Last night coyotes killed my entire flock. We got home late from a wonderful day at our Northwest Highland Cattle Association meeting in Sedro-Woolley, and I heard one yip of a coyote but everything seemed ok. I didn't check on my chickens...it was bedtime and we were very sunburned and exhausted.
This morning I was up before 6 and looked outside to see something amiss...what looked like white fluff or something in the paddock. Given our paddock is nothing but dirt, mud and haylage, anything light looks out of place among all the dark brown, black and dirty tan colors. I put on my rubber boots and headed outside...and saw chaos everywhere. Feathers in piles and spread essentially the length of the paddock. I walked around to the side of the runs and saw Brewster, my lovely rooster, dead in the dirt. Inside the barn, a red sex link hen, dead on the floor, and feathers of everyone everywhere.
Sobbing, I went inside and woke Paul up, and we went back out and looked, walking the property. He's a hunter so he knows how to find tracks, and he found the coyote footprints just outside the barn in the paddock. Looking more, we realized the chickens had been dragged out to the north fenceline, where we found the head of one of my Easter Eggers, and saw more feathers in the brush beyond the fenceline.
I'm so sad, and upset with myself. We both loved watching our flock free range all over our pasture (and sometimes into the neighboring fields), loved that they could let themselves out in the morning and put themselves away at night. But that obviously came at a huge cost. We knew our barn didn't have the best situation...and, I guess, in my laziness, I was happy when Paul rigged a way to prop the barn door open wide enough for chickens to pass (and, obviously, coyotes) but keep the calves out.
Paul buried Brewster and the red hen under the paddock's apple tree with Buttless, the first hen I ever lost (she was eggbound and died of it last year). There are too many feathers to pick up, but maybe I can get myself outside to at least pick up the gory ones and throw them out. The blood will need time (or rain) to soak into the soil.
I do have a couple of dozen unrefrigerated fertile eggs from my flock and will check with a neighbor to see if he has an incubator I can borrow, so that I could maybe hatch my own new little flocks. It takes, apparently, 21 days to hatch an egg, so that would give us plenty of time to build a whole new coop (a project we planned to start someday anyway so we'd have more hay storage in the barn). As for free ranging...that's hard. It's so much better for their happy little lives - until something goes terribly wrong and those lives end. And to think how traumatic that whole scene last night must have been on the cattle and the dogs, and our one cat who is outside nightly until we go to bed. Everyone was witness...and I don't even want to think about the terror the flock must have suffered.
Oy. I will have chickens again...they are charming and easy and fun and the bonus of eggs (and meat, eventually) is a great thing. I need a little time, and a better plan, though, before we embark on that road again.