Backyard chickens killed by mystery predator

March 1, 2013
By

PARKSIDE—Four chickens kept in a backyard coop at a home near Franklin Park were killed Feb. 17 by an unknown large predator—probably a dog or coyote.

As part of the popular urban farming trend, the hens were kept for eggs and as beloved pets. One of the chickens was named Dr. Richard Kimball, an alternate spelling of Harrison Ford’s character in the movie “The Fugitive,” because backyard chickens remain illegal in Boston. For that reason, the Gazette agreed not to reveal the owner’s name and address.

“These chickens were farm animals, but as with any urban agriculture, to some extent our pets,” said the chicken owner in an email to the Gazette, calling their loss “very emotional and challenging.”

The chickens lived in a converted shed with a fenced-in run attached. A predator making a daytime assault got inside by pushing down a thick piece of plastic covering part of the run. The predator broken the chickens’ necks and ate part of one before fleeing.

Many dog-like footprints were in the snow around the coop and coming from the street. The owner estimated it took over 50 pounds of force to push down the plastic covering.

“We plan to secure the coop further this spring, including possibly fencing in the yard, and trying again [with new chickens],” said the owner.

Officials with the Jamaica Plain-based Massachusetts Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (MSPCA) emphasized that people should not own chickens in places where they are illegal. But they also offered tips for animal owners to lessen the risk of such chicken-killings.

Such attacks are one reason the MSPCA recommends dog-owners obey the law and keep dogs on a leash or fenced-in when outdoors.

“Allowing dogs to roam unleashed poses risks for the dog…as well as other companion animals and wildlife,” said MSPCA spokesperson Rob Halpin.

“I’m so sorry for the people who lost their flock,” said Melissa Ghareeb, a chicken expert at the MPSCA’s Nevin Farm in Methuen, where farm animals are sheltered.

She oversees the more than 300 chickens a year that end up at Nevins Farm, many because they were seized from owners keeping them illegally. She said Boston residents who keep chickens should be aware that they can be forced to give up their pets if someone complains, and the MSPCA cannot allow such owners to adopt them back.

Chickens are highly vulnerable to numerous predators, from weasels to hawks, because they can’t fly and are typically kept in coops with “no escape,” Ghareeb said.

A coop should be built with no small holes, fully locked doors and no sort of lid that an animal can open, she said.

“One big misconception is using chicken wire,” Ghareeb said. Despite its name, chicken wire actually fails to protect chickens from predators that can break it or squeeze through its holes. She recommended using welded wire fencing with half-inch-square spacing, and burying it deep in the ground to prevent burrowing predators.

“Rats certainly can be attracted by poultry,” Ghareeb said, explaining that chicken food should be stored in tightly sealed containers of metal or thick plastic, and their area kept clean.

The JP chicken owner expressed concern that the predator might return and threaten a cat and dog owned by neighbors.

Ghareeb said that predators often do return to the scene of the crime for more possible food. But, she added, “I think the risk of that being an issue to neighbors or other pets is not huge.” Unlike chickens, cats and dogs can fight back and usually scare off predators.

Coyotes were blamed for the killings of two small dogs in separate incidents in Jamaica Hills several years ago.

Nevins Farm is holding a lecture called “Starting Your Own Backyard Flock,” about raising poultry and waterfowl, on March 10. It will include discussion of security measures. For more information, see mspca.org.

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