With each passing day we are slowly coming to terms with the loss of our wee calf Ivor, and with the weather slowly improving, we are even starting to sense signs of spring in the air which is enough to cheer anyone up in the darkest of doldrums! We’ve been putting the finishing touches to the lambing shed and ordering what we need for lambing; hay, straw, sheep nuts etc … we are starting to feel better about life, that is, we were, until the next reminder that sometimes life can be brutal and cruel.
A few nights ago, at midnight, we were woken suddenly by the sound of our hens squawking and making a terrible racket. Now, as we’ve lost hens to foxes in the past, our radars are finely tuned to hens in trouble. We’d purposely positioned the coops near to the house where we could keep an eye on them (not to mention having only a few short steps to walk when getting eggs). We also had state of the art hen coops, fox-proof with auto shutting and opening doors. So although our first thought was “fox”, at the same time we found it hard to believe it could be. We ran downstairs, grabbing our coats and torches and flew out into the garden and into the hen run (“hen central” as we call it). At which point the squawking stopped and all was deadly still, funny we thought, what is going on? The door to the coop was shut, there was no sign of anything untoward. We opened the nest boxes and peeked in, all seemed fine, the usual bundle of hens, little eyes looking back up at us, blinking in the torch light. So back we went, upstairs, but no sooner had we turned the light out, the din started again. This time we knew there had to be something, whatever it was, we we must have missed it, they wouldn’t be making all this noise for no reason.
We decided to remove the roof of the hen house, no mean feat, we had to unclip various clasps and fiddle about with catches, after what seemed to be an eternity we were able to lift the roof off. We shone our torches in, still nothing, just a bunch of hens and a cockerel looking back up at us. But on closer inspection we saw two hens were dead, then Adrian shouted, “there’s a f***ing badger in there”! There, curled up in the corner, was a badger! With the same grey colouring as our hens he was spookily well camouflaged. Not for long though, we grabbed a broom stick and prodded him at which point all hell broke lose with hens running round and feathers flying. We opened the main door to let them out by which time the badger had catapulted himself out through the open roof. George our Anatolian Shepherd shot off after the intruder with great bounding leaps but we called him back in case he got hurt, badgers don’t take any prisoners, even with big dogs they’ll stand their ground if cornered.
We were relieved to have saved most of our hens but sad to have lost two, Mrs Mills the mother of the thirteen chicks, and Petal, a shy girl who had recently risen up in the pecking order and was gaining confidence and becoming her own hen. We sadly put them in a box to bury later, and then ran round the orchard locating the rest of our flock who had scattered to the four winds. We couldn’t leave them out there, not with a badger on the prowl, we needed to get them back in the coops as quickly as possible.
If anyone has tried to round up hens under torch light, hens which are spooked and running for their lives, I take my hat off to you. In which case I will take my hat off to myself and Adrian, because by 3am, (albeit we were rounding up hens for about two and a half hours), we managed to get them all back into bed with the doors shut, phew! Needless to say neither of us slept a wink for the rest of the night, we couldn’t get to sleep for all the adrenalin, not to mention having a well needed cuppa which probably kept us up as well, but needs musted!
On Friday morning, first thing, I checked up on little Hatty, a casualty from the night before. We’d found her lying in the coop with blood on her wing. I’d popped her in a basket like an easter egg in a nest of soft towels and sprayed her wing with antibac before going to bed. But this morning on closer inspection I could see her wing was the least of our worries. Underneath there was a bite mark and lots of congealed blood. Without further ado, I popped her in the car and off we went to the vets. The vet was great, we were seen to straight away, they said she was lucky, the bite was deep but hadn’t ruptured any internal organs. She would need stitching up so I left Hatty there and drove home again to help Adrian set up an area for electric fencing we planned to erect around the hen coops.
I noticed another hen looking droopy, it was Jane Torvill, she had got stuck under a roosting bar in the skirmish and we’d had to unhook it to set her free. It looked as if she’d hurt her neck. We decided to take her in and monitor her. Jane really thrived once inside, we gave her pride of place in a dog crate in front of the aga and fed her meal worms, corn, puppy food and left over porage.
We cared for Jane for three days, we discovered she couldn’t bend over to peck, her neck seemed to hurt whenever she tried so we fed her by hand every two hours holding up small dishes to her beak and happily watching her hoovering up the contents. Today we decided she was probably ready to go back out with her friends. We couldn’t keep her in for much longer or they’d forget who she was and hens being hens she was likely to be pecked. Fortunately she was welcomed back into the flock, even given a special welcome by the cockerel, not sure if she was too happy about that, but after each check she seemed more and more relaxed. By late afternoon she was even starting to peck from the ground so her neck seemed to be improving, hooray! This evening Jane was last to roost, but that is hardly surprising, after spending two nights sleeping by the fire she was probably wondering if the grass was indeed greener!
On a sad note, little Hatty didn’t make it, the operation was too much for her and she slipped away during Friday afternoon. We collected her on the way to the agricultural stores where we bought a super duper anti-badger electric fence set up with 7000 volts worth of oomph, hopefully enough to deter the most determined badger. We’ve also raised our hen houses so they are out of badger reach and switched the doors from “auto mode” to “manual” so we can turn on the electric fencing once all the hens are safely tucked up in bed. Finally, we now tie the doors closed so there is no risk of them being snuffled open. Hopefully with three lines of defence in place our hens won’t have to go through a horrific night like that again.
Thinking back over the badger scenario, we are still not certain how the badger managed to get into the hen coop, but it seems likely he might have snuffled the door open which then shut behind him trapping him in with the hens. The whole event has left us with a sense of uneasiness and also mixed feelings. Uneasiness because we’re not sure how the badger operated, and mixed feelings because ultimately we are respectful of badgers and their place in the natural world. Is it fair to condemn the badger for doing what badgers do? It’s been a cold winter and all animals are hungry, wild as well as livestock. It brings to mind a conversation between Dr Who, Nardole and Bill:
“NARDOLE: You can be very silly sometimes, you know that? So how do we know this water thing is actually dangerous?
DOCTOR: Ah, because most things are.
NARDOLE: Mmm, that’s true.
BILL: Why? Is everything out here evil?
DOCTOR: Hardly anything is evil, but most things are hungry. Hunger looks very like evil from the wrong end of the cutlery. Or do you think that your bacon sandwich loves you back?”