This means war.
That's what I was muttering last night as I went out again at 3:00am, thanks to some keen listening from R, who woke me to say she heard squawking. I got up, got the dog and the stoutest stick I could find and the flashlight, and out I went, making enough noise so as not to end up cornering something potentially nasty. I got to the henhouse run to see the door I had carefully put in place pushed open. Oh, no, not again. I did hear some noise in the growth around the barns but wasn't sure if it was the retreating attacker or an innocent bystander.
I ran in to see four of the five hens who had been there looking pretty anxious but quiet, then sighed and went back out. Much to my surprise, I found hen #5 limping in the run. I gently got her back into the coop (no cuts, apparently, just had her leg pulled at badly) then went out to do some more investigating. I did have a wry smile as I looked at the sign from Sunday's party that said "Please don't feed the chickens" and realized that "Please don't eat the chickens" might be more applicable. I ended my late-night romp by screwing the door in place, a good temporary measure but not for the long-term.
So now to the latest episode of CSI:Farm. I'm glad I had the foresight the night before to sprinkle a layer of flour by the coop entrances; last night's attacker seems to have been a raccoon from the look of the tracks. But according to the websites I've been reading through to determine the predator, the first night's kills were more in the line of a fox, coyote, or fisher. Raccoons don't typically take the whole bird and leave only feathers behind. Yesterday I had followed the trail of the attacks around the coop and it seems to have been quite a chase, with several clusters of feathers including a run through a culvert until it reached the last clump of feathers at the foot of a tree. That's where the chalk outline belongs, I think. So another question comes up: was last night a return, or a first go? Am I dealing with an Axis of Evil Chicken Predators?
I also noticed something new about the hens' behavior last evening when they roosted. They have always had the majority of them on a nice little roosting pole. Last night they roosted anywhere but there. That got me thinking that the first night's attacks happened after they had roosted and whatever it was came into the coop.
The chickens have always been low-maintenance until the past three days. *sigh*. Used to be, just open the door to the run, make sure the food and water were good, gather the eggs, clean out the manure once a week, close up the door at night. Hopefully some changes to the coop security will re-establish that.
The action steps for today are to make a new door worthy of Fort Knox, to try and get shocked and injured hen #5 more herself, to continue nursing Chaos back to health, to cut the grass around the coop well down so there are clean sight lines should a gun get involved, to make a portable run so they can free range on the grass during the day without being able to wander off, and finish it all in time to leave for a ball game where the choir will be singing this evening.
But thanks to R, last night seems to have been a rescue in the nick of time.