Friday, August 26, 2011

Intrusion of the Fowlest Kind
Written by Laura

Last week tragedy struck the FFP farm. With Joe, Mary Ellen, and the kids gone out West, the homestead was more quiet than usual. During the late hours of Sunday night and into Monday morning, five of our ducks and four chickens were killed. Natalie and I had arrived at the farm earlier than usual so that we could leave for the DGA Conference in Chicago. Little did we know that just across the yard our fine feathered friends had been laid to rest. It was Rachel who made the horrifying discovery. This is her account:

"Upon arriving on the farm Monday morning, I intended to feed the fowl as I usually do when the Krawczyk's are away. However, when I approached their enclosure, I was met with an eerie silence. Rarely are the chickens and ducks quiet, especially in the morning when they want their breakfast. I was surprised to find a huge pile of sand and a large hole at the base of the fence. Then came the real surprise! All of the birds were gone except for three carcasses left buried inside the pen. Dirt began to fly from the hole under the fence, so I peered into it and found myself looking eye to eye with a badger. Needless to say, I made myself scarce and went back to the main building."

The two females in the lead and the male in the back were three of the victims. The others were no longer residents of the farm during the attack.

Peach and Ruth, two chickens that were lost.

Aside from Rachel's first hand sighting of the badger, they were also caught on the deer camera, which Jasen had put out Monday night. He anticipated a return since some of the kill had been left behind. Tuesday morning, when going to gather the camera, Jasen made visual contact. There was not one, but two badgers! One was much larger than the other, and they were coming out of the weeds near the bird enclosure. Jasen startled them and they fled back to where they had come. 

Had these badgers not been seen by Rachel, Jasen, or the camera, how would we have known we were dealing with badgers? Unlike fox and raccoon attacks, which the farm has dealt with before, this attack was clean. There was no blood and very few feathers strewn about the pen. The birds appeared to have no physical damage to their bodies whatsoever, not even broken necks. What we still don't know is if the birds were killed before being buried, or if they were buried alive. Perhaps the badger's strength alone was enough to smoother them during the attack. The birds were packed tightly in holes head first with only their legs and feet sticking out. This may seem strange and bizarre, but it is truly a learning lesson about an animal that most of us know little or nothing about.

The smaller badger, right above a hole along the fence, at night.

This big badger is no doubt looking for the food it stored the night before.

The destruction was devastating to all of us, but one female duck and one hen were lucky enough to escape. This leaves us with hope. We broke the news to Joe and Mary Ellen the day before they arrived home from vacation. They asked if I could take the duck home with me so that she could be with her own kind and recuperate from the ordeal (earlier this year I had taken two of the farm's male ducks). My general love for animals and my fear for the duck's safety made this a no brainer decision for me. She fit right in with my clan, and immediately began telling her story to the other ducks. The "chit-chat" she displayed to them brought a smile to my face. Who really knows what she was telling them, but it was obvious she was happy. The surviving hen went to Rachel's house to live with her own kind too. She was accepted with no incidents, and is equally content with her new life.  

Our sole surviving red hen.

The surviving female duck (furthest to the left) stands with her new friends.

With all of this said and done we are left to think about what happens next. As with anyone who has lost poultry to wild animals we have decisions to make. Do we get more birds? If so, how do we prevent this from happening again? An invasion from badgers was completely unexpected and unheard of by any of us. Although the fence here was fox proof, it certainly was not badger proof. 

Two layers of fence buried a few inches underground and out nearly a foot was not enough to stop the badgers from digging this hole. What is not visible in the photos we took are the amount of holes that were dug. There were not only holes all around the pen, but also holes inside the pen.
By doing a small amount of research, and from some personal experience, I have compiled a list of precautions to take when securing small animals, more specifically poultry, outside.  
  • Be aware of the surroundings. In the weeks prior to our catastrophe, Joe had noticed large holes scattered around the property: clear evidence of new wildlife in the area.
  • Roosts for chickens should be up high. Be sure the chickens have to flap their wings to get up to them. Predators will have a difficult time getting up this high.
  • Put a chicken wire top on any pens to keep skyward predators and climbing varmints from getting into the enclosure.
  • At night, put animals into some type of secure coop or structure with a floor.
  • Pick eggs daily. Leaving eggs in the coop will encourage critters to get inside.
  • Don't skimp when buying fencing. Badgers are incredibly powerful animals, and can get through most fences with no problem. Bury heavy duty fencing at least one foot below the ground, and out another foot at a 90 degree angle, creating an "L" shape.
  • Install an electric fence or net. For larger predators, like badgers, this may be the only option. Be sure the fence is suitable for the animals living within. Talk to someone at your local hardware store or feed mill about which fence is right for you and your animals.
  • My personal suggestion... have a family dog. Its barking and mere presence may just be enough to deter other animals from lurking around. Since getting my dog over a year ago, raccoon traffic in my yard has been greatly minimized. Please be aware that dogs, just like chickens and other livestock, come with a whole separate set of responsibilities.
I hope this information is helpful, and I wish everyone with outside animals luck in all of your efforts. When so much time and love goes into raising and caring for our animal friends, losing them can be hard. Feel free to share your personal stories and/or offer any additional advice on pen construction.

Please, keep in mind that the badger is a protected animal. If you have a persistent problem with a badger or any other animal, even after all precautions have been taken, contact your local DNR to discuss your options. 

For more information on badgers visit or The American Badger belongs to one of three sub-families of badgers, the other two being the Eurasian Badger and the Honey Badger. For a great blog that follows the Eurasian Badger visit . I found this site informational and helpful.

"Thanks for this day, for all the birds safe in their nests, for whatever this is, for life."
- Barbara Kingsolver

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