Animal Biting Hens Feet From Under Coop?

newbiegardner(Z10 S. Florida)September 4, 2008

Folks,

We have a chicken coop that is more like an elevated cage. The bottom is about 1 foot off of the ground and has 1/2 inch wire mesh on it.

A few months ago we lost one hen when her feet began swelling up from what appeared to be cuts on it. A friend very experienced with chickens said that the hen probably cut her foot on something and then it became infected. He said to check the wire cage for any loose wires or sharp edges that might have cut her foot. We looked and could find nothing.

A month or so later, the exact same thing happened to the other hen and we lost her.

There is NOTHING SHARP in the coop....the floor is wire but it is coated wire and the spacing is 1/2...so I am very confused.

We got another hen and rooster and this morning when I went to the coop..the hen was dead. Its foot was MISSING...like something grabbed it from the bottom and chewed it off...and the poor thing bled to death.

Now, I am thinking that the same thing must have been happening all along. Some predator is going underneath the cage and trying to stick their little paws through and scratching at the chickens feet. Sounds bizarre, right?

What else could it be. I am in the process of building a coop with a solid floor but that will take me 2-3 weeks to finish.

The remaining rooster that we have is acting strange. He is "perched" on top of the water dish instead of on the floor of the cage....as if he is AFRAID to be on the floor.

Any thoughts on what is killing our chickens? A skunk, racoon, weasel, opossum, rat, mice? What predators have claws small enough to reach up through the bottom of a wire cage and slice up chicken's feet?

We are new to raising chickens and this experience has me and my family devastated.

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sarahbobarah(Zone 7 / n.e. AL)

without a doubt - something has been been after your chickens from underneath... it could be any of the animals you listed... but my bet goes on the opossom! there are some very sneaky predators in the chicken community!
sorry to hear that you have had such a tough time of it... until you get something else built, if you could put something in the coop with your remaining chicken ... maybe box off a section with plywood or just just lay a piece over part of the floor? also, chickens love having a perch (if you don't have one) and that would help keep his feet safe. although, do be careful with the SIDES of the cage as well, because i have literally had a hen pull through 1 inch wire - bit by bit. now i have a solid little chicken coop that everyone goes into at night, and i close and latch the door behind them.
so don't get too discouraged... starting off takes some time, but once you have a good setup it will be much easier :)

sarah

    Bookmark   September 4, 2008 at 11:26AM
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velvet_sparrow(Zone 5b, Gardnerville, NV)

I'm sorry you lost your hens. :( Your roo is being VERY smart to stay off the bottom of the cage! From his behavior it's obvious that it's a predator such as you describe--raccoon, skunk, possum--even rats or mice. Which one it is doesn't really matter, they are all nocturnal and are preying on your birds while they are sleeping. Good for you for taking steps to protect your birds.

Until your new coop is done, I'd suggest running some wire (hardware cloth) around the bottom of the cage so that nothing else can get underneath it. I'd also extend the wire about 6 inches underground, and curl the edge of it outward so that any predator that may dig to try and get under the wire won't be successful.

Now that the predator knows where to find a chicken dinner (or just where to cause harm), it'll keep coming back, and may even show others where to feed. :( I've got a chicken info site that may help. here:

http://jackshenhouse.com/

This is the section on the coop & run:
http://jackshenhouse.com/VSChickCoop.htm

Good luck with your new coop! Protect your roo ASAP, he must be under enormous stress from being in such fear, poor guy.

Velvet ~:>

    Bookmark   September 4, 2008 at 1:21PM
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cpp6318

Raccon. They are grabbers. Everything else will attack with its bite and only use paws to hold something down to bite it but a raccoon will reach in and grab it with its hands.
I set a trap one time for a coon that was pestering my birds. I baited it with a dead pigeon. In the morning there was a pile of feathers on the inside of the trap and a pile of bones on the outside and coon tracks all over.
I suggest that you make a roost right smack dab in the middle of the coop so that the birds can roost out of reach from those hands.

    Bookmark   September 4, 2008 at 6:41PM
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calliope(6)

My grandchildren had rabbits in outside coops, and the same thing happened to them. I also think it's likely raccoons. They will reach in and grab. I had one get into a confined area where I had chicks brooding. They were adequately caged to keep animals out and the wiring was small enough to keep the chicks in, but when I went to check on them the next morning the cage was completely empty. It was still locked and secure and there were no sign of the chicks. It had to be a raccoon, and it had to have pulled each chick out through the spaces between the wires. One by one.

