The Case of the Disappearing Hen

Once upon a time, on the island of Maui in Hawai`i, there was the story of an escaped “big cat.

Everyone thought it was a black panther or something similar. That mystery was never solved, but I know someone who can verify the existence of such a big cat that was roaming around in his Up Country neighborhood on Maui. In fact, one article states that this same cat was seen “crossing an intersection going into the mountains at 9:11 Maui time on the 6th of January, 2011.” You need to scroll down to the section on Hawaii to read it.

Another story about the Maui cat can be found here.

Now I wonder if the same thing could have happened here on the Big Island of Hawai`i? Listen to my story, and if anyone knows what the predator is, please let me know.

Over the past few years, I’ve had several of my chickens either die, or be pecked to death by other hens in the coop in the traditional “pecking order” fashion.

Finally, I was down to two hens that still managed to give me eggs occasionally. When I went out to feed them one night, I took the picture above.

The next morning, there was only one hen in the coop. I searched all over for her, but found nothing. There is no way she could have gotten out. The other hen was not doing very well, scrunched down and barely moving.

I wondered if there had been cannibalism going on, but I honestly don’t know how one hen could have eaten up another whole hen over night! Each day I searched again, hoping I had overlooked a spot where the other hen could be.

The front edge of the lid to the nesting box had been chewed up and there were holes, as though something had clawed or gnawed at the soft wood.

I didn’t think much about the size of the holes until a friend came to visit. He said that the holes were too big to be from an ordinary animal. The holes were slanting downward, as if a claw had attacked the wood.

He placed a 3 mm drill bit into several of the holes and it fit them all. It’s has to be a very large animal that caused these holes!

The one hen that is left is badly damaged, as if a huge claw had come down on her back and pulled. The skin and feathers have been ripped open down to the bone.

After a week, she is beginning to move around a little more. I keep thinking she might die anytime, but she keeps eating, drinking her water, and clucking at me.

The scenario we have put together goes something like this…

The animal was strong enough to stick a nose under the lid of the nesting box and grab the hen that was there, take it away, and eat it in private. This animal must have come back later, tried to reach in to get the other hen, but she got away somehow. Because the hen wasn’t able to get back up into the nesting box, the animal couldn’t get to her, and hasn’t come back.

Does anyone know of an animal that might be roaming around, or anything that could do this sort of damage? I keep thinking of a bobcat or lynx, or maybe even an owl. If a cat, it would have to be a pet that had gotten away from its owner. We don’t have “big cats” running around on the Big Island….or do we?

A hui hou!

Ready for Eggs?

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Eggs like the ones shown here are the reason I wanted a coop and chickens. It doesn’t matter how “protected” they are, I refuse to buy mainland eggs that have been shipped across an ocean, kept in a cooler, then left to sit on a shelf for who-knows-how long before I buy them. Eating these eggs each day is such nirvana to me. Any trouble connected with raising the hens is completely negated the second I sink into the rich yellow of my girls’ eggs.

I have written about and shown my chicken coops in other posts. I’ve also shown the coops of other people whose gardens I’ve visited and written about. This time, I thought it would be a good idea to pull it all together and show you several varieties of coops, and the purpose they serve. As I find more, I’ll post them for you to see.

I’ll start with my own coop. Last March, when my two daughters and one son-in-law came to visit, Harry put together my coop. Here he is, still trying to figure out exactly how to put it together. Fortunately, he is creative and very handy with construction tools.

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He was able to take the metal frame of an old futon sofa-bed I had, take it apart, and recreate a useable coop. It is very clean and beautiful here. A friend said “It will never look that clean again,” and he was right! I’d hate for you to see it now, even after I have just cleaned it out!

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Here are my girls at one month of age. Because I didn’t have room or facilities to take care of newborn chicks, I opted to get them at one month of age. I got them on April 13, 2008, so they are not quite a year old yet. And the coop still looks clean.

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Here is another shot of the coop with the new birds. You can get an idea of how it all works. Harry took an old screen door for the largest part of the coop. It can be lifted and supported on each end for hosing out the coop. The smaller brown lid lifts for getting in and doing smaller stuff without opening the entire top. The nesting boxes are on the left end of what you see here.

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Here is a close-up of the inside of the nesting boxes. We closed it off to the rest of the coop until we knew the girls were ready to start laying their eggs. I didn’t want them to just go in there to roost at night, but to know this is exactly where the eggs are to go. Then I put in ceramic eggs so they’d get the idea, which they did right away! I use bags of my shredded paper as nesting materials and they seem to love it. Since this picture, I’ve made it into three separate boxes, rather than two.

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As the girls grew larger and started laying, I knew they needed more room than they had in the coop. With the help of a friend, I opened up the opposite end from the nesting boxes and added a nice run. It’s hard to tell much about it here, but maybe you can get the idea.

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Oops! Caught in the act of a little screwing. At least I’m wearing my “Sisters of Perpetual Annoyance” t-shirt under my Farmer Jones outfit.

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Plans are underway to add another big side room onto this run. Here is the run completely finished and the girls are already enjoying more freedom. On the right end where you cannot see, we put an opening where I can dump in weeds and tall grasses. They love to scratch around in it and find weed seeds or bugs.

