Little Mayhem on the Prairie OR Don’t Do What I Did
This is a horrible story, the kind of thing you want to never happen.
I read a book once called Urban Homesteading and when I got to the chicken part, the author [that would be me] says, most emphatically, “Don’t get an animal if you can’t provide a safe home for it” and “You must have a predator proof cage.” She says it over and over, actually, and now I know why. Raccoons are smarter than you think.
Here’s how it went: I spent a lot of timing emailing with a woman who lived in a near-by town about getting some chickens. I was looking for chicks that weren’t too little—I didn’t want to raise them from day olds—but young enough that we could watch them grow and come into their laying behaviors this spring.
I drove to American Canyon, a small unattractive outpost of Vallejo, to get the chicks. The signs in front of the house said “Fresh Eggs for Sale” and “Proud Military Family.” The woman I’d been emailing, a midwife just home from an all night shift, was a chicken lover extraordinaire. Her set up was beautiful – the hens had their place, and the newer chicks had their place and there was chicken poo and food scraps everywhere.
Empty garden beds. She looked like an urban homesteader to me. I wanted to give her a copy of the book, but I’ve been having some run-ins with the right wing (hate the book – think it’s too liberal, tells them they can’t believe in capitalism or a free market economy, yada yada yada) and I found myself hesitant to offer it to her. I may have been making an assumption, right? Military = right wing? I just held onto the book while we selected the chickens from her fine coop.
$20 later I had my 4 new chicks – 2 Brahmas, 1 Buff Orphington, and 1 black Australorp. They were going to add color and diversity to my flock. I was psyched. Add that to the fact that the American Canyon visit was stacked with a visit somewhere else, which was saving me gas and time, and I felt like a regular Hero of the Sustainability Revolution.
That didn’t last long.
When my daughter got home, we set up a hutch for the little ones so they could have a little separation from the rest of the flock while everyone got used to one another. This is recommended, especially when the birds are small – the pecking order is a real thing, and we wanted to protect the new girls til they were big enough to defend themselves. We put the cage up on bricks, tucked it under the main chicken coop and covered it for the night. All good, right?
In the morning, my daughter joyfully jumped out of bed to check on the chickens. She came back horrified, her voice choking, saying, “They’re dead Mommy, they’re dead! They aren’t even there!” It was so outside my expectation that I thought she was joking, but she insisted, white-faced, that the chickens were dead. I went out to check, and sure enough, three of the birds had been obliterated – there was a little bit of feathers and some blood, but it seemed like they’d literally been evaporated – and the survivor was bleeding from her beak and neck, deep in shock. Chicken Holocaust. Little Mayhem on the Prairie. Omigod.
I felt terrible. I thought I had secured them. In fact, I had – the cage wasn’t open, but the crafty raccoons had obviously found a way to reach in, grab the chickens, and eat them piece by piece. Which is really too gross to even contemplate, but hard not to think about when you see the leavings – a little patch of chicken feathers, some blood and gore.
Later that day, we killed the fourth chicken to put her out of her suffering -– this was no picnic either, but surely the right thing to do. Can you imagine surviving the death of all your sisters, bite by bite, and bleeding all the while afterwards? My partner said a prayer over her and we asked for forgiveness.
Take it seriously – predator proof the cage. Do everything you can to keep raccoons, possums, weasels and fox away from your chickens. They are vulnerable and defenseless, and as we know, tasty.
Don’t Be Like Me. Be Smart with Your Chicks. They need your protection. Don’t bring them home til you know you can keep them safe.