    Bookmark   September 6, 2008 at 1:30AM
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trianglejohn

Your story reminds me of a hard lesson I learned years ago. Back then in addition to chickens and other such fowl I also raised small cage birds like canaries, parakeets and cockatiels. I heard a ruckus one night in the backyard and went outside to find a bunch of raccoons all over the elevated cages. The wire mesh was very strong and the openings were pretty small but the raccoons were very determined and trying every position possible to reach in and pull the birds over to the wire. They had damaged one bird out of the whole group so the situation was not that dangerous but I was infuriated that they would even try to eat a living creature through the wire mesh! I had in my hand one of the biggest maglite flashlights on the market. I grabbed the closest 'coon by the tail and proceded to bash its brains in. I tell you I hit it with all the strength I had in my 200+ pound body. It meant nothing. The guy was unfazed. I cannot believe how tough they are. I mean I hit it a dozen times with all my might. Not only did it not hurt the 'coon, it didn't even stop it from trying to eat the bird it had snared with two of its fingers!

Now I only put animals in predator proof cages. I build absolute fortresses for my pets or I don't have them at all.

    Bookmark   September 9, 2008 at 3:04PM
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newbiegardner(Z10 S. Florida)

Thanks for all the responses....I think it was a raccoon. We have quite a few around.......I just did not think they could grab a chicken through a completely enclosed cage with hardware cloth all around with 1/2 inch spacing. I suppose a raccoons hand can fit through a 1/2 inch X 1/2 opening.

I had a dowel for a roost in the cage...but it was not elevated off the bottom...and was just sitting on the bottom of the cage.

FOLLOW UP QUESTION: Can Raccoons dig? Since posting, I have built a new 2 story coop where the chickens roam free on the first floor (no wire mesh on the floor) and a secure coop on the second floor where they get locked up at night. I am not afraid of raccoons at night in this new coop....as the second floor is bullet proof. The first floor, however, does not have a floor surface although there is hardware cloth along the walls.

Can a raccoon dig under the coop in broad daylight and nab one of the chickens? Any other animals that are 'day diggers'? I understand most predators are at night. I'm not afraid of a dog as the chickens will run upstairs and a dog is too big to fit on the second floor. A oppossum or skunk or snake or weasel could.

I guess I should have asked this question before building the coop....but I was in such a hurry to build it since we lost our hen. I bought plans through a company online and finished the coop this weekend. A link follows:

Here is a link that might be useful: Picture of my new (predator proof?) coop

    Bookmark   September 9, 2008 at 9:00PM
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mbetts(5)

I have had my hens in a coop very similar to yours for three years now. I live in town, but there are woods next to my house. I have concerns like you about something coming around during the day and trying to dig under the wire. It helps that I work at home so I am generally around. So far I have had no predator make any attempt to get in. The fact that the chicken coop is moved every day probably helps, plus it is in the middle of the yard so a predator would have to be digging right out in the open.
There is always a risk, but from my experience anyway your chickens should be just fine.
mbetts

    Bookmark   September 9, 2008 at 10:11PM
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velvet_sparrow(Zone 5b, Gardnerville, NV)

newbiegardner, I clicked your link...what that actually IS, is a 'chicken tractor'--that is, it is designed as a daytime ONLY run since it has no bottom and has minimal protection from predators--the openings on that wire are WAY to big. Chicken tractors are designed to be easily drug or moved around the yard, giving the chickens a new spot to forage in every few days while also supplying nests. They aren't meant to house chickens overnight unless that have a completely enclosed coop area with solid walls, ceiling & floor that the chickens can be shut into.

Predators such as raccoons are VERY smart and patient when it comes to getting to your birds. They'll either tip that thing over, dig under or find a way to squish under the bottom edge.

