Need help with bizarre chicken death

deanna_in_nh(5a/4b)September 7, 2010

One of our chickens was killed today and we are stumped. We are also new at this!

First, before today we had 7 free range chickens. No signs of predators as of yet. They pretty much ranged all day long till dusk when they would retire to the coop. We own 6.5 acres, but maybe an acre that is cleared with our house on it. We have dogs and I think their scent has helped keep predators at bay. It was physically impossible for the dogs to have been the problem today. THe chickens mainly ranged on the edge of the woods surrounding the house, sometimes on the lawn. They rarely went 30 feet deep into the woods.

Our chicken was killed in the middle of the day. WE were gone from 11:45 to 4:30-ish. Whatever got it attacked it first under an apple tree at the lawn edge, spreading feathers. The chicken's body was found roughly 20 feet into the woods at the base of a tree. The thing that confuses us is how it was killed. Its neck had been completely eaten to the bone of meat. There was a small hole near the neck on the back of the chicken where some meat was possibly eaten out. But, the rest of the chicken was totally intact. All that nice good meat on the breast and legs was completely untouched.

What would eat just the scrawny neck of a chicken and leave all the good parts behind? What would do this, but then not drag the chicken away to finish eating later? What would attack just one chicken out of a flock of seven running uncaged and vulnerable? In addition, the other chickens didn't seem disturbed after we got home. I know that when they feel danger in the past they have found a hiding place and hunkered down in quietness.

Our chickens have been chest butting each other for about a week. We'll see them fly together and careen into each other chest-first. WE are now wondering if our chicken was killed by the other chickens. We just can't figure out what wild animal would kill a chicken and then not bother eating any of the meet.

Any help is greatly appreciated!

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Sorry but this is what happens to range free chiockens.i had quite a few loses over the yeatrs from owls,weasel,hawks,foxes,dogs so much that we built a nice run, they stay in owls eat the heads let rest lay.

    Bookmark   September 7, 2010 at 9:43PM
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One "predator" to keep in mind is the other chickens. They occasionally gang up on a member of the flock and peck them to death.

Foxes and coyotes would have hauled the bird away or eaten a lot more of it. Same for hawks and owls. A feral cat would have eaten more of it.

So we're left with the "non-predators", the chickens.

    Bookmark   September 8, 2010 at 9:50AM
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Racoons often do just what you described. I had one earlier this year get through a hole in my exercise run, and it just slaughtered and mutilated several hens and left them. I wouldn't have resented the deaths so much if they had been eaten.

    Bookmark   September 8, 2010 at 3:20PM
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littledog(z7 OK)

I'd say it's *not* your other chickens. If the head was still intact, it sounds like you have a weasel or it's close relative, a skunk. They love chicken necks.

If it had been one of the other chickens, they would have zeroed in on one spot, either the vent and pecked away until the guts fell out, or at the back of the head and again, and kept at it until the bird was scalped. But since your birds are loose on a large area, even the lowest bird in the pecking order would have been able to escape it's tormentors. Instead of a pile of feathers in one place (where it was attacked & killed), and and a dead bird in another where it was drug and eaten, you would have found a live bird, possibly bloodied and trying to hide up under something. Most likely though, you wouldn't have known anything was wrong, because the bird would have run far enough away that it escaped serious injury until the rest of the flock lost interest.

Raccoon don't often hunt out in open; instead, they'll break into your chicken coop at night and go into a frenzy, killing as many birds as they can, and eating almost none of them.

    Bookmark   September 9, 2010 at 11:45AM
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I'm sorry, but racoons will hunt in the open. I lost one hen this year outside, and a hen last year who was free ranging and didn't get put in early enough, and one year a pen of chicks.

    Bookmark   September 9, 2010 at 5:08PM
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I appreciate all the replies. This has been very helpful. Part of me wishes it wasn't an outside animal, meaning our predator worries were still low, but part of me is glad the likelihood that it was another chicken is low, meaning I don't have to worry as much about them killing each other. I'm grateful we only lost one.

    Bookmark   September 10, 2010 at 11:54AM
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littledog(z7 OK)

Oh no, I didn't say Raccoons never hunt in the open, only that they don't do it often.

That's partly because prefer the safety of forest to open fields, but mostly because they're nocturnal. If a Raccoon is sleeping in a tree in the middle of a field and a chicken wanders along underneath, scratching and pecking and generally being as unaware as only a domestic chicken can be, I wouldn't put it past it to climb down far enough to jump the bird and have a quick snack. But for the most part, a Raccoon will wait until it's late and the birds are roosting, and then do their dirty work under cover of darkness.

Usually, if you're seeing a raccoon in broad day, right out in the open, it's either been conditioned to be around people (because someone has been feeding it), or it's in the early stages of something like distemper or rabies.

Coyotes are a different matter; they'll cheerfully stalk poultry and young livestock in broad daylight. They rely on their dead grass colored camouflage, their stalking ability, and if all else fails, their speed to catch something and get away with it.

Anyway, I hope you don't loose anymore. Are your dogs trustworthy with the chickens? If they are, you can always let them out loose; they might not be guarding the chickens specifically, but they can help keep away predators from the area.

    Bookmark   September 11, 2010 at 12:06AM
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One dog is trustworthy with the chickens, the other is not and stays tied up inside. When she is outside on a leash she has a muzzle on. I hate having her so restrained when she used to run free all day, but she did eat 3 chicks. She has completely understood what she did wrong and will turn away from the chickens when they come near now, never chases them or won't go near the coop now, but I still don't trust her when my back is turned. Since we were gone from home both dogs were locked inside the house. The untrustworthy one is a German Shepherd and she is an extremely effective thief deterrent in the house while we are gone!

When we are home and the other dog is running around, as are the children often, I'm sure that helps keep predators away, especially since the chickens don't go deep into the woods. Since the attack we are keeping them in the coop run when we leave the house. The coop run is, however, roughly 12-15 sq ft, so it's not so roomy for 6 chickens.

I wouldn't want to leave our trustworthy dog out while we are gone for fear that she would go a-wandering when left by herself. The German Shepherd should stay in the house not just because she eats chickens, but to guard all the entryways, so the other would be out alone for many hours. She might visit our neighbors cows or dog kennel, and even though are neighbors are great, I'm sure they don't want a bored dog disturbing their grounds!

We do have coyotes, though I have never seen one. Two years ago our neighbor woke up to see one lone coyote on her front lawn. The thing I see most is wild turkeys, so that's something to be grateful for! Hopefully there are enough wild turkeys to keep the coyotes stuffed.

    Bookmark   September 11, 2010 at 8:54PM
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