A Visitor in the Dark

Well, I knew it was inevitable. I knew our luck was too good to be true. I knew, sooner or later, we’d be visited by a creature of the wild wanting to make a meal of our hens. We can only tempt fate for so long, out here on the farm. I’m amazed we’ve made it this long (15 months!) without any sneaky predators taking our ladies in the night.

Over the past several months, a pack of coyotes have taken to wandering our area in the night. Throughout August and September, we heard them yipping in the fields across the street, beside us, and behind us, night after night. My dogs heard them, too, and good old Oddler, the noble and valiant hound, went bounding through the fields each and every night, bawling his hound dog bawl, chasing them far off into the bush and returning hours later.

Lately, I haven’t heard the coyotes. I’m not sure what they’ve done with themselves, but in their place has come another menace.  For many nights, Oddler and Miss Molly have gotten themselves worked into a tizzy, running the perimeter of our farm, barking and yapping and bawling. They keep it up for hours some nights, and other nights they settle down quickly, only to resume their protective vocalising a short while later.

Last night the dogs were mostly silent. Then, at 4am, I was awoken by the shrill yip-yapping of Miss Molly in the field just out my bedroom window.  A moment later, Oddler joined with his deep bawl. They kept it up for ten minutes before racing off through the field, chasing something away from our farm, their yaps and bawls fading in the distance.  I laid there in the dark, listening for their return. Forty-five minutes later, they finally came running up our 1/2km driveway, still very worked up. They circled the farm again and again, barking, until I felt like I was going to go crazy and brought them into the house. They paced by the door for a while, and only settled down to sleep when the sky was becoming ashy, pre-dawn.

Of course the dogs’ nighttime escape was on my mind a great deal today. I had a morning appointment, and when I returned I put on my boots, fed the chickens, and went out in the field. Within minutes I found a whole chicken’s worth of feathers puffing out of a thorny bush along the edge of the field. A few steps to the east, and there was another huge tuft of feathers, blowing gently in the breeze.  Something (or a few somethings!) had taken off with our hens. I only wonder if the theft happened before the dogs went chasing through the field, or after I brought them in the house? Had the dogs prevented more birds from being taken in the night, or had I allowed the hens to be taken by bringing the dogs inside? This is troubling me, and weighing heavily on my mind.

So, now we’re at a crossroads. Do we tie the dogs to the chicken tractors at night for protection? Or do we bring them in at night to keep them safe? I am not comfortable with my dogs racing through the fields at night after some unknown prowler. Anything could happen to them, and I’d never forgive myself. I also don’t like chaining the dogs if there is a prowler around – they are much less able to defend themselves if they are tied. For tonight the dogs are curled up on their blankets in the house, warm and safe, and I am worrying myself silly about the hens left outside unprotected.

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9 thoughts on “A Visitor in the Dark

  1. I don’t have any chicken-protection advice but I do think that once the Coyotes (or Foxes or Wolves?) have had an easy meal of your hens that they will keep coming back for more. My dad lost his whole collection of beautiful Birds Rabbits like this, except for the male Goose who was vicious enough to protect himself and his mate. (This Goose later became dinner when it kept attacking biting my oldest child who was under 2.) A Llama or Alpaca are big vicious-protective enough to fight off predators too.

    Stay safe!

    • I’m hoping, HOPING it wasn’t a coyote who took the hens. It didn’t sound like the dogs were chasing anything that big. I’m thinking fox? I don’t know, it’s so hard to say. But you’re right, I’m sure whatever it was will keep coming back. If only I had room for an Alpaca! I’d love to have one. Or even a donkey is supposed to be a good guardian. Maybe I need a livestock guard dog, like an Akbash or a Pyrenese. Or maybe I just need to figure out a system that keeps the predators out.

  2. Oh, no! How upsetting. I wouldn’t want to leave the dogs outside all night either when there are coyotes around. I hope you can find some kind of solution though. I’m know from hearing people talk that chicken theft is a major problem that goes along with homesteading.

    • I knew sooner or later we’d lose some hens to a predator. Last Autumn we did lose a few girls to a migrating hawk, but I don’t really count that as a threat because the hawk left town soon after, whereas a coyote or fox will just keep coming back. I’m sure we’ll figure something out 🙂

  3. Coyotes don’t typically hunt in packs like wolves do (we don’t have wolves here in Essex county), so a Pyranese would make quick work of a coyote – which are a lot smaller than they appear. Sounds like you’ve got a fox though – a racoon will just rip the heads off and leave the birds where they fall. Foxes will take home their quarry. A good solid coop that’s closed up at night is the best defense. An electric predator wire may be useful too (solar powered).

  4. I am so sorry to hear about your hens. It is always hard losing animals, but something that unfortunately happens. We used to have our chickens “free range”. They were loose during the day, then went back to a secure house at night. However we used to get dogs coming in and killing the chickens. (dogs are a big problem here, killed our rabbits and sheep too, long time ago)

    Now our chickens are kept in a fenced area, not at all romantic but keeps them safe. We still have to watch out for rats, (taking chicks) and some large hawk that takes the chickens when they are between being chicks and hens. The former is better with cats around, and part of the chicken area has a net over the top so hawks can’t get in.

    Having secure areas for our animals is the part I find the hardest. We also have to deal with people stealing in the night. Not that common, and they are local people, but it is upsetting. We hand raised a lamb that the mother had rejected, she was so friendly and sweet. So of course she used to run up to people, including the people who broke in looking for something to eat with their drinking party! Luckily it happened when we were living in the UK last year so my daughters don’t really know what happened.

    I hope you find a solution. Chickens can be trained to sleep, and “go to bed” alone then you just have to close the door on a secure box, open up in the morning.

  5. Yes it is a tough call, I find it my hens roam around during the day they will return to the coop at night and they can be locked in. Twice I have lost my entire coop to predators, once to raccoons over the course of the winter, I didn’t notice them missing until the flock started to thin out and I couldn’t see my favourite rooster one day. The second time I lost the entire flock in 3 days to a weasel. He had killed 4 by 10am in the morning and when I went out later he had killed another 6 by afternoon chores. He was bold as brass, when I went outside to look for my hens he actually stood about 10 feet away and watched me. Found the hens dead outside pinned up against the foundation of the coop,(an old granery) with their throats slit.

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