A Hard Lesson

This week, we learned a very important lesson of farming and animal care. Our animals are dependent on us to keep them secure and safe from predators. Last time I posted, I showed a picture of the makeshift pens we used to separate roosters to fatten them up for slaughter. The base cage was made out of 3 of our left over potato cages made with 1″ by 2″ welded wire. We kept the roosters in by covering the cages in snow fencing. While the welded wire would keep the roosters in, it isn’t predator proof. To make it more predator proof, we would encircle the three cages with 1/4″ hardware cloth. However, there were a couple of times that we forgot to keep the cages encircled in the hardware cloth.

Sunday morning, Grace saw the roosters moving around in their cages before she left for church. After we returned from church, Matthew found one of the roosters missing entirely (except for some feathers next to the cage) and a second rooster has been 3/4ths eaten.  I felt sick. It was my fault that the birds were exposed and vulnerable. I felt even worse because we had plenty of warning. Over the previous week, we had seen multiple signs of raccoon incursion on our property. As seen in the previous post, a raccoon broke my feather drying rack. The raccoon also got into the cat litter and food bags we were keeping on the porch (not a good idea, I know) and the electrolyte supplements my mom has for her horses. Needless to say, this raccoon had gotten way too habituated to ransacking human habitations and had figured out we had a tasty source of live meat. So we set up a live trap and baited it with the what remained of the second rooster.

We also planned to get up extra early the next day and move the electric poultry netting for the hens. The ditch behind my parents’ place was really good  as far as forage for the chickens, but it was out of the way and the wire was grounded out from going up and down multiple hills. No matter what we tried, we couldn’t get the fence well charged in that terrain.

I woke up around 5:45 am Monday morning and couldn’t get back to sleep. It was light enough, so I went outside to start moving the hen’s paddock and I found the live trap was tripped. Inside, was a raccoon. It had returned for seconds. We had to euthanize the animal for several reasons. 1) Relocating the raccoon often leads to the raccoon dying of starvation because it doesn’t know where to find food. 2) We couldn’t just release it back onto our property because it was a danger to our birds and could eventually pose a risk to humans and other animals on the property (rabies, biting, etc.). Since we took care of this one animal, we haven’t had any issues. We will probably be setting up several traps around the property so we can remove any other predators that make a habit of coming in too close.

coon

Even though we caught the raccoon, we still moved the chickens to a “flatter” area. By flatter, I mean a hill side that is close to being a similarly graded slope the whole length. The hens LOVE that I included an ash pit where my parents had burned some brush. Anytime it dries out, you can find the hens scratching and bathing in it.

Wood Ash

Earlier this week, we also added a new addition into the hen’s run. We moved Mama and her babies up into the run. The babies are still too small to be contained by the electric poultry netting so we still have them and Mama in the 5′ x 5′ run.

Run uphill view

Since the chicks were about 3 weeks old, Mama had been regularly pacing the fence, and clucking at us any time we walked past, she also has gotten really easy to handle and downright friendly with people. She had also started laying eggs again. On the morning the chicks turned 4 weeks old, I went to open the run to check on their feed situation and Mama tried to make an escape from the run. I figured that she was done with the chicks and wanted to get back with the other hens. A bit sad, I tested my theory. I picked her up and put her inside the run with the other hens. Within 10 seconds, Alfredo jumped on and mated with her. She got up and pranced off to explore the run. I thought “Well, that’s it, she’s done with her babies.” However, about 15 min later I came back outside to see Mama pacing the side of the fence closest to her babies and making her “come here” call to them. Then it dawned on me, she wanted to take her babies back to the flock. So I put all her babies in the tote and brought them up to her. On my way up, I slipped on the hill and jostled them, which made them cheep. Mama tried to come see what was wrong and shocked herself on the fence. She hadn’t had to deal with the electric fence before she was already sitting on the eggs when the fence arrived. Once I got her pen set back up and let her babies back out she was quite content to take her motherly duties back over and started showing them how to scratch around in the taller grass and weeds.

Brooding pen in run

Besides keeping the tiny chicks from slipping through the fence, this is also a good way to introduce the chicks to the flock while keeping them safe from predators, which includes the other chickens. Within an hour of moving them, I looked outside and saw Red (our RIR/Dom cross) challenging Mama through the fence. As I watched, Red kept trying to peck at the chicks through the wire and Mama would push herself between Red and the chick while trying to attack Red through the wire. Alfredo didn’t quite know what to do and stood by watching two of his hens duke it out. In the end, Red back off and I haven’t seen her go after the chicks since.

Mama vs Red

We also definitely need to slaughter a few Roosters this week. Because of the all the reworking of the chicken living arrangements, and the shock of loosing two of the birds we were going to slaughter, we decided to put the surviving rooster back with the other roosters. We banded him with a red zip-tie so we would know who should be on the next “cull” list. He has definitely proved to be up to his old tricks again. He has been guarding the food and terrorizing the other roosters so that they stay in the coop all the time. He is definitely on the list for tomorrow.

Meanie Roo

Earlier today, I pulled all the roosters out of the coop so they would have a chance to get some food and water. One of them was so terrified that he jumped off my back and escaped from the run. When we caught him and put him back, the other roosters started attacking him 2 and 3 at a time. So I pulled him out again. He is one of the two remaining birds that I marked as the 4 heaviest. However, he has since gotten very thin. So I moved him in with Molasses and his little buddies to see how they would do. Molasses was not happy to see him, but after making sure his position as head honcho of this run wouldn’t be challenged, they came to an uneasy truce. This rooster also seemed to be ignoring the chicks and the chicks were just staying out of his way. Since things seemed to be going well, we decided to call this rooster Butterscotch.

Butterscotch N Molasses

However, when Matthew went to refill their feed for the night, a Delaware chick came into the coop where Butterscotch was hanging out by himself and Butterscotch viciously attacked the chick. Matthew went in to try to break up the fight and Butterscotch flew out the door that Matthew left open in his haste to save the chick. We were able to trap him inside the grow-out coop that we are currently not using and decided to leave him there for the night. We have now decided to change his name to Butterball. Our current plan is to move Molasses and the chicks out on pasture in the new length of PoultryNet that we received earlier this week and we will move Butterball and 1-2 hens into the stationary coop to assess how he treats hens. Until he attacked the chick, we were seriously considering him as a nominee for our Buff breeding rooster because he seemed to be conflict adverse, but we are now going to watch him closely and see how he does with the hens as we fatten him back up.

 

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