If you keep chickens long enough, you will eventually find yourself scratching your head asking this question:
“What Killed the Chicken?”
It may be one chicken. It may be an entire flock.
If you keep chickens, you are going to lose chickens. It really is just a matter of time before one of your chickens dies. For more on that go here. I’ve heard that chickens can die of old age, but I’ve never seen that happen. Chickens are pretty much at the bottom of the food chain and just about anything will eat them, or kill them for sport. Ugh.
After years of chicken keeping and dealing with varmints, thieves, sicknesses and just about as much as I can stand, I thought it was time to write a post on how to figure out what killed the chicken. We’ve seen the clues. We seen the dog with the chicken in it’s mouth. We’ve cornered the raccoons in the coop. We’ve trapped the opossums. We’ve seen the foxes. The cat’s have even brought in the weasel.
Different animals have different methods of killing. Some animals just want the blood. Some just kill for sport. Some are just trying to survive.
I understand that we all need to eat, varmints included, but it’s always hard to lose a piece of your farm and flock.
In other climates and places you’re going to have different suspects than we do here in Kentucky. I am going to speak from experience & tell you all about the chicken killers around here.
Here’s some common chicken deaths (around here) and what we have learned.
WEASEL: Deflated, Flat, Headless Chicken
When you find a chicken who has been vacuumed as flat as a pancake you can bet the culprit is in the weasel family. Around here we see weasel attacks during the daytime.
Weasels will rip off their heads and suck out the blood. They don’t want the meat or the feathers or anything else. I’m quite amazed at the sucking power of a weasel. You will find a flat, deflated headless, chicken carcass on the ground. Or three.
DOG: Dead Chickens Everywhere
Anytime we have found a number of dead chickens laying around the ground or inside the coop it has always been the result of a dog attack. Dogs are usually prowling around during the day looking for something to chase.
Hank the Cowdog once said, “If I was going to make the perfect toy for a young pup, such as myself, to play with… it would come out as a chicken.” Hank says that chickens (unlike cats) understand the point of the game “chase” and will run for thier lives every time making the game even more fun. I’m quite certain that the chickens are not playing and are not having fun.
If you’re hearing about Hank the Cowdog for the first time you should go to your nearest public library and get one of his audiobooks to listen to with your kids (or just by yourself). He’s hilarious. He is a farm dog who considers himself “head of ranch security.” Very entertaining. Very family friendly. And he doesn’t kill chickens.
Anyhow – Dogs chase chickens and when they catch them it is never good for the chicken.
We’ve caught dogs sneaking away from our coop only to find five chickens dead on the coop floor. It’s like they just shook the poor things to death. Feathers everywhere. Unfortunately, we usually don’t just find one dead chicken when a dog is leaving the grounds – they seem to want to kill them all. It’s really sad. Dogs kill for sport. The one’s we’ve experienced don’t eat them or carry them off. They just murder as many as they can get their mouths on.
OPOSSUM: Random Chicken Parts Scattered Abroad
When I find bits of chickens distributed around the grounds it’s usually been an opossum.
I haven’t had problems with opossums eating my laying flock, but boy do they like my Cornish Rocks. Ugh. I was part of the problem for sure. Raising meat chickens in the middle of the woods is a challenge in itself. Leaving the barn door open is a sure way to lose your meat. That dang opossum not only killed a ridiculous amount of meat chickens, he enjoyed throwing their parts in random places around the barn to horrify me. I wasn’t sure if I was dealing with raccoons or opossums until I caught him red handed. Go here for all the details.
RACCOONS: Chickens Ripped Through the Holes in Your Fence
Raccoons are a nightmare. They are like little bears with fully opposable thumbs. They can open doors, unlock locks and rip a whole chicken through a two inch hole. They are crafty, smart and determined. For every one racoon you see there are 16 more in the woods watching. Raccoons usually strike at night and can get into coops that a six year old can’t open.
The good news is that raccoons are easy to catch. We use marshmallows in live traps and the coons fall for it all the time. We have raccoon problems off and on but once we get rid of the culprit, it’s usually a while before another coon gets the nerve to disrupt the flock.
FOX: Pile of Feathers & Missing Chicken
When we find a pile of feathers, it’s usually the stinkin’ fox. I hate her. She strikes during the day and is bold about it.
This could be a number of critters, but in our case it’s the Fox. I’ve seen her slinking across our front yard back to her baby (who’s waiting along the woodline) with ONE OF MY CHICKENS in her mouth THREE TIMES!!!!
Foxes are a horror show. If you get a fox problem you should move. They have picked off our flock one bird at a time and have been impossible for us to catch.
