Friday, August 27, 2010

Chicken Tractor Disaster

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.

Still learning,
April E.

9 comments:

  1. Sorry for your loss. While we get the extremes of both summer heat and winter cold here in Kansas, I find heat will kill our chickens faster than cold anyday. Fortunately we have only lost one or two this summer (not sure if heat related or not) -- but we are blessed with the ability to allow them to run free-range outside of a pen for much of the day, where they find their own shade. At least most of them - some we keep separate for various reasons, and use a chicken tractor or a small coop in those cases. Maybe you can hatch out a new batch next spring to make up for the losses. (we actually have one chicken "setting" right now, but I probably wouldn't try to hatch much later than this.

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  2. Yuck! Last year a raccoon got into our boys 4-H chickens and killed 16 of them 6 weeks before the fair. This year, I bought extras just in case and we haven't lost any and are getting 2 dozen eggs a day.

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  3. Oh, I am so sorry to read this. I just about cried. What an awful way to downsize your chickens. At first read, though, I read that you were shooting your dog and has to re-read it because I certainly couldn't understand why the dog needed to be shot. So glad you were just *shoo-ing* it away! (My mis-read, not your mis-type.) I hope having your new bookshelves and your closet cleaned out helps balance out this tragedy.

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  4. We are in KS, as well. We lost 3 guineas to the cold one winter, which is why we only have one left. (Our dog got the 4th guinea, since we originally had 5. And that is why we do NOT free-range our chickens. LOL!!)

    Last winter, we moved the guinea and all the chickens into our stone barn, and they did just fine there. We didn't lose any. We'll be moving these back to the barn sometime in October ... before it snows again. One of our previous chicken losses was when SOMETHING got it while it was still in the pen late last summer. But it was only one. And then our dog got another chicken when it escaped the barn late last Fall. We didn't even realize she had escaped until we found the dog chewing on her near our back door. Ugh!

    We've been surprised not to lose more to predators, actually, with the coyotes nearby and coons, etc. We won't be hatching out any chickens since we got rid of the rooster. He was attacking us when we went to feed them, and we just got tired of it.

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  5. Oh, April, that is too bad. You are a braver woman than I, I think I would have run when I first saw a dead chicken and sent one of the kids to investigate. For some reason dead animals are just something I cannot stomach! Hence the reason our chicks went to a farm not long after hatching. A month of "farming" was enough for me.

    You amaze me! I'm sure you're thankful for a husband that willingly takes care of those situations as well. That's a blessing.
    ~Erin

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  6. Oh, haha! No, not shooting her, though when she has killed some of our poultry in the past, I was pretty angry with her.

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  7. Erin, please notice *I* did not dig down through the piled up chickens to find out how many were alive or dead. LOL!! Even Steve decided he wanted gloves on before doing that. LOL!! When we had two guineas freeze one winter, I did pick them up by their feet (probably with gloves on) and walk them out into the pasture myself. But that wasn't as bad as this. Yuck!! I'm very thankful Steve handles that stuff. :)

    April

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  8. We also have dogs (Great Pyrenees - mainly for the protection of our goats) but the way we handle the chicken/dog issue (which might not be an issue at all - we've never had either dog bother our chickens, but we don't necessary want to give them that chance) is that we have a fenced front yard. The dogs stay inside the fence during the day when the chickens are out and about all the rest of the area; and then after we lock up the chickens for the night, we let the dogs out to protect against noctural predators. It actually works quite well because sometimes the dogs are overzealous with trying to "help" us if they are out during the day, and we worry more about them maybe get out in harvest traffic. At night there is very little traffic, and they do a good job and letting the coyotes know this is protected land.

    I hear you about the rooster - we have had to butcher a few for that temperament. But the last couple we've had have been very good temperaments, a pleasure to have around (one of them we raised ourselves from a chick).

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  9. [...] the chickens in the permanent enclosure, and a few from those in the chicken tractor.  But then we lost a bunch of chickens and combined them [...]

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