23 September 2011

Life and Death

Warning: Graphic images ahead. Squeamish people should leave now.

Picture courtesy of Wikipedia.
A visit by a neighbourhood Ratel (a.k.a. Honey Badger, though they're not related to Badgers at all) has dealt a severe blow to our status as Chicken growers and breeders. It's been quite a long while since the last time a Ratel managed to get in to the Chickens, but the recent visit from our other wild visitor - a Caracal - should have given me ample warning that our chook-house security needed attention. I am a bad and neglectful human person.

The night before last I was woken at about 10:30 by a tremendous bumping and banging, squawking and flapping from the chicken-house. Leapt out of bed, grabbed a light and rushed out to find a full-grown Ratel sitting in the midst of the flock. I opened the door and Ratel leapt out and vanished into the night, chased by an overenthusiastic Keira dog.

It was mayhem in there. Dead chickens all over the floor. Still, not much I could do in the dark, so I shut all up and went back to bed, only to be roused again half an hour later! Sure enough, the Ratel was back in the chook house, and, obviously spooked by the strong light destroying its night-vision, spitting and hissing at me. These animals are not to be trifled with, so I kept a wide berth as I opened the door to let it out. Utter chaos inside.

Next morning revealed the full extent of the damage.

Over the past several months we have lost quite a few chickens to neighbourhood dogs. It seems that non-permanent residents are incompetent to take responsibility for controlling their dogs in a farming area where livestock of all sorts abound.  Stock loss to dogs - including feral dogs - is a significant problem for all the farmers in the area, and many of them have a zero-tolerance, shoot-on-sight policy for unknown dogs on their land. As a result, our flock numbers were way down to only 4 hens and 4 roosters.

Our prized young rooster, horribly mutilated
by the Ratel's attack. I dispatched him quickly
and cleanly. He is tonight's supper.
Now we're down to 2 chickens. Just one rooster and a hen. Very sadly, the one young rooster, who we had earmarked as breeding stock, was severely damaged by the Ratel, and I had no option but to put him out of his pain. The Ratel had ripped the entire front of his face off, including his beak.

The other young rooster seemed, at first, to have some chance of recovery, but on closer examination I found that he was unable to breathe properly, could not drink water, and his mouth was filled with dried blood. I suspect that his tongue was gone.

Another hen I found alive, but with both eyes scratched out. Later inspection showed that her body had been badly torn in places, too.

This poor dear had had both eyes scratched
out, so there's no chance of her surviving.
I had the unpleasant responsibility, yesterday morning, of killing them all. Another rooster and a hen are simply... gone. I presume and hope that at least the Ratel ate them. What I cannot comprehend is the wanton destructiveness of Ratels. I can easily understand - and sympathise with - animals taking our livestock for food, but the sheer killing of everything that moves is beyond me. Perhaps an animal behaviourist could explain it to me.

The remaining rooster is reasonably hale and well, with only slight damage to his comb. He's looking a bit lost, though, wondering where the hell all his hens have got to.

I spent the rest of yesterday fixing the floor of the chicken house so that nothing can get in (that way) again. Until the next time...

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