If you get a fox near your hen house you could be in for a world of hurt. I’ve been told that once a fox finds your flock they will stick around until they have eaten every last chicken. Foxes are smart. They are sly. They don’t fall for traps. They can smell your scent on every hole, claw, line, bait, cage or trap you set.
The best way we have deterred foxes is with a guard dog or putting a fence between the chickens & the fox. Foxes are no fun to deal with.
OWL: Disappearing Chickens Without a Trace
The only clue we had from the disappearing ducks and chickens were the holes in Ping’s head. Something had been taking off with chickens in the middle of the day scot free. They didn’t leave a pile of feathers. There didn’t seem to be any struggle. Our birds were just gone.
The holes on either side of Pings head gave us a clue – talons. Some giant bird of prey capable of carrying away a six pound Pekin Duck was devouring our flock. Ping somehow escaped from his clutches. It was clear that something with giant claws had grabbed him by the head & was pretty determined to have duck for lunch.
Ping did die later that week as a result of his injuries, despite medical treatment, love and protection.
Although we cannot be certain, we have seen a massive owl around our woods and feel pretty sure he was probably the culprit.
We suspected a coyote problem years ago and were advised to get a male dog. We did and I haven’t seen a coyote since.
The only time we have seen coyotes stalking our flock has been in the dark days of winter when the (coyote) food sources were probably hard to come by. This is when our coyote got brave (and hungry) and decided to go after our chickens. We would spot him in the woods around our coop from time to time. He usually showed up late in the afternoon or evening before we would lock the chickens in the coop for the night.
The dogs seem to really help keep the coyotes away. We’ve had a couple dogs in the past 5 years and they both seem to do the trick. We do let our dogs “take care of business” around the chickens domain. When there is a bad predator problem (like a fox) we have stationed our dog out in the chicken yard for extra protection.
We’ve had plenty of chicken eaters over the years, but the coyotes haven’t been the worst.
ILLNESS: Coughing Chickens or Suddenly Dropping Dead for No Apparent Reason
I hope, for your sake, it’s not, but it could be Infectious Bronchitis.
We made the HUGE mistake several years ago of buying some silkies from a girl showing them at our county fair. The chickens appeared healthy and adorable. There was no way to tell that they had been exposed to infectious bronchitis. Once a chicken has had infectious bronchitis, it is a carrier for life. This means that even though the chicken got sick & recovered – it will contaminate every chicken it meets forever…. and those chickens may NOT recover. If they do recover, they will also be carriers for life & potentially infect every chicken you bring onto your farm.
Infectious Bronchitis started at our place with coughing. We noticed a couple chickens coughing and breathing heavy. That afternoon they were dead. The process continued. A chicken would be coughing in the morning and laying dead in the grass that afternoon. Some of them would cough a few days & get better. More died. There was drainage from their beaks and we consulted our vet for help. There was medicine that helped the chickens to recover but it could not stop the spread of the vicious illness.
Long story short, the coop had to be completely emptied & cleaned & disinfected and we had to start fresh with a new flock.
THIEVES: Missing Chickens – Nothing Else
Believe it or not, we had someone stealing chickens from our coop in the middle of the night.
Not even kidding. Our chickens were disappearing one at a time. There was no trace of feathers. No evidence of attack. No signs of a struggle. Nothing but missing chickens.
We soon noticed a path through our woods that pointed right to our chicken coop. Someone was entering our farm from the road, cutting through the woods and taking our hens right off the roosting bars at night while they were sleeping. I don’t know if they wanted eggs or were eating the chickens. It was really sad.
This was waaaaaaay back when my baby was still a baby and all our chickens had names. To think that someone was stealing my children’s pet chickens and eating them for dinner was unimaginable. But day after day, the chickens were disappearing without a trace. It all came together the morning we found one of our favorite roosters wandering around in the woods up by the road. We hadn’t let the chickens out yet for the day so he should have been in the coop. This is when we discovered the well worn path through the woods leading straight to the coop. Apparently, our little cock had gotten away from the thieves up by the road. I’m certain once he escaped, he was determined not to let them catch him again.
That little bani rooster didn’t quite know how to get back to the coop, but was definitely trying to find his way to the flock.
We put a lock on our coop doors and the disappearances stopped. Crazy!
If you are still scratching your head wondering if your neighbors are stealing your chickens or if you have a fox problem there’s an easy way to find out:
We sell dozens of trail cameras at our pawnshop and they are fantastically handy to have around. We use them to watch the deer in the woods. We use them to see who’s stealing our chickens. We use them to keep an eye on the flock when we are busy doing other things.
The trail camera may not be able to stop the attack, but it will tell you who’s attacking & you can develop an action plan from there.
Good luck with the Chickens!
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