Wednesday night, I locked the chickens in their tractors and Thursday morning all were fine. I spent a little time on line reading up on predators and their behavior patterns and by the time I was done, I had convinced myself the varmint that got my two hens had to have been an owl. I mean the chickens roost three feet off the ground inside an arched structure. Sure a coon or possum could crawl up the sides of the pen and knock chickens off the roost bars, but I considered that unlikely as the gravity working on the arch should have been enough to put the coon on the ground. But an owl, well an owl could “fly” in and knock them off their perch and then have its way. Chickens on the ground at night are helpless.
So I spent all day thinking about owls and thinking just shutting the doors should have solved the predation problem. Would you be at all surprised to find out I was dreadfully wrong?
I was watching the vice presidential debate last night and got so disgusted with both candidates and the moderator that I had to go outside and talk myself down of my soapbox. Moose was out there already and as soon as I came out she started barking and looking out toward the field where the chickens reside. I grabbed a flash light and stuffed my feet into my boots and went for a walk. Moose was very agitated.
When we got up to the Dorking pen, all my birds were on the ground but still locked in. When I got to the door I found Kevin, my beautiful Black Laced Golden Polish welfare hen dead in a heap in one corner. The rest of the birds were huddled on the ground in two corners. My Dorking rooster, Thundermuffin, was bleeding from the neck, but he had parked himself between the hens and the wall of the pen. Even wounded he was standing guard over them. So the Thursday tally was one dead, one wounded and trap empty and untouched.
Clearly, jack the ripper wasn’t an owl. It is something with hands that can reach through chicken wire, grab chickens and shred necks. That leaves me with raccoons, opossums, or skunks. I ruled out skunk because we arrived at the murder scene shortly after the crime was committed and there was no lingering eau de pole cat. Coon or possum, then.
I carried Thundermuffin back to the house and set everyone to work. Michael went out to the field and strung tarps on the back of the chicken tractors and made sure all the hens were back on their perch. We figured whatever was after the chickens was climbing up the outside back of the chicken tractors and panicking the birds who then jumped down and huddled against the front wall and the coon (or possum) just reached in a grabbed one (Kevin and Thundermuffin in this case) and ate what it could through the chicken wire. The tarps should put a stop to anything climbing up the back of the chicken tractors. That’s the best we could do for the evening considering what we had on hand.
In the house, my two sons helped with rooster triage. His neck had been skinned on the left side and the skin was hanging in flaps. Brian, my EMT son, did a shout out to a friend who does animal rescue and she was kind enough to give us some advice over Skype (we were able to show her the wound which was pretty cool.) She said the wound was too large to super glue. (Yes, super glue.) She then affirmed what I had intended to do was correct, though she did suggest using a dilute solution of chlorhexidine as a 4 time per day wound wash. While chlorhexidine isn’t something normal people have in their cupboards, I had a bottle of the stuff the dentist gave me for one of my several “procedures.” Mixed 1 part to 20 parts water, it is a disinfectant that doesn’t burn. She also suggested I stitch the wound completely closed but only if I had a tube I could put in for drainage. I didn’t have a tube handy and that’s way above my level of expertise.
So after cleaning the wound, stitchery was in order. I went through my equine first aid kit looking for suturing supplies. It was the first time I’d ever opened the kit and man was I livid. They gave me Band-Aids with which to treat horses. (Band-Aids? Really?”) There was nothing in that kit that offered any help for the rooster. I ended up using a needle and thread from my sewing kit and soaking the whole thing in alcohol.
I’ve never stitched a wound before and was surprised at how much pressure it takes to get the needle through the skin. It looks so easy on t.v., but really it isn’t. And it was made all the more difficult of my reluctance to clip any feathers. Cold weather is coming and my birds need all the feathers they can get.
Thundermuffin was very stoic and he took all my ministrations without much complaint. I cleaned the wound as best I could and stitched a couple flaps together, but couldn’t manage to stitch the largest section partly because of the angle at which I had to work, partly because of the limitations of the needle I was working with, and partly because there was nothing to stitch the flap to. Better to leave it partially open so the wound can drain, I hope.
Both my sons were very helpful for which I am immensely grateful. When I was their age, I would have passed out from either the smell or just the general grossness of the situation. But my boys were stalwart. As for me, my hands shook only when I first began stitching.
After surgery, I put my roo in the crate in the master bathroom, with a towel coiled up like a nest to support his weight as he was too weak to stand at that point. He seemed grateful for it too. I put food and antibiotic laced water in there with him as well, but he went right to sleep and slept soundly all night. A heating pad and a blanket on top of the crate to provide a little extra warmth finished the set up. With a normal temp between 102 and 103, the warmer I keep his environment, the less energy he has to burn staying warm and the more energy he can devote to healing.
By this morning he was up on his feet, but not much interested in eating the scrambled egg I made for him. He did eat part of my sandwich at dinner and we gave him an evening snack of tomato, which he absolutely demolished. He hasn’t touched the water and that is a concern. He seems like he’s going to make it, but the biggest danger for him now is infection. Even though the wound was basically a large area of skin lifted and shredded with no underlying damage to the muscle tissue, there still is a lot of open area under those flaps of skin. Unlike the hens though, he is a very good patient. So far. . .
Out in the pasture this morning, I found the flock very sedate. Not inquisitive and mooching like normal, nor skittish and flighty like when they’ve had a bad fright. Rather, they seemed sad, or maybe their morale is just at a low point right now. Kevin got along with all of them and I suspect she amused the rest of the flock as much as she amused us. I did find one more wounded bird. Dorking hen 33, aka Debbie (who survived me breaking her leg last summer during a morning chicken tractor move.) She had a flap of skin dangling over her eye that annoyed her to no end. Enough so that I was able to walk up on her and pick her up in broad daylight. That doesn’t happen often. A quick snip with the pocket knife and you couldn’t tell she’d been wounded at all. She was very happy to have it off.
All I managed to do in the way of improved security was to install hardware cloth on the front of the Dorking tractor. No skunk, coon or possum hands are going through that. I also secured the tarp Michael had hastily put on last night. It is my hope to get the other three tractors done up the same way tomorrow. Just too many other things to do today.
Like my vigil tonight. But that’s a whole nuther story.