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On Thursday morning, around 6AM, just like any other morning I went up to the turkey pen to feed the poults.  As I approached the pen door I was shocked to see that one of the poults had managed to get into Jake’s side of the enclosure.  After what happened to Junior, I almost panicked, but was relieved to see the poult was unharmed.

We now keep our Tom separated from the poults. He can still glare at them, but not harm them.

I calmly, but quickly scooted Jake out of the way, and cornered the poult.  I returned the wayward wanderer to Jenny, and tried to figure out how on earth this tubby little poult managed to squeeze itself through the garden wire fence at the top of the partition in the pen.  Jake wasn’t telling, so it was up to us to look for clues.

As I was looking for clues on Jenny’s side of the pen, I noticed a Bourbon Red poult didn’t head to the feeder with everyone else, and just seemed to be snoozing, alone, on the pen floor.  Something wasn’t right, and I wondered if the little one might be ill?

The poults spend a lot of time resting and napping, but if one is less active than the others, it’s usually a clue that something is amiss

Jenny saw me approaching this poult, already NOT amused that I’d picked up the poult that had been on Jake’s side of the enclosure, so I had to swiftly reach down to pick it up.  As I scooped up the Bourbon Red, it partially opened one wing, and I was shocked to see blood, matted feathers, and missing skin under its wing.  Clearly more had gone on in the turkey pen overnight than I’d realized!  Perhaps the poult that made it into the enclosure with Jake had been scared by something, and forced its way through the fence in an attempt to escape?

Jenny will let me sit with the poults, but gets quite irate if I pick one up

I made a hasty exit as Jenny was now charging straight for me while I held her peeping poult. I closed the gate, but before heading back to the house, I felt compelled to do a quick head count.  Thirteen poults?  Really?  There were only thirteen poults?  Adding the one in my hand, that was still only a total of fourteen.  Where are the other two?  I counted again, and again, but there was no question.  Two poults were definitely missing.

Red Bronze poult at four weeks

As we only had four Bourbon Reds in the clutch, and I was holding one of them, it was painfully obvious that only two remained in the pen with Jenny.  One of those missing was obviously a Bourbon Red.  I didn’t have time to figure out whether the other missing chick was a Bronze or Red Bronze.  It was cold, foggy, and damp, and I needed to get the injured poult inside.

As four Bourbon Reds had hatched, there should have been three left in the pen, but one was clearly missing

I took the little one into the house, set it on a towel, and with the help of Mr. Curbstone gave it a quick glance over.  The skin over its back, just above the tail, was raw and blooded, but the feathers too matted to see much more.  The skin over the point of the left shoulder though was clearly torn, as was some of the underlying muscle, suggesting a bite wound.  The skin in his right inguinal area, where the right leg meets the body, was also torn and bleeding.  There were no protruding bones, but it was clear this poult couldn’t stand.

This poult had no appreciable head wounds, except for a scrape down its beak

Knowing I was more likely to lose the little one of fright if I proceeded at that moment, I quickly set up a box, with a heating pad, and some towels, and left it in the guest room, with the light off, where it was quiet and dark, with a small dish of food, and a shallow dish of water within reach.

While we let the little one rest, we went back up to the turkey pen to see if we could figure out if anyone else was injured, and who or what had done this.  Jake was off the hook, he’d just been non-chalantly standing next to the other poult when I found him, and the one with the severe skin wounds had been in the side of the enclosure with Jenny, not Jake.  As I looked more closely at Jenny I could see she had a small bleeding nick in the skin just above her left eye.

For some time we both just stood there, in shock.  Nothing obvious jumped out at us.  What on earth had happened overnight?  What could have done this?  We hadn’t heard anything, and we’d slept with the windows open that night.  The dogs never barked. We never heard Jenny or Jake alarm call.  The chickens had been quiet too.  Whoever it was, this predator was ruthless, and stealthy.

For some reason the poults love to sleep up against the edges of the pen

Frustrated and confused, I continued to look around the pen for clues, not realizing I was actually missing the obvious.  As I stood back outside the pen, scanning the wire panels for holes, my eyes glanced over the very bottom of the pen door.  Then I saw it.  The wire in the corner, low to the ground, had been torn.  Part of why I’d missed it is that there are two layers of wire on the door, and the poultry wire had been pulled forward, and mangled, almost twisted into a knot.  Then I found four off-white primary wing feathers among the weeds outside the pen.  Three from a right wing, one from a left.  Clear evidence of the missing Bourbon Red poult.

These primary wing feathers were on the ground just outside the pen, and belonged to the missing Bourbon Red poult

The turkey pen was a converted garden enclosure that the previous owners had originally built.  When we added the poultry wire, there was already coated 3″x3″ green garden wire around the entire structure. We’d left that wire in place, not seeing any real reason to remove it. Where the poultry wire had been ripped from the corner of the door, at ground level, I noticed the garden wire behind it had also been pulled on, and the wires appeared to be spread apart.  Then I realized that whatever had been responsible for the wounded Bourbon Red, had managed to catch poults through this secondary layer of wire, and pull them through the fencing.  I’m glad now that we left that second layer of wire there, or this whole ordeal could have been much, MUCH worse.

