We have all heard those stories in amazement and wonder, thinking how it could happen and what are the chances it would happen to you. In the farming world a lot of those stories we hear have to do with crop, weather or livestock. You always know there is a possibility but you truly never really think it would happen to you. Sunday night was one of those nights for us.
Sunday early evening we did the hen chores and stood there for a while watching the girls and chatting if there are any improvements we needed to make in the coop for winter. Everything has been working well. The girls have been happy, we have had little to no food waste, the watering system hasn’t been freezing and no freezing eggs. With the warmer weather that day we decided to leave one of the big doors to the coop open about half way (below the top of the fencing) this would allow airflow to continue thru the evening and ensure the humidity did not pick up in the coop. As we left the coop I made note that I will come back down and close up the coop later on in the evening. Heck, it would only be 8:30 pm when we get home and the lights in the coop will have just turned off 30 mins prior. We have done this for the past few weeks on the warmer days and it has worked great. We raced off into the house to get ready to leave for supper, with the extended family, as we were already running behind schedule.
We had a great evening with family chatting around the supper table but knowing Ryley had school tomorrow we headed home to get him off to bed. As we pulled in the driveway and get out of the car we could hear this very faint cheep noise coming from the coop. I said to Adam that it seemed odd that the girls were making noise. It wasn’t like them as they should be hunkered down and sleeping. He proceeded to laugh and say something is in there killing them. While Adam and Ryley went into the house I changed my coat and boots, grabbed my little flashlight and headed down to the coop to go check on the girls and close up the door for the night.
As I approach the coop I can see a pile of something pushed up against the fence. I had no idea what it was but thought I will go look after I check on the girls. As I approach the man door I can see a pile of hens pushed up against the fence right next to their chicken door to the run. None of them are moving. I talk to them and still no movement. Now my heart is racing, I know something is seriously wrong. I open the door and the lights on the roof are dangling down, I see chickens lying on their side not moving, I see 4 hens piled tight underneath their roosting sticks not moving, and I look up and this object lifts off and heads for the roof. It comes back down. Lifts off again headed for the coop doors but can’t escape and comes back down. It is now sitting on top of the large fan. I can barely see anything in the coop with just the glowing red light of the 2 heat lamps and my tiny flashlight. I shoot my flashlight over to see what is in the coop and there, staring me down is a snowy white owl. It’s huge! I am slightly dumbfounded.
If you know anything about owls and chickens, the owl will kill every chicken in your flock. They are never satisfied with just 1; they want them all and will kill until they are all dead and will slowly scavenge and take 1 out at a time at their convenience.
I knew I needed help, and help wasn’t far away, it was just in the house. I also knew I could not leave this owl in the coop any longer because at this point I have no idea where any of my hens are, how many are dead, and let’s be honest with a wing span of 5 plus feet, I wasn’t so sure I wanted to take this on by myself. I go to reach for my cell phone to call Adam. Nope not there, it’s in my other coat. I walk just outside the coop door and scream at the top of my lungs for Adam. Nope, he does not hear me. I grab a branch about 5 feet long walk back into the coop. Open up the big door as far as I can without needing a ladder and sweep this branch behind this owl in hopes it will see the escape root and just leave. To my complete relief its flies the direction I want right over my head as it leaves the coop.
I drop the door down and now panic starts to set in. I can see a couple small piles of hens but I cannot find the vast majority of my girls, so I head for the house to get help. The words come flying out of my mouth as fast as I can talk “Owl in the coop. Chickens dead everywhere. Come help NOW!” I was out the door as fast as I came in, grabbing a bigger flashlight, bags and gloves and headed for the coop. Thankfully the boys somewhat understood what I said, got dressed again, and met me down at the coop.
Now its mission clean up and figure out what happened. We turn the lights back on in the coop, find a couple of chickens dead on the coop floor. Picking them up, we set them outside. I find a pile of chickens in the corner and they all look dead. Thankfully they are not, I pick them up one at a time give them a hug tell them they are good and set them on the coop floor for Ryley to take towards the nesting boxes. Adam finds majority of the chickens are hiding between the stack of straw bales and the wall in a pile. So one by one we pick each of them out, give them a little hug and send them back to the middle of the coop. When we get to the bottom of this pile we find one girl that had been killed by trampling. This is bound to happen for how many were piled in such a small area. The final task is to now head into the run and check on the pile of girls out there. These ones also would not move, I had to pick each of them up and carry them back to their door.
All in all we lost 10 hens to this owl. If I hadn’t been paying attention when we got home that owl could have been in there all night killing and we would have no flock left. As a farmer with livestock we get to know our animals really well. We know their tendencies, the sounds they make and with the smallest change can tell when something is not right. We work really hard to provide for our animals that feed our families and others in the community and after an evening like that you cannot help but feel defeated. I understand why people put chickens in cages and just go collect eggs. They are safe there. They can’t pick on each other and they are truly protected from any predator. But, it’s not the way I want my hens to be raised so back to the drawing board for even more security measures for the hens. One day, the sooner the better, we will build my dream coop and it will be like Fort Knox.
This round I lost, but next one I will win.