Raccoons are extremely intelligent and capable of things I never would have known of if it weren’t for the Great Chicken Massacre of the Summer of 2021.
Today I will share the saga of the battle to save what is left of our flock.
A little background info to set the scene. We had about 16 laying hens providing tons of eggs at the beginning of the summer, down from our original purchase of 30 chicks last year. 10 of them turned out to be roosters, so we got rid of all but one rooster. That left 20 hens, of which one died pretty young. Plus we had a couple of old chickens left from our previous batch. Over the past year the old ones died and a couple of the new ones died.
My husband and sons had built a fenced outside yard that connected directly to the barn. There is a small door for the chickens to go inside the barn where they built a fully enclosed coop. There are wooden walls with chicken wire up to the ceiling and a wooden walk-in door. On one wall they put in laying boxes with paint trays so the eggs would roll down into the trays and could be collected from outside the coop.
This was all working very well. We were happily eating eggs and even selling the extras.
My youngest son has the responsibility of feeding , watering, collecting eggs, and cleaning out the chicken house as needed. I wanted him to have a useful chore that actually benefits the family. We have had chickens off and on since we moved to the country and all of the boys have taken their turn doing these jobs.
Over the years we have housed the various chickens in several different ways. The first flock lived in a wooden house that my husband built with the aid of my oldest sons who were pretty young at that time.
They were quite proud of it and my husband painted it with our name on the side. It was surrounded by a fenced in coop, but at that time we would open the gate and they were allowed to free range.
We lost a few of those birds to predators like hawks and coyotes, but not too many. We also had some sneaky rat snakes get inside the laying boxes and eat eggs til they couldn’t move.
After all those chickens died of old age, and the house started to fall apart from so much rain, they tore it down and we didn’t have chickens for a few years.
Then in 2018 I decided that it was time for my two youngest sons to have some responsibility, so they built a large chicken ‘tractor’ to house a new flock. That was easier and cheaper to build than a full size chicken house, but it was a little harder to deal with and collecting eggs was not as easy.
My husband had to hook up the whole thing to his actual tractor and drag it to a new location when the chickens would eat up all the grass. This process required several helpers so we often put off doing it . Once the tractor/coop was moved all that was left was chicken poop covered dirt and it would stink pretty bad until the grass grew back. I really don’t recommend that method for more than a few chickens. By the way , we repurposed the chicken tractor materials to build the new raised bed!
When we got down to just a couple of chickens left from that batch, I asked my husband to please build a better coop inside the barn. Being the awesome guy that he is, he planned and built the one that we have now and we bought more chickens.
Speaking of buying chicks, we just bought another dozen chicks. We bought them because we wanted more for next year , but then we suddenly lost half of the full grown ones we had.
Why do you have to keep buying more, you might ask? Chickens only live a few years in our experience. If you Google ‘how long do chickens live?’ , you will get different answers. But the truth is that some of them die the first year, others live longer, but none of ours have lasted more than a few years at best.
It may be because of the heat in Texas, I’m not sure. Or maybe we don’t take care of them correctly, who knows? All I know is that sometimes you will go out in the morning to check them and one will be dead for no apparent reason.
But the ones who died in the recent massacre were victims of hungry varmints, also known as critters, raccoons, maybe possums, too.
So with that background information out of the way, let’s get back to the saga.
My son had mentioned to me that he was finding dead chickens on several different occasions. I, not paying close attention, assumed that the chickens were dying of natural causes, at first. Eventually we realized that something was going on.
After two consecutive days of chickens just DISAPPEARING from the yard and finding a trail of feathers, we knew we had a serious problem.
I won’t point fingers, but someone got lax about closing the door to the coop a few nights and our predator realized they had easy access to free chicken dinners. I don’t really blame him for not closing the door because there were many nights he had left it open and it was not a problem. But once the predators find the treasure, they will come back over and over . It took us a few days to snap to what was happening. Yes, we are a little slow.
So we made sure the little door was closed. And more chickens disappeared!
Then we examined the coop closely for places that a critter could have gotten in and found nothing. It was a mystery!
Then one morning , I went out early, before my son, because I wanted to get to the bottom of this. And I noticed that there were a bunch of feathers in the laying boxes and that one of them was pulled out, like an open dresser drawer.
SO that’s IT! The critter must be literally pulling the chickens out while they are roosting in the laying boxes at night! I called my husband and told him that and that also two more chickens were missing.
Later I told my son about it and you know what he said? “I told dad that I thought they were getting them in the laying boxes and he said no.” Oh, really?! Well, you were right, son. Sigh.
Anyway, it was confirmed and so the next step was to build doors on the back of the laying boxes shelf to protect them. At the same time we determined that we must catch and rid ourselves of these predators.
We had a trap, but it was old and it didn’t trip very well, or so we thought. So we went and bought another one.
We also bought a new game camera because our old one quit working after only one year. This was not a purchase I had intended to make, but I do like the one we got. It’s really cool! It actually uses cell service to send the photos to my phone.
However, we discovered that we got photos of the critters, and sometimes they even tripped the cage, but they managed to not get caught! What was happening?
So I went to YouTube where I found a very helpful video that solved the problem!
We followed his clever advice ,which was to insert a metal rod through the side of the cage , half way height, in order to force the raccoon to step on the treadle.
Why ? Because as I learned on YouTube, raccoons are super smart! They know how to get the bait out of a cage and avoid tripping the catch so the door doesn’t close on them. You have to outwit them! My husband used marshmallows for bait and they loved it .
So as you can see in the photos, the trick worked! Eventually we caught several raccoons and also a possum. We have not had any more the past three nights, so hopefully they are gone now.
So now you know how we went from having so many eggs that I was begging people to take some, to where we are now, I am going to have to buy eggs again just to have some for myself. We eat a lot of eggs. I’m pretty sad about having to buy them!
And we are sad that our chickens are dead. The ones that are left have basically quit laying . I think they are traumatized. Or maybe they are just taking a summer break. They do that when it gets hot.
But it’s all part of life in the country, I guess. I’m glad we have the new chicks to look forward to providing us more eggs. The new ones are growing fast!
If there is a lesson to this tale, it is that we did not act fast enough when we first noticed dead and missing chickens. To be fair, this all happened when I was sick and recovering. My husband did the best he could considering he was working all day and then he had to come home and deal with this problem! Once they built the doors to protect the laying boxes, the chickens were safe. After that it was just a matter of catching the critters.
We learned a lot through this trial. Our chickens are much safer now. My son will probably be more diligent about closing that little door. And now we have a nice new cage and camera.