dead hens : LUSENET : Countryside : One Thread

I had about 30 hens in a pen. I've had them in there about 7 months and nothing ever happened. This morning, I found 14 hens and 2 roosters dead. Each had one puncher mark in their neck. None had been eaten but seemed to have really been roughed up and dragged around. They had been pulled off the roost and were scattered all over an approximate 100' pen. I had the door closed and it was still closed this morning so don't think it was a dog or anything domestic. They were large birds, one a full grown naked neck rooster. I thought it was weasels but from info I've received from internet, maybe it wasn't. Does anyone know a predator that just makes a puncher mark on the neck, maybe drinks the blood, and kills full grown chickens? One person suggested a snake but I can't imagine a snake scattering 16 full grown birds all over the place and not eating any of them. If anyone knows anything, please suggest something. I'm putting the 14 that are left in a secure pen at night but it's a hassel, taking them off their roost every night and putting them in a small cage. I livein central Texas. . Eagle

-- eagle (, January 27, 2000


Eagle, I know you said you didn't think it ws anything domestic, but what's the feral cat population like in your area? It's pretty rough around where I am, and they have gotten a few of my chickens- nothing like your loss, but still.

Some of the birds had been bitten through the back of the neck, some mangled under the neck. Same thing; dragged around, general mess.

I'm lucky enough to live 2 hours from a city that has "Operation Catnip" going on. In a nutshell, if you don't like (or have time)to hunt down the ferals, this non-profit group will loan you traps, then neuter and innoculate for rabies, treat for parasites, etc., any cats you bring in (check Web for more info on dates, times, if you want to go that route) AND they'll help you relocate ferals.

Just an idea. E-mail me if I can help you with info on the group.

-- Sylvia (, January 28, 2000.

Eagle, We live about an hour north of Houston, in the woods and we have lost hens before to a chicken snake. He had lived the life of Riley for a week or so, eating eggs and even a litter of baby rabbits. I found at least 5 dead ruffed up hens and he was laying in the corner trying to swallow another by the head. All of the hens were slimed. He was so long that even after I chopped his head off with a hoe I slung him over my clothesline for my family to see and he touched the ground on both sides. We increased our male neutered cat population and have had no other problems. Good luck! Vicki

-- Vicki McGaugh (, January 28, 2000.

Vicki, thank you soooo much for that image. I'll be up all night with nightmares. Gerbil

-- Gerbil (, January 28, 2000.

I vote with Vicki. It's a snake. Had I not witnessed it myself, I would never have believed how big a bird a snake can kill and will attempt to eat. I have had them go from one pigeon to another all night long, trying to find one they can swallow. Best way to catch it is to set your alarm clock for every hour or two and get up to check your birds. Snakes are creatures of habit and will generally choose the same time each night to do their thing. Even when you are expecting it, it will still ring your chimes when you find it! Be sure to look overhead when you do check. I found one one night when I opened the loft door and it (5' long) fell on my head! Good hunting, John and Pat

-- John and Pat James (, January 28, 2000.

Thanks to Sylvia, Vicki and Jams & Pat for the info. Tonight before receiving your responses, I tied a cooked chicken to my pen, about 3 foot off the ground and set a steel trap on the ground below. Don't worry, all the chickens are locked up until this thing passes. Since hearing from you, I am going to check every hour for snakes. Also, I'm going to see if there is an Operation Catnip in the Houston or Austin area.Thanks again. When I catch "it", I'll let everyone know. Eagle

-- eagle (, January 28, 2000.

I had that same problem--several of my hens (the predator never goes for the nasty old rooster or the old mutt hens, they go for the best pullets in the place!)scattered around the pen, necks gnawed and/or broken. I thought my pens were pretty secure, but apparently not. We trapped a male racoon a few days later, and my husband disposed of him lest he come back and kill more hens. He apparently dug up a small section of fence and got into the pen that way. I was later told by several old timers that racoons and possums kill chickens that way--they get into the pen at night, and will kill several at a time by biting their necks. I also found a snake trying to swallow a Black Giant pullet (snakes can tell the good ones, too) by the head. Of course the pullet was dead. I have also killed a snake in the nest box which had swallowed two nest eggs. We chopped it in half to get the eggs out. Hope you get that critter!

-- hannah (, January 31, 2000.

hannah, thanks for the response. I'll set a trap for racoons and possums. i'm also putting a wood floor and fixing my roosting area so that nothing can get in there at night. Will let you know results. Thanks again. Eagle

-- eagle (, January 31, 2000.

eagle, i vote for the possum or raccoon. i live next to an overgrown pasture. the possum population is awesome. they have killed my chickens by the score. it is a matter of going out every few hours until you find it. i use a 410 single-shot, sorry, but those varmints have killed too many of my good hens. they like to eat the head and leave the rest. they can climb over or through fences,and get through cracks like a mouse. hope you get whatever it is soon. karen


Karen, thanks for the response. I also have a .410 single shot and if the opportunity presents itself, I'll do the same. If I can, I'll catch it, I'll take it far far away and turn it loose but if I see it in a tree or something, I'll shoot it. I'm almost finished building my "everything larger than a flea" proof roosting area. That should spare the hens and the weasel/possum/mink/ snake/cat/dog whatever.Thanks again to everyone who made an input.. Eagle

-- eagle (, January 31, 2000.

I did some checking with local trappers around my area, they all agree it is either a weasle or a mink. Alot of times they will kill just to drink the blood.You might want to find a trapper to come and get it for you. Thay are hard to trap and can squeeze thru a very small hole. Hope this helps

-- stan (, February 01, 2000.

