We had a homesteading disaster this week. On Monday afternoon, I went out to check on my chickens, feed/water them, and collect eggs. I finished with our permanent coop, and was heading across the lawn to the chicken tractor, when I noticed that something looked "off". As I got nearer, I realized that there were two obviously dead chickens lying stiff on their sides. They hadn't been attacked by anything, but they were definitely dead.
I looked at the coop, and realized that the new position we'd moved it to the night before had it facing into the wind in a way that the tarp's unsecured side was facing the wind. It had blown off, and the chickens had been in full sun all day long. When I stepped into the chicken coop, I was shocked to find all 3 waterers were empty, even though they'd been full at nightfall.
As I looked around more closely, I realized there was also another dead chicken laying near the feeder, and a bunch of chickens piled into one of the corner brace triangles. The bottom chicken was obviously dead, since its head was sticking out under the baseboard, and the dog had been chewing on its neck. I suspected some of the others were also dead, though the top one was still breathing.
I refilled the waterers, and tried to pull the tarp back into place. Three of the chickens immediately went to the water. The other two I could see were alive didn't get up right away. By the time I went inside to call my husband, shade was beginning to fall across the chicken coop. The kids went out to see the catastrophe, and ran back to report that there were 4 chickens moving around, but the one that had been alive in the corner was now dead, too.
That left the count at 4 live chickens, and 8 probably dead chickens. Steve told me to wait until he was home, and he'd haul the dead ones to the far side of the pasture, away from our dog.
The kids and I spent the rest of the afternoon shooing the dog and outside cats away from the chicken tractor. As I tried to assess what had happened, it became apparent that the new chicken tractor position was the culprit. It had been on a small hill for a few days, but the new spot was steeper, and the water had drained out of the waterers. The waterers were probably empty before the chickens ever woke up that day. So they spent the day in 95 degree heat, with no water, and no shade.
Steve came home, did the dirty work of removing all the dead chickens, and hauled them away. We moved the chicken tractor back to level ground, and put new tarps on it, that could be fastened down on all sides. The four remaining Ameraucanas seem to be doing fine. Since we have 8 more hens and a guinea hen in the non-portable coop, we're planning to move them into the chicken tractor with the Ameraucanas soon. Then all the chickens will have access to fresh grass.
We'd talked about down-sizing our chickens, but hadn't planned to do it this way. The week before, we'd lost a chicken to an accident in the permanent coop. It was laying its eggs in a woodpile, and got its head stuck between two logs that must have shifted. Steve took care of that one for me, too.
We started out with 24 chickens and 1 guinea hen last Spring. One of our pullets ended up being a blue-ribbon rooster we gave away after the county fair. Over the past year, we've lost 11 chickens to death (9 in the past 2 weeks), and gave away the rooster. So now we're down to 12 hens of various breeds (Buff Orpington, Barred Rock, Production Red, and Ameraucana) and one guinea hen. Maybe now we won't keep getting over-run with eggs.