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You also can see in the above picture the little ladder we created for them to get back up into the coop itself. They never did use it, but they simply fly up. In the next few pictures of other people’s coops, there are ladders even longer than this one. I asked if their chickens actually use them, and all of them said “Yes, they do.” I’m not sure why my girls didn’t want to use the ladder.

Here are shots of the coops from Bob Elhard’s place. I had two posts about his garden, but decided to save the coop pictures for this post. You can see that he has allowed for a lot more headroom than mine. He can actually walk into his coops, and as you can see, he has a long ladder for his chickens – one they actually use!

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Basically, he has coops inside a fenced-in area, complete with trees and other growing plants. I love this idea, and it may be something I think about in the future. He can gather eggs from outside the fence. Here is another view of the same set-up. The vegetable beds are not inside the fence, even though it may look like it here.

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And yet another view. Bob has used a fairly open wire for his fencing. I’m not sure how he keeps dogs out of his chicken area. So many of the people here in Ocean View have lost all their chickens from dogs that are strong enough to tear apart wire fencing like this. It’s the reason I used a heavier gauge with smaller openings. I think it would be fun to walk among my chickens!

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Here is a distant view of Bob’s chicken yard. This gives a better perspective on how tall it really is. The vegetable garden in front and the Japanese bridge add a bit of class to the chickens.

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I think I already showed you the coops on McDaniel’s Farmette. Here is a bit more information about them. This first shot is of their “old” coop. I think their chickens still use it sometimes.

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Here is the “new” coop they built. There are several levels – one for roosting and one for laying eggs. Again, you see a ladder, which their chickens do use. I wish I knew why mine didn’t use the ladder we created for them.


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Again, they use a standard chicken wire, but they haven’t had any trouble with dogs getting to their chickens. Also, they let their chickens run loose in the yard. All I can say is that they are lucky!! Even their own dogs don’t bother the chickens.


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Maybe this is the best kind of chicken to have, but they don’t lay good eggs – and they aren’t nearly as much fun as the real thing!

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Have you kissed your chickens lately?

Fresh Eggs (Almost!)

I moved into my house in February, 2006. So far, this blog has been about those early months of owning my acre of lava. My intent was to write about everything here in chronological order, but alas, my mind doesn’t always work that way.

I feel a strong need to tell you about my “girls,” my six hens. I’m not sure what happened to all the fresh local eggs, but it seems that most (if not all) of the egg farms on our island have shut down. I refuse to buy eggs that have been shipped for who-knows-how-long all the way from who-knows-where on the mainland.

So I set out on a quest for chickens. I knew there must be chickens somewhere because I hear roosters all over the place. (That’s another story!) The first day of my search, I asked the local feed store if they knew who was selling chickens. Right there on the bulletin board was a note from someone right here in my community who was taking orders for baby chicks.

I’d already done a bit of reading and looking around to see what I might want. So I made an order for six chicks to be delivered sometime in April. I opted to let the young man raise them for the first month. I didn’t want to invest in a brooder, or worry about losing them quite yet. Maybe I’ll try that next time I get chickens.

In my past life as a mother of four and a local community 4-H leader, I’ve helped to raise everything – pigs, horses, goats, sheep, rabbits, guinea pigs, dogs and cats – but never chickens. This would be a totally new experience for me.

I started checking books out of the library and looking on the internet for ideas on chicken coops. I wasn’t sure what I wanted, but knew I needed to have something ready for them when they arrived.

My two daughters (Debbie and Inga) and my wonderful son-in-law (Harry) came to visit in March during spring break. Harry, is a general contractor in California, so I asked his advice.

And “would you please build a chicken coop for me?”

I think he knew what was coming, because he flew from California with his tool belt and his own power saw! He quickly set up shop.

He was as confused about what I wanted as I was, but anything to please a mother-in-law, right? He took an old metal futon couch frame that I’d left sitting behind my shed and converted it into a beautiful coop.

I showed the finished coop to a friend (his wife raised chickens). He took one look and said, “It will never be this clean again.” He was right!

When I got the call, I was ecstatic, but as nervous as when I was having babies. He brought the “girls” over at one month of age – three Rhode Island Reds (who will lay brown eggs for me) and three Araucana (who will lay blue or blue-green eggs). The Araucana girl in the top photo is a color called Wheaten.

Here they are on April 13, 2008. Just below the log perch, is the Wheaten Araucana. At the bottom right is a Rhode Island Red and there are two mottled black/tan/gold Araucana. I haven’t been able to figure out the exact name for that coloration.

Here they are, six weeks later – and they are growing like weeds! One of the Reds is in front and an Araucana behind her. Not sure why they find that bare piece of wood so fascinating!

By early June, I knew they needed to get out and scratch around. So I enlisted the help of a friend to build a “chicken run.” We opened up a square at one end of the coop, added a removable door, and built a run for them to use. They get down through the door and a little ladder-type arrangement. Here you can see the beginning of the framework.


It was finally finished and the “girls” got their first taste of relative freedom.

You can see the entire run better in this next picture. Sometimes I toss a bit of corn scratch in through the top and let them search for it.
They are now four months old – big and plump! I expect them to start laying in about another six weeks or so. Stay tuned!

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