I would have to agree with a weasel or a mink .I only lost 2 hens before my cat got a mink ,haven't seen one since

-- Patty Gamble (, February 01, 2000.

I have read that the puncture wound in the neck with nothing eaten is the unique trademark of a weasel or mink. They go for blood.

-- Laura Jensen (, February 03, 2000.

Here's my experience. I rule out snakes since they are opportunists, predators that are often beneficial (they love rats and mice), and wouldn't kill anything larger than they can swallow, since there would be no point. You're dealing with a mammal, and my guess is: 1. weasel, 2.mink, 3. raccoon. They will all kill more than they can eat, and can get a "feeding frenzy" attitude. Unless you are close by a body of water, usually a stream and usually less than 1/2 mile, you can pretty well rule out the mink. Weasels are everywhere, as are raccoons. Weasels will not carry off ANY carcasses. Raccoons will, especially if they are smaller birds, but always some. Raccoons will generally leave some behind, and there will seldom be any feathers strewn about. Foxes almost always leave a trail of feathers, sometimes more than you thought the chicken had. Foxes rarely leave any carcasses behind. Domestic animals, especially dogs, will kill wantonly, and leave carcasses and bodies, and feathers everywhere. If your chickens were inside, rule that out. Weasels can get in ANYWHERE. Raccoons are VERY strong and clever, but will need a good sized access and leave behind evidence thereof. Foxes almost never "break in". When you get somewhat confident as to who the culprit is, let me know. I have a few solutions up my sleeve!

-- Brad (, February 03, 2000.

I don't have a guess as to what animal it was, but wanted to share my "varmint proofing" that has worked for me for several years. My hen house is at minimum 1 foot off the ground on block. This means there is a large crawl space that is allows for air and light to enter, so not enticing to rodents. I then staple-gunned chicken wire down on the floor and put scrap plywood over that to protect the chicken toes. Then bedding of course. So it is basically a chicken wire sandwich. My birds are in a fenced run with bird netting over top. This keeps them safe from the local dogs, including mine. The little chicken doors get closed at night, as well as the big people door. Never had a predator break in. My problem is when the chickens break out! I tried them totally free-range and half of them didn't seem to like going to bed on the roost. Now they get rotated pasture.Good luck.

-- Anne (, February 03, 2000.

The previous answers were good but I would like to add a few things. First, remember that you can eat a lot of the predators you may catch. I have eaten three raccoons that were after my ducks, chickens or gee- se. Second, I recommend that you not fire lead shot into the ground where your chickens forage. I use a 22 rifle with cb long rounds that have just enough power and no noise.

-- olaf Frost (, February 03, 2000.

I've received about 20 responses concerning my dead hens. (Please don't let this discourage anyone from responding. I need all the help & info I can get). It seems like I might havet a weasel, possum, or a racoon. I kind of ruled out a snake because it happened on the first night of a really cold "cold snap" and I understand that snakes don't get out when it's cold) Someone correct if I'm wrong. I'm putting a lot of effort in varmit -proofing my roosting area, and am going to buy a trap. Thanks and please don't stop with the advice. Eagle

-- eagle (, February 04, 2000.

As several others have suggested, and my neighbor who's a great- grandma a dozen times over confirmed, the trademark of a mink is the puncture and no other dismemberment.

She used to keep quite a bird operation, and she said that sometimes she would have to part the feathers on an otherwise pristine hen to see the cause of death.

I lost one last week this way. Just the neck, no other damage. I found it inside the barn, still closed up. The mink was probably desperate as winter is dragging on.

Live trap the bloodsucker, then put the trap in deep water. No more mink!

-- Rachel K. (, February 05, 2000.

Hi - since it is now the middle of March, the snakes will be coming out as it begins to warm. Last Spring when we first brought our baby chicks home, I found a large snake in the run. I shot him. Spring is a good time to get snakes because when they shed their skin, they become virtually blind, and easy to find and destroy. I hate to kill snakes because I know they are beneficial, but when they learn where the easy food is, there's nothing else you can do.

OTOH, our sweet Boston Terrier killed 23 of our first 25 chicks when they were about a month old. It is really hard to walk out and find carnage of that magnitude. The two survivors bonded deeply, and really only unbonded after the next batch got to maturity and gave them some more friends.

We occasionally lost banty hens over the summer, and it wasn't till about Fall that I figured out why. The second batch of chicks we bought were a wide selection, some banties, some heavies, lots of different breeds. Well, we still had too many roosters for the amount of hens, and they would actually "gang bang" the banty hens to death. When I finally figured this out, to the tune of two dead hens that day, I almost got the gun and started shooting anything that crowed. Instead, I corraled the roosters out of the chicken yard and now they run free during the day and live in a dog house in the vegetable garden at night. Only one time did a possum get into the vegetable garden, which we shot. We left our favorite roosters in with the girls, and one or two of the banished ones got back in. Surprisingly, we haven't lost any of the banished roosters - not even to our dog. Maybe he's learning.

One of these days we'll freeze the roosters (once I can borrow a pressure cooker for those tough old things) and we still have the dog.


-- Ally (, March 18, 2000.

I had the same problem. I am sure it was a weasel or opposum. I would come home from work before dark to make sure all the chickens were in the coop before I shut it up for the night. One night I was a little late and found one of my Bard Rocks with the typical hole but still warm and with blood. I must have scared off the vermin. They say that a raccoon won't kill until after midnight so I know it was a coon. After that, I made sure that all the doors to the coop are shut securely before dark.

-- Dan Vincent (, November 05, 2000.

Make that was not a coon!

-- Dan Vincent (, November 05, 2000.

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