Warning: This is a long post with images of dead animals (not graphic)
The chicken adventures...where do I start this story?
It all began with a dream I have had since I was a little girl.
My grand-parents had chickens. And I knew that someday, when I grew up, I, too, would have chickens. I didn't know I wanted a farm with lots of animals. That came later. I just knew that I loved the sound the rooster made in the mornings and all through-out the day. I loved the gentle cluck of the hen as she scratched the ground. I loved collecting the eggs and holding and petting the hens.
So when it was the right time in my life, we decided to build a hen house.
I will never forget that late winter. Me and my son did most of the work, digging ditches and pounding nails and putting up wire and tin and siding.
Finally, the big day came and we went to the farm store. We were going to have chickens! The children were so excited. Chickens of our very own, in a pen we had made just for them. The dream was finally coming true and our hearts were happy.
Three days after bringing them home, dogs from a neighboring yard came and killed all of the babies, except for one, which we named Blessing. I was so upset. I had not expected that to happen!
We fixed the pen even better before going back to the farm store and getting more babies. This time, we got fifteen and with Blessing, we had a total of sixteen babies. They grew up and began laying eggs for us that fall. Now, we could sit back and reap the benefits of all our hard work and patience and collect eggs all winter.
It was not to be. Slowly, the hens began missing. One night, a hen was just gone. We could not find her anywhere. What had happened?
The next night, another was missing.
Some mysterious creature was taking our hens. It was the only explanation. But there were no feathers on the ground, no blood, no signs of distress. We did not have a roof over our chicken run. It was a five foot tall fence outside the hen house. What could possibly get inside and leave no evidence it had been there? We wracked our brains. A fox was not strong enough to lift a hen over the wire. A coyote would only dig, not climb a tall fence. But there was no evidence of digging. We were truly stumped.
We realized that if we didn't close the door to the henhouse early enough, something would get in around dusk.
One evening, before dusk, my son went down the hill to lock the hens up for the night. He couldn't believe his eyes...he saw a cat standing over a chicken. A big cat, he said. When he told me the size and coloring of the cat, I knew then that it was a bobcat. A bobcat? Around here? We'd heard stories of coyote and you can hear them late at night, off in the distance. But a bobcat was unheard of. Needless to say, the cat saw him and ran off into the weeds.
After locking the hens up every night for weeks on end, before dusk...we had no more casualties. We would let the hens out in the morning and feed them. Eventually, the cat outwitted us again. As we would still be inside doing our morning chores or eating breakfast, the cat would jump the fence and grab a chicken and away it would go. One morning, my son saw the cat jump the corner of the fence with a hen in it's mouth. He chased it on a path near our pond. It dropped the hen and disappeared into the foliage.
We found three dead hens, buried in the brush nearby.
We decided to put a roof on the chicken run. It was hard work, but the roof worked. No more deaths. Sadly, we were down to only four hens. Yes, before it was over with...almost all of our sweet pets had died. I cried at first. That is what a new farm-girl does. She cries when her pets die. But eventually, over time, when there have been so many deaths and you see so many things happen, you stop crying and come to realize that death is part of life. This is farm life. It's not always the lovely image you see or read about in books.
My husband was walking to our bedroom one morning and glanced out the kitchen window. What do you know? A big bobcat was walking around the hen house, sniffing the ground. The roof was on and now she couldn't figure out how to get inside. He ran down the hill and shot at her. She jumped and took off into the brush. For months, it was quiet. No more sightings.
In early spring, we got twelve more chicks. Time to start again.
Several more months went by and one early June morning, a young bobcat got into the pen and killed one of our new hens.
He had squeezed through the wire but could not get back out. As my son meandered down the hill and went in to check on the hens that morning, he saw them huddled in the corner. He said, "What's the matter with those hens?" and about that time, a bobcat ran in front of him. Surprised, he jumped back and slammed the door.
Moments later, he came barrelling into the house and grabbed his gun. Yes, we killed the bobcat. I hate to take the life of any animal, but we had had enough. We did not want any more hens to die. We had spent so much time, money, effort and energy on having chickens. It seemed our dream was not meant to be. No matter what we did, they always died.
After such loss, we learned what to do and what not to do.
If you ever want hens, a word of advice: Keep them in a pen that is well-built and has no openings or weaknesses in the wood or wire.
Where the wood is weak, dogs can bust it down.
Where there is a small hole, weasels and 'possums can get inside.
If there is no roof, hawks can fly down and grab a hen, bobcats can clear a six foot
tall fence, coyotes can dig under wire, foxes can climb a wire fence with their paws and raccoons can, too!
You will not want your pets to die and you will not want to have to take the life of an animal who is only trying to survive.
We figured out the story of the bobcat. The first one was a female who was fixing to have a litter. She was hungry and trying to store some food for the winter. When the babies were weaned, one of them came to the hen house for an "easy" meal. This is the one we shot. We have not seen the big bobcat anymore. I am sure she is still out there, along with others. But thankfully, no more have come calling.