Yesterday when I returned from my hospital workday, my father-in-law mentioned that our Great Pyrenees livestock guardian dogs were extremely agitated in the afternoon. When he checked on the dogs, he saw an enormous raptor circulating the barnyard, likely a red shouldered hawk.
Although the barnyard is generally protected by a tree canopy, at this time of year the trees are bare and the predators are very hungry.
I did my usual nightly animal care, which involves cleaning, feeding, watering, examining, and counting all 50 of our animals.
I only found 49. Silver, the white chicken pictured above with her guinea fowl friends, was missing.
Silver sometimes digs in the compost pile, looking for interesting vegetable and insect tidbits.
I grabbed a lantern and searched the compost pile and forest around the barnyard for feathers or other signs of a raptor attack on a chicken.
I found her lifeless body wedged between the compost pile and our wheelbarrow storage area.
Her neck was broken and her underside had been delicately stripped of flesh - clearly the work of a raptor. A raccoon, weasel, or fox would have decapitated the chicken and done more more damage.
I picked Silver up and carried her to the hollow containing our Shinto Jinja - the shrine which houses our kami (the spirit of Unity Farm). I cleared a large patch of snow and buried her by the light of a lantern two feet deep to ensure she is not disturbed by digging predators.
Chickens have their own unique personalities and characters. Silver was one of our most curious chickens and she tended to explore the forest alone, which likely was her undoing.
The combination of a a fortress-like coop, guard dogs, and guinea fowl has been sufficient protection in the past.
We'll need to rethink the unsupervised free ranging that our chickens have done over the past year.
It's a rainy gray day in Massachusetts and the chickens are in the fenced chicken run for now.
The last thing we want is the local raptor population to think the barnyard is a feeding ground.
There is always life and death on a farm. Our animals have a great life with plenty of space, ample food, and a peaceful co-existence among all our species. It's hard to lose a animal, but this attack was an act of nature, and we've learned about the behavior of hungry predators in winter.