Slaughter of the Innocents


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Today Thursday 13th November, 2014 has been a day I’d rather forget! We left the house for only a brief spell and returned to total carnage.

It was time to scrub and refill the hens drinkers, all 18 or so. I started with the usual small drinkers for the bantams, when I suddenly came across a lot of feathers in a corner near a small coop. I deduced it was a couple of Wyandotte bantams that must of had a scrap. I was walking behind the shed and up to the path leading to the Silkie run and their drinker when I came across a little Hamburgh bantam male who was lying on the grass path dead. Now what on earth has happened here I thought!

Wyandottes, Hamburgh (middle) & White Leghorn

Little did I know this was just the beginning of a very traumatic trail of bodies. Having discovered the bantam Hamburgh male, I then discovered one of our young Gold Brahma males dead. He was lying with his head inside a large tuft of grass, he obviously was doing his best to hide during the attack. This was getting serious. I then discovered several Lohmann Brown girls dead under some of our trees. Oh no, what predator can this be? It was all a bit overwhelming and I needed some assistance to patrol all the land and quickly. The chances are that some are still alive but badly injured and needing help. I approached a couple of near neighbours and thank goodness they came forward to assist. It wasn’t long before they too discovered bodies, a female Brahma, a little Wyandotte bantam girl, a female White Leghorn who was discovered in a neighbouring croft trying to run away, it was becoming a nightmare.

In total we had 14 dead and 7 badly injured. Just about all of them had quite wide teeth marks on their lower end and across their backs. This suggested a dog or perhaps an otter. Otters have been known to butcher entire hen houses of birds. One of our neighbours said they had seen a spaniel trying to get over one of our fences, but thought we were around so we must have seen it.

Gold Brahma (left) & Lohmann Browns

The notable thing about the whole massacre was that all the bodies were still around. No sign of attempts to drag any body away for a meal, so it slowly became a clear that the spaniel seen earlier by a neighbour was probably the culprit. It turned out that the dog in question was owned by another near neighbour and had a track record of invading gardens and even houses in the area.

The injured birds were all in a deep state of shock, we did our best to comfort them and quickly gave them all a spray of antibiotic. We needed some systemic antibiotic from our vet to inject the birds with. With only the two of us treating the injured, one of our neighbours offered to pick up the antibiotic from the vet for us. Most of the injured birds were still in deep shock as the day ends. The next day two of the injured birds were cause for concern. A Brahma female who’s two female companions were killed, was showing no signs of interest in either food or water. Also, a little female Wyandotte bantam female seemed to have lost the use of her legs and was unable to stand at all.

A miserable end!

Some of our birds that met this awful, frightening end to their lives had a lot invested in them. The Brahma male was hatched by us and nurtured whilst a chick and then a grower. In other words lots of time are spent bringing them on, including special feed. To use the example of the Brahma again, Brahmas take two years to fully mature, so you can see it’s a long process from egg to a mature bird. To loose one in this fashion is not only heart breaking it’s costly as well.

Other birds of ours that died that day were Silver Pencilled Hamburghs. These are not easy to find anywhere. Whilst not actually on the rare breeds list, they are comparatively rare and are an old breed developed in Holland and Germany prior to 1700. Obtaining suitable eggs for incubation is time consuming and not always possible.

I’m so upset that on the once occasion they needed me I wasn’t there. All our birds know me by sight and especially the sound of my voice. To think in their panic they probably expected me to come rushing over to rescue them and no help came, that really is very upsetting.

Silver Pencilled Hamburghs with chicks

All dogs need to be on a lead when outside, it’s common sense. Dogs worrying sheep with lambs is one problem crofters here still have to deal with each spring, despite all the signs put up. Amazingly some dog owners still allow their dog to roam freely, causing mayhem where ever they go. Dog owners then create when their beloved pet is shot. I’m only sorry neither of us have a gun licence!

Just to add to our woes, a male Hamburgh bantam who had not been too well for a while, suddenly took a turn for the worst and was loosing his balance and flopping all over the place. The symptoms now were clear, another Marek’s victim. The Hamburgh bantams are unfortunately particularly susceptible to this disease. He was put to sleep promptly.

All in all a very tough day. We were away for less than an hour and in that short time a rampage by a small dog turned everything upside down!

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