When I first announced the arrival of the “ladies”, many readers warned me about predators. Though we have foxes and birds of prey in the area, these rarely pose any serious threat to backyard chickens where I live, provided the shelter to which the hens retire in the evenings is secure.
The biggest threat to hens here comes from martens, which can gain access to a coop if they are provided with even a sliver of an opening to get through. In this regard, my brick henhouse has passed the test. Not a single marten has managed to slip through its defenses.
Thankfully, martens are primarily nocturnal creatures. Chickens, on the other hand, are diurnal. Thus, martens and chickens rarely occupy the same space at the same time. This knowledge and experience made me confident enough to open up the chicken run and allow the ladies to spend the days freely grazing in the back portion of my property. I had never experienced any problems with predators, at least not in the daytime. Nevertheless, my predator-free streak as a keeper of hens recently came to a tragic end.
Two days ago, my family and I joined a small group of fellow villagers and visited the Christmas market in the nearby city of Győr. We left an hour before sunset and would not be home until well after nightfall. Knowing this, I asked my next-door neighbor – who also keeps chickens – to lock up the henhouse shortly after sunset in my absence. We got home from the trip sometime after nine. Seeing the henhouse door closed and the opening to the run barricaded, I assumed all was well with the hens and retired for the evening.
While feeding the ladies in the morning, I counted only ten hens inside. I recounted several times, but the number always stopped at ten. With a sinking heart, I went out into the yard hoping to find the eleventh lady perched safely somewhere. It didn’t take me long to find her.
She was in the frosty grass near the back fence nestled amid her torn-out feathers, the back of her head and neck bitten to the bone, her wide-open abdomen spilling its glaciated entrails onto the frozen earth. All signs pointed to marten predation. My neighbor had failed to notice her out in the yard when he locked up the coop for the night. An opportunistic marten took care of the rest.
I disposed of the carcass before I let the other hens out for the day. The incident gnawed away at me all day. That night, I loaded my trusty marten trap with sardines and placed it in the exact place I had found the dead hen. I knew my chances of trapping the marten were slim. I also knew my chances of catching a hedgehog or other curious and hungry nocturnal animal was high. All the same, I figured it was worth a shot.
I checked the trap twice, at midnight and four in the morning. At midnight the trap was still empty; by four in the morning, I had succeeded in trapping a neighbor’s cat. I considered the possibility that the cat may have been the chicken killer, but I quickly dismissed the notion. I had seen that cat around the chickens; it had never bothered them. I opened the trap door to set the cat free. The wretched thing was so stiff from cold and shock that I had to shake it out of the trap.
I won’t bother putting the trap out again, but I do hope no further misfortunes visit my ten remaining hens.