Identifying those Pesky Predators

The early morning dew sparkled off the grass.

It was chore time on the farm and Andrew Daniels donned his mud boots and jeans to start the day. He walked quietly along, basking in the first light of the day. His boots squished slightly in the wet pasture, sounding out a soft cadence.  The silence around him was peaceful, calming. But as he listened closer, he heard the animals waking from their evening rest. There. A mama cow hummed lowly at her calf. Farther ahead of him over the rise, he heard chickens cackling and from some other part of the farm, a rooster crowed.

Who needed coffee on a morning like this? He loved this job, which really was more of a way of life for him than only a job. When he had moved his family to these beautiful mountains in Virginia several years ago, he never imagined the amount of hard work that would be required. He also never fully grasped the reward and satisfaction that he would feel at the end of every day when his head hit the pillow.

His wife, Elizabeth loved farming more than he ever though possible. In many ways, she was cut out for this life better than he. Andrew knew that without her support, his farming dream would never have been realized. A support system was critical to this life they had chosen. She was understanding when they were late for events, like the last time the cows got out just before they were supposed to leave for her sister’s surprise birthday party. They were late.

He smiled.

She was learning to garden and preserve its bounty with all the gusto a woman could possess. Just this morning there were twenty or so quarts of green beans lined up like little soldiers on the table from yesterday’s battle in the kitchen. She had even gotten Laurie and Trevor involved. Never again would their kids question where food came from. They knew that every morsel of food on their plate was put there because of hard work and dedication. They had participated often enough for that fresh understanding and appreciation.

Exactly what he and Elizabeth had wanted.

They wanted the kids to grow up knowing responsibility and how to be hard working, dependable adults. Andrew knew that even though the economy in this day and age was uncertain, there would always be room for dependable, responsible adults, no matter what field they chose. A good work ethic was like a diamond amidst rocks.

He crossed over the rise of the hill and stopped for a moment to bask in the morning beauty.

Wait. What was that?

Broiler chickens were running around on the outside of their field shelter. From where he stood, Andrew saw some of the shelters in disarray and when a slight breeze blew through, feathers floated on the wind.

Oh, no! A predator had struck in the night.

Heart pounding wildly in his chest, Andrew rushed down the hill, hoping and praying with everything in him that at least the majority of his flock was alive.


How well do you know your predators? A big part of farming is knowing how to protect your flock and what you are protecting them from.

After raising chickens for quite sometime, we started seeing patterns in how each dead chicken presented after being attacked by a hungry carnivore intent on securing the best food in the area.

Here’s a few of the things we have learned:

Headless chicken -usually owl or a bird of prey

Back end of the chicken torn out – usually a skunk

Pine Marten

Cages torn to pieces and chicken feathers everywhere, messy kills, rips and tears on the chicken carcass – usually dogs, coyotes.

Chickens found dead up against the wire mesh – usually racoons

Lots of dead birds with random parts eaten, but mostly just dead carnage with entrails everywhere all inside the field shelter – oppossum

Pen sized neck punctures on birds – weasel (this happens very rarely)

Dead carnage in the pen, feathers everywhere, very little of the birds eaten – pine marten


What other predators have you noticed attacking your flocks?


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About Sheri Salatin

Sheri is married to Daniel Salatin. She is the marketing director at Polyface Farm and stay-at-home mom of three children. Sheri is passionate about clean food and is enjoying working the land along side her husband. When not farming, Sheri can be found reading, writing, sewing, baking and serving in her church family.
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11 Responses to Identifying those Pesky Predators

  1. Our biggest predator was a mama fox. She was getting into our not so secure pens and taking the whole broiler away. Even our dog couldn’t stop her. By the time we got new pens built (Salatin style) she made off with over 40 broilers! Since then we haven’t lost any more to predators. At least with a fox the whole bird gets taken an eaten~ no carnage left all over the ground. We had an opossum one time getting into our layer flock and it would just eat the necks out of the chickens (we caught it in the act!). Again, once we got a more secure pen (electric poultry netting) we haven’t lost any more egg layers to predators.

  2. Annie Carlson says:

    We had a weasel attack this summer that destroyed an entire pen of laying pullets. Thankfully, it was our small prototype pen with only 25 in it. We quickly became experts in weasels!

  3. I got totally pulled into your story. 🙂 Is this part of a book you are working on?

    Funny, (well not really, obviously) but we just found a dead layer today after a long time without problems. It was in the coop, and all the flesh was picked off the bones. What’s really bothering me is the thought that maybe some critter killed it, left it in there, and the other hens may have cleaned the meat off. Disturbing, no? Is that possible? I’ve just never seen anthing quite like it before.

    • Sheri Salatin says:

      Thanks, Alison. No, it’s not part of a book, just a short scene for fun. 🙂

      Yes, it is quite possible that your hens picked the carcass and yes, very disturbing.

  4. Dalles Hayes says:

    We had a Tasmanian Devil show up 2 years in a row around late spring, he took a free ranging rooster the first year and the following year I managed to persuade him that it wasn’t worth the trouble. It was my first up close encounter with a Tasmanian Devil and I was really surprised at the size and strength of this animal. Think of a really solid pit bull and you’d be pretty close, not at all like the ones I have seen in the media or in zoos.
    We have various aerial threats, hawks, wedge tailed eagles, owls and kookaburras but we have enough roosters around the place to sound the alarm.
    The other ground predator that lives nearby but hasn’t cottoned on to all the free food on offer is a spotted quoll, possibly similar to a weasel (maybe), very cute and catlike but very nasty teeth. I don’t think I’ve lost poultry to one of these so I don’t know their pattern. When they find us here we will have to seriously consider an LGD.

    • Sheri Salatin says:

      I have never seen a Tasmanian Devil. Just the name makes me think that they could wreak quite a bit of havoc!

  5. suzi lilly says:

    Any thoughts on what varmint pulls out feathers, and eats eggs out of the end leaving the shell intact? no dead chickens yet, just lots of feathers and empty eggs.

    • Dalles Hayes says:

      Hi suzi lilly,

      Do you have large lizards where you live, in Australia some of our lizards have been know to crack one end of an egg and suck the insides out. I haven’t kept much poultry on the mainland of Australia where most of the larger lizards live, so I personally haven’t seen this.

  6. cindy says:

    This is also happening in my chicken coop. It began when I had 2 hens sitting and now just about an egg a day gets “sucked” out leaving the shell intact all but one end. Please help. I put a game camera in my coop last night….maybe I will discover what is happening!!

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