Home kills. And then there were eleven.

Eleven.

Readers of the Heedley’s Hens Facebook page will know that we had a terrible loss Monday night. The Man and I were visiting family and friends in Canada, and Chicken Debbie was staying at our house, looking after Sergeant, the cats, and the chickens.

I received a text on Tuesday that there had been a terrible sight greeting Debbie that morning, when she opened the coop door: three of our chickens were dead, killed by a predator. She told us she felt it was a weasel, given the state of the bodies.

It was horrible to be away in that moment, as you might imagine. I had no idea which of the hens, specifically, had died, as Debbie could only give me the breeds: two Plymouth Barred Rocks and one Silver Laced Wyandotte. I was grieving and guilty, but I was also terrified; we weren’t to leave until Wednesday…what if the predator came back Tuesday night, as well, before we had a chance to find the point of entrance?

Debbie reported that the remaining eleven girls had made it safely through Tuesday night, all praise be to The Great Chicken, and The Man and I returned home yesterday, as planned. I went into the coop expecting to find a crime scene in need of a cleaner, only to find it looking…perfectly normal. No blood. A few feathers.

I cannot tell you how I felt knowing that we had lost chickens, not to illness, not to a car or an accident, not even to an outdoor predator, but in their coop, their home, where they should be safe, while they were asleep, helpless and trapped. I felt sick.

We tightened up the coop with the daylight hours we had left last night, but, honestly, there wasn’t much to tighten. We’re still not sure how he got in. We set out a couple of rat traps last night; this morning, one was untouched, and the other had been sprung, the bait taken, the thief nowhere to be seen. We will be bringing in the weasel trap boxes tonight, loaded with fresh chicken livers.

Early this morning, I steeled myself to deal with the bodies. Debbie had placed them in a large black garbage bag, inside the courtyard. We will be burying them when the ground allows, and I wanted to wrap them, individually, for burial. More even that that, I wanted to look at them, to not turn my eyes from what had happened to my girls. More and more, this becomes my most important mandate.

They looked…asleep. There is very little damage: a few feathers missing at the neck. For reasons I can’t quite explain, I took photos, maybe to have in case The Stepdaughters wanted to know. I am attaching them here, in the smallest size wordpress allows, so as to not upset anyone. If you want to know more, you can click on them to enlarge.

photo 1 photo 2photo 3

From left to right, we lost Abby, Maisie, and Dorothy. Abby and Maisie were 1.0, and Dorothy was one of 2.0’s “good girls”. Their loss is difficult to bear. Abby was my superstar layer, and my last known broody. She will be sorely missed. Maisie was her breed sister, with her curved toes, long, skinny eggs, and flappiness. Dorothy laid late, but eventually turned out marvelous snowglobe extra-large eggs, almost daily. She was three weeks shy of her first birthday.

I wrapped each of them in one my dad’s old shirts, brought home yesterday as protective wrapping for a sculpture he gifted me. I find it comforting that they will go to their rest wrapped in his figurative arms. That will have to wait for softer ground.

The revised count is heartbreaking. From my original eleven 1.0 girls (after Jack was rehomed), I now have only six. I feel their losses more than I do those of 2.0, which is not something I’m proud of. One thing I have determined: I cannot continue to keep them all in the chicken graveyard. Not only do I have three chickens to bury, I also have five headstones to paint, and that’s not the worst of it. The worst of it is that a graveyard containing all the chickens we lose will be a constant, daily reminder of loss, one that I’m not sure I can bear.

I’ve decided that, going forward, only 1.0s (or others particularly are close to my heart) will be buried; others will be cremated.

These are the risks we assume when we have chickens. I know that. Doesn’t mean it doesn’t suck.

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16 thoughts on “Home kills. And then there were eleven.

  1. *sigh*

    Such a difficult post to make, I know. I am really going to miss Abby.. She had wattles that will never be forgotten. <3

    The weasels drink the blood which is what it appears to look like in the pictures.
    "Damage and Damage Identification

    Occasionally weasels raid poultry houses at night and kill or injure domestic fowl. They feed on the warm blood of victims bitten in the head or neck. Rat predation on poultry usually differs in that portions of the body may be eaten and carcasses dragged into holes or concealed locations."

    • Thanks for the info. It may help to know that the wattles you have always admired have been Coraline’s, and she survived.

      • You’re right; that was Abby. She and Coraline had/have the biggest combs/wattles; Coraline’s folds over to her right; Abby’s folded over to her left. I think, as impressive as Abby’s might have been, that Coraline’s are even a bit bigger.

      • Both of your girls had bigger combs/wattles than two of my barred rock boys.

        Coraline must be a good layer as well than.

      • She is. As they were hatchery birds, I have no doubt there were some hybrid shenanigans.

      • Do you know which hatchery they came from?

        I wouldn’t mind having some like them amongst my red sex links for layers. I’m really surprised none of them suffered frost bite even a little. Not even their wattles.. I had a couple boys who had some frost bite from dipping their wattles in the water.. Oh wait.. You have nipple drinkers. Yet another reason to install one.. How do yours do in the winter for freezing? The water nipples I mean…

      • I think Coraline did have a little frostbite; she had white tips on her comb. 1.0 came from Cackle Hatchery.

        And my girls don’t use nipples in the winter, for obvious reasons, so Coraline was dipping her big wattles in a water dish.

  2. I’m sorry. It is never easy, is it? We have two chickens left from our first flock. I think it would devestate me if either of them were killed. We only have one left from our second round. The batch that just turned one I have tried not to become as attached to.

      • Well, at least with goats I’d think they will be safer from the small predators like weasels, skunks, rats, raccoons, and possums. I’d be more worried about dogs running free. I know of a farmer here that keeps an Alpaca in with her birds. Apparently it scares off a lot of things, including coyotes. Not that I’m advocating you get a guard Alpaca… Maybe some guard geese though.

      • Well, we have one horse now, are getting another, as well as goats and a flock of turkeys…that should do it! Oh, and have an electric fence. PHEW!

  3. Oh, I am so, so sorry. I understand that agony and guilt of being away, unable to do anything, too well. Last summer, on the first day of our only vacation, three of our four chickens (our very first girls, raised from day-olds) succumbed to the first super hot temperatures of a long, hot summer. Our friends discovered them less than 24 hours after we boarded an airplane. It was awful.

    I’m very sorry. There are so many emotions wrapped up in such losses.

    • Oh, how awful. I can’t even imagine how you must have felt. It’s not just that you love them, it’s that you are RESPONSIBLE for them. That’s the part that gets me…

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