One of my main objectives in moving to the country was to be able to keep a flock of chickens, both for the enjoyment of having them and for their value in providing eggs, fertilizer and critter control for the garden. Since I’m living back in the woods with wildlife all around, I wondered how practical this would be. Still, I thought surely it was worth a try, especially since an old camper on the site seemed ideally suited for conversion to a chicken coop. So in March I acquired 10 Icelandic and six Buckeye chicks, all of which were relocated to the camper by late April.
I posted earlier about losing four of my half-grown chickens when something – probably a raccoon – was able to climb up, pull the window open and get several of them out. After that I realized I needed to secure the windows more carefully at night, and that seemed to solve the problem for the time being.
Then came the big day when the chickens were to be released to the outside. I was apprehensive about this, since I was told they wouldn’t know to come back to the coop at night – I’d have to catch them all and put them in there. Miraculously, though, they all came in the first night, though there was one straggler who couldn’t seem to find the door for the longest time! The second night was another story: Several of them decided to roost in a tree near the coop, and one or two didn’t survive the night. Another disappeared while foraging during the day.
Another blogger suggested removing their feed during the day, so they’d come in for their evening meal. That worked like a charm, so long as I got to the coop early enough. But occasionally I miscalculated and found some of them already roosting in the tree. I learned that when chickens decide it’s time to roost, no offers of food will lure them down! I lost a few more that way. Then there were a couple of nights when I either forgot to make all the windows secure or thought I had but something got in anyway. More losses.
Meanwhile I added a couple of beautiful Wynadotte pullets and two buff Orpingtons, and acquired four more Buckeye chicks, in an effort to beef up the hen-to-rooster ratio. One of the Orpingtons and three of the chicks were killed in one of the above attacks, but I put the surviving chick in a cage with the remaining Orpington, who quickly proved her mothering ability, providing comfort and protection to her little charge.
Finally I was down to two roosters, one of which I was hoping to process for meat fairly soon, and five pullets, including the little Buckeye. I had 10 more Icelandics on order, and was really enjoying my little nucleus flock, when disaster struck.
I had just covered the large windows at both ends of the coop with 1/2-inch rat wire, stapling it to the window frames all around, so that – I thought – I could leave the windows open for ventilation at night. That worked fine for a couple of nights; then one morning I entered the coop to find everything killed and just left there. Only the two Wynadottes were substantially eaten, but it was a horrible scene – I’ll spare you the details. Whatever it was had pushed in the rat wire, which took considerable strength, so I knew it was something large.
Since I had never seen this type of attack before, I consulted the animal warden as to the probable predator. “Raccoon,” he said right away – probably with young, which would account for the amount of killing.
At this point I seriously considered cancelling my order for the Icelandics and giving away the new Buckeye chicks and guinea keets I had in a brooder. So far I had lost every bird that left my house – a total of 29 birds! One of my friends insisted it was a lost cause – there were too many critters around, and I was simply feeding them. I had always believed if I was to keep any sort of livestock I had a responsibility to keep them safe, and I felt terrible that I had failed at this.
Still, I couldn’t bring myself to give up at this point. Surely I could make the windows more secure, or at least stop leaving them open more than an inch or two. I wasn’t ready to face life without chickens – the homestead was eerily quiet without them, and I missed seeing them roaming through the grass, pecking here and there, and listening to their fascinating chatter.
So I reinforced the rat wire with twice as many staples, and even baited the coop with chicken for a couple of nights to see if anything would get in. There were no takers. Last week I moved the new Buckeyes and the keets into the camper, where they’ve been fine, then drove 300-some miles to pick up my new Icelandic chicks. So I’m beginning again!