A couple of months ago, I dreamed my flock was destroyed. I bolted upright out of bed, fuming mad at those (!@*$) darn raccoons… and then, in a fog, realized it was just a dream. The coop in my dream was the wrong one–it was from a house we lived in years ago. The chickens were from our original flock… And, we’d recently predator-proofed our run. I reassured myself everything was fine, and after some time, fell back asleep.
A few days later, Derek and I were up late, talking, with the windows open. Around 11 pm we heard a squawk. Any chicken owner will tell you that an 11 pm squawk is a BAD thing. We ran out there to find not one but three raccoons. One had made its way inside our reinforced “predator-proof” run (ha, ha, joke’s on us), and nabbed—of course—our daughters’ favorite chicken, “Piano,” the bantam Cochin.
The others, presumably, were waiting for their chance to pull her bits through the chicken wire.
We scared the raccoons away, buried our friend Piano, found the spot where they’d gotten in to the run, reinforced it with more zip ties, closed the door from the coop to the run, just in case… And our nightmare was over. So we thought.
Around 4:00 pm the next day, while pounding away on our respective keyboards, we saw one chicken cross the road. Literally. As everyone knows, chickens DON’T do that, especially on a busy road like ours. They’re far too smart for that. We should have immediately recognized that something was wrong, but instead figured we’d have some chicken-herding to do that night, shrugged our shoulders, and kept on working. (In eight years of keeping chickens, we’ve never lost a chicken to a daytime attack, so please forgive our being slow to catch on.)
An hour later, Derek went out to collect eggs. He found a bloodbath. Mangled corpses strewn about. Piles of feathers all over the place.
My nightmare come true: raccoons killed my chickens.
Final tally: eleven chickens out of thirty-one killed.
The very worst part is that the raccoons took *all four* of our aunt’s birds, who we were taking care of temporarily. They were the friendliest, most tame birds we’d ever had the pleasure of caring for. (No doubt Auntie’s love and daily offering of freshly cut grapes had something to do with that.) She had entrusted them to us, and we let her down. It took us several days to even gather the courage to tell her. (She took the news well, like the classy woman she is–and hid her devastation from us.)
Our best guess: those three raccoons were TICKED that we stole their kill from them, woke up early, and tag-teamed to kill as many chickens as possible. We figure it had to be teamwork, because a few years back, a single raccoon chased our chickens around in the late afternoon, but it was too slow to catch them single-handedly.
The thing that makes me the angriest about raccoons is they kill as many chickens as they can—many more than they could possibly eat—before taking off. Birds of prey take just one. Most foxes will take one chicken and run for it. Skunks and opossums tend to take one at a time, too, in our experience. But raccoons kill wantonly.
We’ve found out where the raccoons enter our yard—see the hole in the undergrowth above the stone wall? I’m a 20-year vegetarian, and a pacifist, too, but I’ve fantasized plenty about buying an automatic weapon and doing away with those creeps.
Losing a whole bunch of chickens served to remind us that there’s more we can be doing to protect our flock. We plan to add electric wire toward the top of our run plus an automatic chicken door, so their safety doesn’t hinge on us remembering to close them in right at dusk, when most nocturnal predators start becoming active. Neither of these measures will protect against a tag-team daytime attack, but they’ll give us peace of mind. We want the best of both worlds for our chickens: freedom to roam and protection against predators.
While nothing short of full-time confinement would provide complete protection, we don’t have the heart to do that. They love free-ranging so very much… Instead, we kept the remaining girls in the run for a week or so, and now only let them out to roam four or five times a week. This balance suits us. I know many of you would make a different choice, as did MPC’s Shannon.
What would you do? What do you do to protect your flock?