When we think about Chicken predators we usually think about foxes but there are others as I found out when took my dogs, Sheba and Eppie for their usual walk to the pier at the end of the lane where I live.
Unusually for a Galway January the sun was shining and it wasn’t raining. I didn’t think about predators because so far we’ve been lucky, but our luck was about to run out.
HOT PORRIDGE AND SWEET CORN
Before I left I went up the back garden to visit the hens and feed them some hot porridge and sweet corn. I love doing this as much as the hens seem to enjoy eating it.
Once they see me coming carrying the bowl they flock towards me and gather at my feet watching to see where I will put down the bowl and which direction I will throw the sweetcorn.
The hens were particularly fluttery and clucky that day and I remember thinking how lucky I was to be able to live like this and how much fun the hens added to the garden.
We had fifteen birds altogether. We had named our first four hens – two beautiful white Snowdrops we called Lady Gaga and Chuck Berry. A Columbian Black Tail named Simona Cowell due to her tendency to perch above the others and look down on them. The Copper Star we called Malteser. (I love Maltesers.)
We recently added six young white and grey hens, a furry legged, brown cockerel, a duck and drake, and two Guinea Fowl.
The birds formed three groups – the original four, the newer group of six white and grey hens and a brown rooster – as you can see below:
The ducks and guinea fowl formed another little group. They all seemed very content to peck their way around the garden and the hens would follow myself and himself everywhere we go, with the ducks and guinea fowl remaining at a safe distance.
Last Friday was no different, and as I set off on my walk the group were pecking away at my cabbage and doing their little dance around the garden.
I didn’t walk my usual two miles but was still out for about forty minutes. Problems with my foot made me slower than usual and I also met a friend and stopped to chat with her.
As I walked back into my garden, the first thing I noticed was a heap of white feathers near my door. My stomach clenched, I knew that could only mean one thing – a fox.
As I got nearer I noticed another heap of feathers near the vegetable beds. Before I got there I found the body of Lady Gaga. Her whole side had been torn off and she was clearly dead.
A few yards ahead I found the body of one of the new little hens. It hadn’t been eaten but its neck had been broken.
Then a movement caught my eyes. A fox! But as I looked again I realized it wasn’t a fox but a dog. A small brown and white Jack Russell. I went to follow it but it ran quickly away, leaped the wall and ran straight across the main road.
WHO OWNED THE DOG?
I followed it and saw it run into the driveway of a neighbor’s house. With my stomach clenched and my jaw shaking I went up the driveway and asked them if they owned the dog.
They did own the dog, but didn’t quite believe me when I told them what their twelve-year-old pet, who according to them, never left their grounds, never crossed the road and had never ever done a bad thing – had done to my hens.
I brought them across to my garden to show them and explained that I had seen the dog and had followed it home. I showed them the dead hens, and as I did I realized that there were more missing. The Cockerel and five of the new hens were missing, one of the ducks and one of the guinea fowl were gone.
The dog’s owner apologized and offered to replace the hens. I asked her to make sure the dog was kept in. She left promising she would. Later I learned that this was pure hen-shit and you can read about what happened next here.
It had been a horrible sight and I had an unreal feeling as I walked around. I was still shocked and I walked around the garden several times looking for the rest of the flock but found none of them.
I went in and made tea. Before my walk I had been looking forward to my lunch but now my appetite had disappeared and in its place just a queasy feeling of emptiness in my stomach. I couldn’t settle down and went out again to search for the others an hour later.
Thankfully, one of the ducks had returned and the two had reunited and were now cowering in the corner of the pen. Then I noticed the missing guinea fowl had returned and was with its mate in the corner of their little house. I was so relieved for them as they are clearly couples and are rarely apart.
Later that day another little hen returned leaving one hen and one cockerel still missing.
The next day I found the body of the young hen on the back door step. We still haven’t found the cockerel, but I’m sure his body is around somewhere. He was stroppy little thing, prone to strutting around at top speed – we’ll miss him.
It was deeply shocking to me to know that one small dog could do so much damage – six birds! Finding Lady Gaga so torn up had been horrific but so had finding the hens with broken necks. The dog had made no attempt to eat them as food – they were just killed for sport. Somehow that made it worse – much worse.
Little did I know that there would be no justice for my hens when my ‘apologetic’ neighbour decided to withdraw her offer to reimburse me for the hens – once she knew how much they cost.
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