Chickens drop dead.

No, not mine. But it happens every day. Predators, stress, cannibalism, disease seem to lurk around every corner.

I finished another chicken book yesterday, “Living with Chickens: Everything You Need to Know to Raise Your Own Backyard Flock”, by Jay Rossier. Very informative, especially lovely photographs. But I started pondering chicken mortality when I read Mr. Rossier’s quote that “even a well-run operation loses from 5-10% of its birds each year”.  I’m no mathematician (as the Chicken Emperor well knows!) but that could mean one of my girls will be almost half-dead by years’ end. Okay, I know that’s not how statistics work, but just THE THOUGHT of consigning one of the ladies to our backyard pet cemetery makes me shudder.

Another book I read recently quoted a 30%-50% general mortality rate for chicks, and we beat those odds, but the more I read, the more I learn that chickens are fragile little critters. There are a multitude of birth defects, the already documented Pasty Butt, coccidiosis and Mareks disease, just for starters. Some baby chicks simply keel over from the stress of being shipped.  There’s even a “lethal gene” in the Aracauna (the original breed from which Autumn, my Easter Egger was bred) that causes chicks to die in the shell before hatching.

These tufts in the Aracauna are linked to a lethal gene

These tufts in the Aracauna are linked to a lethal gene

The threat from other chickens is also significant. Since chickens are born to peck, pecking at one another is common and deadly. Chickens are attracted to the color red, so if blood is drawn, the victim runs a high risk of being pecked to death by other chickens. Overcrowding and stress, including that caused by temperature extremes lead to pecking and cannibalism among chickens. If all those bullets are dodged, chickens face threats from a myriad of predators: dogs and raccoons top the list, followed by coyotes,  hawks, owls, cats…well, you get the idea. Chickens are at the top of the food chain for eating and pretty close to the bottom for survival odds.

I saw a young coyote yesterday while taking a walk – he stood his ground in the McCaw property meadow and watched me as I walked past. His ears were too big for his head; I guess even coyotes go through an “awkward” stage in adolescence. He was actually kind of cute. In the full minute it took me to pass by, we locked gazes and no doubt he was thinking the same murderous thoughts toward me as I was toward him. “Stay away from my chickens”, I warned him silently. “Don’t count on it” is the way I read his response.

I’m thinking of putting this picture in the coop:

St. Brigid, patron saint of poultry farmers

St. Brigid, patron saint of poultry farmers

About polloplayer

Empty nester searching for meaning of life through the occasional chicken epiphany.
This entry was posted in All Things Poultry, Chicken Facts and tagged , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

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