dismembered chicken. Apparently I interrupted the hawk’s lunch instead of getting there in time.
The next morning I went to open the coop with plans to put Casey the guard dog in the chicken area for the day to help deter any hawk attacks. But as I walked away from the coop, I heard loud squawking again and saw the hawk in the trees above, glowering down at the flock (I assume it was a glower, but it could have been anticipation).
I quickly shooed them back into their coop. They had been out in a large area of the rear garden, but that was clearly not safe for them while this hawk around. I used a UV mesh cover from the greenhouse to cover the smaller chicken yard and then let them out into it. They’d much rather have more space, but part of keeping chickens is knowing that their temporary consternation with me is better than losing more to the hawk.
RIP Judy Garland
The victim of this attack was Judy Garland. A 2-year-old Swedish flower hen. I’d been taken by this breed because of its coloring, winter hardiness, and dual purpose (meat and eggs), as well as easy temperament. We bought two last year. One ended up being a rooster (Tom Petty). He was pretty! But he got blackhead (a rare disease more common in turkeys) and died last year. And now with the loss of Judy, we are without Swedish flower hens. Judy was on the low end of the pecking order until we added five new chicks this spring. She was still the lowest-ranking adult. I had seen her mating with our new rooster and I was excited about the possibility of her raising chicks next year, but it wasn’t meant to be. She is survived by her nine roostmates.