Please listen to everyone's stories & advice, other people have experienced this kind of heartache before. :(

Velvet ~:>

    Bookmark   September 9, 2008 at 10:35PM
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mbetts(5)

My chicken tractor has a wooden ramp which you pull up at night, closing the coop part of the tractor and leaving the chickens enclosed in a coop whose walls are made of wood (no wire). I think his does too. Shouldn't that be all right?
mbetts

    Bookmark   September 10, 2008 at 8:13AM
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calliope(6)

My chicken coop is almost a fortress. The exercise yard is double fenced and has a screened in top too. The wire screening does not stop at ground level. We dug around the periphery when we installed it and buried the fencing a foot deep. I still see evidence of animals trying to burrow under the fencing. I inspect the yard periphery at least twice a day, and always in the a.m. when I go feed and again at dusk, when I replenish water. If there is any sign of attempts to enter the pens from the outside, I keep a stack of cinder blocks near the henhouse and immediately put a cider block over the dig hole. They usually give up before digging all night again........until the next time.

Chickens in pens are literally sitting ducks. When a predator gets in, like a coon, they don't just kill to eat. I could understand that....they just slaughter and leave the carcasses. I picked up a new egg customer last week, as a weasel had gotten in her regular egg seller's pens and killed fifty hens.

    Bookmark   September 11, 2008 at 8:19PM
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cherrycowgirl(7)

When we first got our chickens and ducks we had the same problem. We lost 7 ducks in one night. First we put out a live trap to see what was getting at them and we caught an opposum and fisher cats. Since putting in the solid floor and barbed wire around the top of the fence we have not had any problems. Our cat was also attacked by a fisher cat. Be careful they are real nasty! Good luck

    Bookmark   September 17, 2008 at 12:11PM
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seamommy(7bTX)

I house my chickens in a strong shed with doors that lock and a small hatch that I can close and latch at night. The latch will keep out anything except racoons, but we haven't had problems with them for a couple of years. Our pen is large, 65' X 100' so we couldn't completely cover the top.

Our coop is a wooden shed with a head height of 12' and the perches are 2' from the top. Most of the chickens can fly up, but some of the older ones use a little ramp to a lower perch and then fly over to the higher one about 5' away. It's too far for a coon to jump over to it even if he climbs the ramp. The chickens feel safe up there as they huddle together every night. The floor is two layers of 5/8" plywood with vinyl sheet floor. The vinyl makes it easy to clean and sanitize between bedding changes.

To stop predatory birds we hung string and wire in a criss-cross pattern at the top of the fenceposts. On one of the wires we hung a pair of cover-alls that has long sleeves. It looks like a man standing right in front of the shed with his arms up in the air. In fact the only predators we've had trouble with since we hung Clyde out there are rat snakes. I killed a 6 footer this summer - it gave me the willies when he crossed behind me at the door...

But, anyway....

The fence is 8' cedar fence posts with 18" set in concrete and standard chicken wire up to the top. We let the top 12" of chicken wire curl outward so that if something climbs the wire they get to the top of the wire and fall backward on the outside of the pen. We also buried the bottom 6" of chicken wire angling it outward to prevent diggers.

Two years ago we had a racoon who figured out how to climb the wire right at the fence post and then to hang onto the post and bend the chicken wire to the inside of the pen. He then managed to get inside of the coop by unlatching the little chicken door. The perches are high so I know he didn't grab one of the chickens, but I had a brave roo who probably attacked the racoon. He followed the racoon all the way to the fence (or was dragged), but the coon couldn't get him over the fence before I got there and he got away. Roo lost an eye but healed just fine otherwise.

Anyway, I guess the bottom line is there aren't very many systems that are compoletely safe, but the more protection you can provide the better. And Velvet Sparrows web site is bookmarked on my computers because she knows her chicken stuff. Cheryl

    Bookmark   September 17, 2008 at 2:01PM
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newbiegardner(Z10 S. Florida)

Thank you all for your posts. My guess is that the culprit biting my hens feet was a raccoon. I once caught a cat under the coop but a cats paws are too big to go through the 1/2" hardward cloth at the bottom of the cage....I guess a Raccoon's can. Or maybe it was a opossum or any of the other animals you guys mentioned.

I now have a new coop but the picture above is of the OLD one if anyone wants to see it (look at the cat under it...yikes!):

    Bookmark   September 18, 2008 at 9:49AM
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usmc_recon

A cats paws maybe to large to fit into the cage but his toes and claws aren't. I had 2 cockatiels lose their toes to a cat grabbing from underneath. The cage had a 1/2" welded wire bottom. I caught him in the act. The cockatiels survived albeit toeless. The cat didn't. You may want to keep an eye on Mr. Tom the cat.

    Bookmark   April 29, 2009 at 9:28PM
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