Friday, December 18, 2009

Cannibals. No, really, the chickens are cannibals.

Some may find this post graphic.  I tried keeping the photos beyond the "read more" link -- but it is not working.  If you don't want to see the photos, don't go any further!

A couple of days ago I noticed a big clump of red feathers in the hen pen.  It's not unusual to see a single feather or two, they are shed or hens get in a tussle and you end up with a feather or two.  But this was a clump and clearly from a bigger altercation.  I did not see any sign of trouble within the flock, though, so I forgot about it.

Sadly, when I got home today, I found the end result.
When I came into the coop this evening the chickens were all clucking and running around like usual. But as I scanned the pen floor I saw this.

It did not immediately register for me what I was looking at.  Was it an even larger clump of feathers?  But then I saw the ribcage and realized it was the hollowed-out carcass of one of my chickens.

I have been a vegetarian for twenty years, but there was a time in my adult life when I cooked stuffed turkey, so I was not entirely unfamiliar with the anatomy.  There was nothing, however, that looked like it should be in a little plastic bag.  This hen was hollow.  See?

I am puzzled now, trying to figure out whether the hen was weak and died, being subsequently eaten, or if something other than a chicken killed her (which would mean a critter was inside my barn, not a happy thought).  After I disposed of her carcass I went back and inventoried the hens left.  They are all there.  This was a Rhode Island Red I got in 2006, so she wasn't exactly a "spring chicken".

We had exceptionally bad weather last week and they were cooped up together inside for a couple of days.  Their radio died, too, so maybe they just got really bored?  But the past few days they have been allowed outside again.  I would be grateful for any ideas other chicken-keepers might have about what happened.


Callie Brady said...

I would guess that since the other hens are OK that this hen died of natural causes or was stressed because she was old and it was cold and she died. It is natural for the other chickens to eat whatever they can find so they cleaned out the carcass. If the hen that died wasn't being pecked on before this I don't think the other hens killed her. They will peck a hen to death if the hen has blood or wounds showing where they have pecked down past the skin. That's why I cover any pecked or bald areas with duct tape to stop the other hens from killing or badly damaging the hen. If you have cement floors under the roosts, I have heard of hens falling off their perch and being killed by hitting their heads on the cement. Whenever I have to keep my chickens penned I worry about them pecking on each other, but so far I have been lucky. Good luck. I hope you don't have any more trouble.

John Going Gently said...

yes I agree with is rare for an adult hen to be dispatched without the usual bullying behavoiur or vent/ feather pecking to be done before hand....
having said this several of my deaths in the coops have been totally untouched!

I wonder if a stoat killed her and the hens cleared up the mess afterwards!

The JR said...

Very strange. I have no idea.

Nancy K. said...

How awful!

I'm sorry for your poor hen and hope nothing like it happens again.

Manhattan Harvey said...

I may be a soft ol' city boy, but I do understand the circle of life and all that. I'm just glad I live on the 24th floor of my co-op apartment building where the elevator button is too high to be reached by any marauding CHICKENS. I'm sure I've pissed off a chicken or three in my time. I just never thought it would come back to haunt me. Thanks for opening my eyes.

Johanna said...

All's been calm in the coop. I'm really hoping this was an aberration.

And Harvey, are you implying there was some kind of chicken karma going on? Really?

Gina said...

Hi Johanna, We had a Bald Eagle walk right into our chicken coop, through the small opening. We heard the commotion and found both the injured chicken and the eagle in the coop.

The eagle hung around for a few days and then died and so did the chicken.

We believe that the Bald Eagle was old and was looking for an easy meal.

By the way, my chicken farmer husband tells me that there is a liquid one can paint onto open wounds to prevent further attacks.


Rhonda said...

Sorry to hear about the dear one that died...
You have no idea how much I'm learning from your blog!
I've never owned any animal except cats and dogs but hope to change that with my husband within the next couple of years.
I'm litterally learning a ton from you and your friends.
Thank you!

Rebekah Borucki said...

Oh no! This post sent a chill down my spine. My hens have been so antsy since the cold weather set in and have been picking on one particular bird. Treats and lots of free-range time in the snow have cured the problem. I agree with the others that she probably died naturally... especially if you haven't seen any bullying since. So sorry for your loss :(

Anonymous said...

this exact same scenario just happened to me today the feathers were in the coop in the morning and i didnt think much of it then in the evening i go in tthe eveining and notice the carcass amazing the story is exactly the same to a T