Thursday, December 14, 2017

The story I've been meaning to tell you for three months

Once upon a time, as in three months ago, I was deep in the throes of taking care of two sick donkeys. I was preoccupied and more than a little sleep-deprived. Friends were checking in regularly via email, and one of the chains went like this:
Danni: Good morning. How's it going down there?
Me: George is feeling better. Lucy's about the same. And I think Johnny ate 12.
Danni: I'm happy for the good news about George, hoping so hard that Lucy is a lot better tomorrow, and wondering what Johnny ate "12" of.
Me: I can't stop laughing. Johnny ate 12, as in 10 and 11.
Danni: Omg, that wasn't the response I was expecting. I thought you were so exhausted that you just forgot to finish your sentence.
Anyway, the previous evening, I was in the infirmary pen underneath Lucy, when out of the corner of my eye I thought I saw JohnnyCashCat chasing something across the front yard. A second glance told me that "something" was actually a chicken, which made no sense at all because JCC is terrified of the chickens. By the time I was done treating Lucy it was almost dark, but I went on a search-and-rescue/recovery mission in the yard, looking for a probably-dead chicken and a seriously-in-trouble cat. 

I found the cat sitting on the porch. I did not find a chicken, a pile of feathers, or anything else that might otherwise serve as evidence of a henocide. I did find Peach, Minnie, Lady Mary, Mrs. Hughes, 10 and 11 in the chicken coop and deduced that it was 12 who went missing. Just call me Sherlock. Surely 12 must be hiding under a bush somewhere and would turn up by morning. 

She didn't. WTF? 

I didn't have the time or energy to investigate further or even be too upset. All my attention remained focused on Lucy and George.

The next morning, it seemed a little quieter than normal in the yard when I went out to deliver medicine. "The chickens must be lying low, with one of their sisters missing," I thought, right up until the time I took attendance and couldn't find Minnie or Mrs. Hughes. In my attention-diverted state, I concluded they must be hiding under the same bush as 12 and would emerge momentarily.

They didn't. WTF? 

Then the vet called with the worst news ever and I didn't give a thought to missing chickens or anything else until the next morning, when it was even quieter in the yard. Now Lady Mary and 11 were missing, too. 

It was time to confront the fact that something was picking off my chickens, two at a time at that, in the middle of the night. It had to have walked up the ladder to the coop, been small enough to fit through a 10" square opening, quiet enough so as not to cause a ruckus and wake up she-who-never-misses-anything Smooch, and clever enough to haul off five chickens without a stinkin' trace. 

I ruled out JCC as a suspect, since his m.o. is to eat the best parts of his kills and leave the remains under my office window as gifts. The incident where I thought I saw JCC chasing 12? Upon reflection, I now believe the real perpetrator was chasing them both. Plus, JCC was still afraid of the two survivors (Peach and 10) and they weren't afraid of him. All I could do was implement a new "latch the coop door every night" policy and hope that whatever was lurking in the dark didn't have opposable thumbs.

Also, I bought a motion-activated trail camera and placed it where it might spot an intruder.

The camera captured my deputies on the daytime shift.

It even captured Peach peeking out the window on the night shift.

Most of the time, it captured pictures like this, and after a few weeks, I finally turned it off.

So here we are three months later, and the mystery of the five missing chickens remains.
The coop gets latched every night. Peach and 10 have become BFFs. I have to buy eggs.

Come spring, I'll get more chickens. 

And all of us will remain forever vigilant.


  1. Wow. A sad mystery. And a little scary too. What could it possibly be that didn't cause Smooch to alert?

  2. Whoa, that's seriously spooky. Poor you, you must have felt everything was going to hell at once. I hope whatever IT is, it's not a threat to my beloved Johnny!!!

  3. Wow, so sorry that you had to go thru all of this. My husband wonders if it may have been an owl? Take care and have a great day!

  4. I too must say "wow". a true mystery.

  5. Damn! But your writing skills make this so interesting, intriguing and thought provoking that I know the responses and theories will abound! Please turn the camera on from time to time if just for the blog-worthy pictures you'll sometimes get.

    Let the theorizing begin!

  6. A bobcat maybe? Sorry to hear you lost so many of your chickens. :(

  7. Dang! Hope those long coiled up friends of yours haven't moved on from eating rodents ... to slithering after chickens ... and cats?

  8. I was thinking that bobcat you saw a couple times, quiet, sneaky and if he hadn’t eaten for a while, skinny enough to get thru the door.
    I know that Bruce Wayne who is 11 ( but not as fit as Smooch) sleeps really sound now.

  9. Keeping my chickens safe has been so time consuming over the past 8-9 years. I'm sorry yours were mysteriously disappeared.

  10. Do you have weasels there? They would do it. Foxes too but i don't think you'd mistake a fox for a cat because the tails are so different

  11. OH my goodness! A pack of coyotes? BIG cats, like bobtails? Please keep JCC save too. This is very scary. Be safe out there!

  12. You have a mystery on your ranch.

  13. While know you use a lot of eggs, I'd think Peach and 10 could keep up with you moderately well. Are either of them laying?

  14. We lost most of our flock to a bobcat last December -- he picked them off in ones and twos. We thought they had some strange disease as the chickens didn't disappear, they just suddenly died. Then both roosters were killed (defending their flock, no doubt) and I saw the culprit -- a bobcat climbing out of a hole so small I never would have believed it if I hadn't seen it. In the spring, we replaced the flock (only two hens survived the massacre) -- and a skunk dug under the fence (or used an existing squirrel hole) and killed some of the chicks. We now have a concrete curb around the perimeter and fencing everywhere -- sides, top, you name it. There is no ROI on our eggs but still worth it.

  15. At the recommendation of the hatchery I get my chicks from - I bought four of these Predator Guards, and two years later I've had 0 nighttime attacks. They should be installed at eye height and where the sun can keep them charged. Well worth the money I'd say.

    Now what to do about the neighbor's starving + running loose dog, who tore open and shredded (but didn't kill) my best layer in broad daylight last week...

  16. Oh dear. Well at least it wasn't Johnny Cash Cat. Hope he's safe from whatever it is, he's one of my favorites.

  17. An American in Tokyo12/14/17, 11:38 PM

    Sorry to hear about your mysteriously disappearing chickens. =(
    I hope the culprit doesn't harm Peach and 10 and anyone else!!!!

  18. Wow. You have had a rough last three months of the year. And that is putting it mildly. Keep giving George, Alan, and Smooch hugs. I would include the ladies, but not all chickens are very cuddly like that. Suck up all the love they can give you and the love we keep sending you as well. Take care, Linda. I hope next year finds more healing and fewer months like you have been experiencing of late.
    Sending hugs your way.
    Linda D.
    Tucson, AZ

  19. I'd suspect one of this gang, and do mean "gang"! weasels, polecats, stoats, ferrets, and minks. Let us know if you figure out "who done it".

  20. Since you don't have Red Fox in your area, I would bet money on a bobcat. Other nighttime predators (opossum and raccoon) are terrible hunters as far as chickens go---they go into the coop like a bull in a china shop and wake all the chickens. A bobcat would be in and out before the other chickens missed a sister. I might lean toward a weasel, but they would never take and eat two chickens in one night. They only eat fresh kill and couldn't manage to eat two in one night.
    I'm sorry for your animal troubles. I'm sure you feel like throwing your hands in the air some days. I can image that certain curse words have been liberally used in the last several months.

  21. So sorry that you lost some of your feathered friends. "Circle of life" and all that. I'm just glad that JCC was eliminated as a suspect. Merry Christmas, Linda.