There will be no photos, however some of the details will be appropriately graphic.
In the absence of our wonderful mama hen, Henny Penny we were forced to resort to raising up a brood of chicks ourselves. We purchased half a dozen of each Araucana and RSL day old’s from the local Agway. For the first few weeks (while they were still cute and fluffy) they lived in a crate in the office. About three weeks ago we began taking them out in the yard in a small enclosed pen. It was only about a fortnight since we moved them full time into the hen house in the barn with their own crate and warming light…oh the sorrow of motherless children. Each day we would bring them into the moveable crate in the yard for sunshine and fresh air. I must say that without a mama to show them the ropes, they were none to quick to pick up hunt for bugs.
Yesterday was a fine day, after the morning dross burned off. So we moved the kids out to their yard and proceeded with the day. As usual, I would peek in on them from time to time…listening to their peeping and watch them jumping up onto the roosting limb and flying off. The crate we were using was a large flexible metal panel pen that can change shape/size depending on how it is placed. It had an open top and was easy to use. To provide some shade for the chicks we placed two of the patio chairs up near the crate to cast a shadow. I checked the water and food then ran off to the gym and to run an errand. When I returned it was a bit later than planned so I went directly outside to start the grill…it was way too quiet.
I went over to the crate and there lay all the chicks save two. It is unclear if the two were eaten on the spot or carted off. Several of the chicks were missing their heads only. A few looked un-mauled, as if they simply died of fright. There was a great pile of feathers on the ground and some scattered about halfway up the crate wall (a climber?). We ruled out raccoon since it was broad daylight. Foxes although a possibility seem unlikely since there were so many left behind. Fox are very smart and I can’t imagine one leaving that much food on the ground. I’ve seen my cats eat mice and they usually always start with the head, which is why I’m thinking ‘cat’.
Our best guess is that it was either a feral cat or, less likely a bird of prey. The crate, although large for chicks and open on top, would have been an awkward target for a bird. The placement of the chairs could have given advantage to a cat, as the crate walls are about 3.5 feet high. Sigh. We knew that raising chicks without a mama hen would not be a simple matter. Henny Penny never lost a single babe. A light bulb is a poor substitute for a wise and loving mama.
So the terror the poor things faced in the end was probably extreme. Woe to the last chick to fall. We also noticed our poodle pup was beside himself. It is very likely that he was witness to the destruction and was stuck in the house unable to protect with anything more than a bark. He was a disconsolate and came outside to lay by the crate. The remainder of the evening he ran around the yard barking and growling low in his chest. All in all, a bummer of a day.
Have you ever raised up a brood of chicks without a mama hen to supervise the job? We have had many many years of predator free chickens. I know it’s not common I know folks do it but I don’t think we will venture into that fray any time too soon again.