Raccoons (Procyon lotor) are notorious predators of poultry (Image Source: Wikimedia Commons – Author: Sergey Yarmolyuk)

Although we didn’t witness the breach, this break-in has all the hallmarks of a raccoon attack.  Dexterous, and nimble-fingered, raccoons are notorious for grabbing chickens, chicks, and poults, by reaching through fences, and dragging their victims to the side of the enclosure any way they can.  When I had checked on Jenny the night before, the poults were all huddled under or around her, and seemed safe and secure.  If I’d only known what was about to happen…

The last I’d seen Jenny, she’d had all the poults tucked close to her

It’s not clear if overnight if some of the poults had chosen to sleep on the ground by the door, enticing the attacker, but clearly this creature had no difficulty catching two of them.  He obviously had a third in his grasp, and who knows how on earth this little poult managed to get away, but it’s clear this predator meant to kill it.

Young poults clearly are too tempting for our resident predators

Expecting the same assailant to return last night, I spent all day yesterday replacing the poultry wire with 1/2″ hardware cloth anywhere a poult could be approached at ground level, securing the corners, and setting rat traps (the old fashioned snap traps) outside the pen as a deterrent.  Then once the pen was resecured, I went back in to check on my patient.

Although his head was spared, the wounds to this Bourbon Red’s back were quite severe

The poult was very quiet, but alert, so I decided to take a second look at the extent of the injuries.  The poult seemed to be breathing without distress, and there were no wounds on the head or neck, with the exception of a small superficial graze along the surface of the beak, perhaps from being dragged across the gravel floor.  Neither of its wings were broken, which was a relief.  Across its body though there were numerous skin wounds, missing feathers, and the one laceration across the left shoulder which looked too suspiciously like a bite wound.  As I examined the poult further though, I could see that the right leg was broken, and there was a fracture of the tarsometatarsal joint, which explained this poult’s inability to stand.  With the bite wound, the blood loss, and the fracture, the prognosis seemed guarded at best.

The worst of the wounds were covered with wet-to-dry bandages, the fracture was supported, and for the rest of the afternoon I focused on keeping this little one hydrated.  The poult was given some mild pain medication to address the worst of the discomfort, but not too much to prevent too much activity, and further disruption of the fracture.  By late afternoon the poult’s spirits seemed improved, and he started to eat and drink on his own.  Sadly though, just a few hours later he took a sudden turn for the worse, and died very late last night despite our best efforts.  In total, we lost two Bourbon Reds, and a Standard Bronze poult to Wednesday night’s attack.

After losing two Bourbon Red poults yesterday, now only two remain

I love the highs of successful hatching, and watching the poults grow, but low days, like this one, make me question what we’re doing here.  What are we thinking to even try to raise poultry at Curbstone Valley?  Sometimes we both feel phenomenally outnumbered by the predators who are always lurking in hopes of an easy meal.

Anyone who has kept poultry knows how formidable raccoons are, how determined they are to get to chickens at night, and how dexterous they are, perfectly capable of opening simple latches.  The damage to the turkey pen was impressive.  I wish I’d taken photographs, but as soon as we found the breach we tore the rest away and immediately replaced it, knowing full well that after successfully hunting Jenny’s chicks, that our predator would return last night without fail.  We will NOT lose any more of Jenny’s chicks this season to predators.

Until yesterday, all of Jenny’s poults were doing so well, growing, napping, eating, napping…

We’ve never had a loss to a raccoon.  Ever.  Poultry pen/coop security has always been foremost on our minds.  That said, except for losing Zilla to the Bobcat last year, this is the only other incident resulting in injury or loss to any member of our flock in four years, but it didn’t make the loss of three of Jenny’s chicks yesterday any easier for me to swallow.  I just didn’t expect a raccoon to disassemble the pen wall.  Jenny doesn’t seem to be able to count, and although I’m sure she was stressed during the attack, today she seems completely unaware that anyone is missing.

This afternoon the poults are back to snoozing and sunbathing in the sunshine

Our job now is to ensure we do what ever we can to keep them safe at night.  The electric fence seems to be minimally effective, but we’re keeping it charged around the turkey pen as an extra barrier, and we’re considering a permanent double fence system around the the perimeter of the next turkey pen we construct.

In the meantime, Jenny still has 13 poults.  Most of the flock seems relatively unscathed, other than a few grazed beaks, except for a wound on one little bronze.

This little bronze is showing swelling under his ‘chin’, and seems to have a small laceration under his beak

This afternoon this bronze poult has begun to show swelling under his beak, so this afternoon we’ll pull the little one to look at him more closely, and assess the extent of this injury.

In the meantime we’re focusing on keeping these young ones as safe as we can. In light of Wednesday night’s attack, we’ve decided not to keep any of Jenny’s young from this clutch, so all the poults will be sold, once we’re sure everyone is over the trauma from Wednesday night.  We’ll then turn our attention toward constructing an even more robust, purpose-built turkey enclosure, rather than the current repurposed pen.  I’m all for reusing and recycling, but security of the flock is more important.  This will give us the flexibility to better engineer and arrange the enclosure as a breeding pen, and build it specifically with raccoons, bobcats, and coyotes in mind.  Hopefully then Jenny can try again for poults next year.

For now though, we’ll leave this on a positive note, with a peek at Jenny’s poults at almost four weeks old.

They really are most curious about cameras and their reflections in lenses, and we’re so relieved that most of them survived this ordeal.