murder in a French orchard

A very unwelcome bit of excitement in our part of the French countryside yesterday . . .

I’ll spare the gore but, heading to the orchard yesterday at noon, to collect eggs and have a chat with the hens, I was very surprised not to see all three out pecking & scratching in their enclosure in the shade of the apple trees.    Everything was eerily quiet . . . and the only hen visible was Ruby, looking scrawny & hen-pecked as usual, but also acting worried and wary.  At first, I thought the other two were in the nesting box, but no.  Coop & nesting box were empty.  It was only then that I noticed , in one corner of the enclosure . . .  a pile of feathers and a corpse:  Mauricette.  No visible signs of injury, just dead, on her side. On further inspections, in another corner of the enclosure, I found a different pile of feathers

but no corpse.  That would have been Florence (missing, presumed dead).

We took Gibbs out in the orchard, where he sniffed and followed a scent trail which stopped at the boundaries of the orchard and a neighbour’s garden.  We even had Moka, a neighbour’s labrador) out in the orchard, who sniffed and followed the exact same scent trail as Gibbs.  There were more Florence feathers the other side of the fence . . . so with our Sherlock Holmes cap on (plus the husband googling fox hunting habits) we deduce that deaths were caused by a fox even though it occured in broad daylight.

We’d been lucky up until now.  We’ve lived here for 7 years, and kept hens for 6 years.  This is the first time hens have fallen prey to a predator.  Anyway . . . Ruby, as I say, was completely shell-shocked yesterday, poor thing.  Yesterday evening, we moved her back to the hen coop in the veggie garden.  And I got on the phone to our usual hen breeder.

This morning we went and collected 3 new laying hens:  a black & tan, a red hen, and a French blue.  I’ll show you photos as soon as they’re settled in and brave enough to leave the coop.  In the meantime, Ruby is even more worried, because of the 3 strange birds in the coop.

Saying that, it didn’t stop her laying an egg in the nesting box earlier today!  I hope she gets on well with the new hens and that her plumage eventually grows back to its former glory.

37 thoughts on “murder in a French orchard

    • I think she is suffering from stress, Cathy. Might only be a hen, but I’m convinced she knows what a close escape she had yesterday and today she’s stressed out because of the new hens in the coop. I do hope she’ll make friends with the new gals quickly and put yesterday’s happenings behind her.

  1. Oh no! So sorry about that Claire, We were also very lucky for about ten years and then lost two to, what we believe were stoats/polecats/weasels as it was mid afternoon and they were beheaded. I cried my eyes out when I saw my beautiful plump chickens just left there – what a waste. We decided to call it a day after that and rehomed the remaining one with a friend as I expect you probably remember. I see you’ve decided to carry on undaunted but do be careful as, if it was a fox, they often come back.

    • well we’ve got hens back in veggie garden, as opposed to orchard, so they’re closer to the house so if any new visitors turn up I hope they’ll raise the alarm and I’ll have time to dash out. What I find strange, if it was a fox . . . it happened between 8am and 1pm therefore in broad daylight.

      • If you were in an urban area in the U.K. I’d have said that foxes are everywhere at all times of day with apparently no fear of humans but it’s different in rural France Have you considered a weasel type? Although I think the giveaway with ours was the neat beheading and then the leaving of both head and body. It was early afternoon.

      • there was no blood and Mauricette didn’t have any visible marks on her. Maybe she had a heart attack, when she saw Florence being nabbed, but there was no blood in that area either.
        it’s a mystery ^^

    • we hope so. It’ll probably take a couple of days for her to get used to the 3 young ones, but there wasn’t any bickering at bedtime tonight.

  2. Oh, poor girls, what a horrible way to go. I’m so sorry, the Girls were such an integral part of your life, and I’m glad you have new friends for Ruby. I remember when the fox got into my chook yard somehow (it’s still a mystery exactly how) and obliterated the entire flock, not once but twice. I took it rather too personally. The Girls were my friends and used to sit on my lap…

    • well we’ve moved the hens back to their winter lodgings, rather than leaving temptation in the orchard for whoever it was visited yesterday. We always open and shut the coop manually (so at the moment around 8am and 7.30pm) . . . and just have to hope it was a one-off incident that won’t happen again.

  3. Heartbreaking isn’t it. It’s true that foxes come back to repeat the dastardly deed so hope Ruby and co stay safe….. or get geese. A friend was once woken by a racket in the yard when her pair of geese cornered a fox. Don’t think she ever lost any chickens!

  4. That is such a shame. I have had hens traumatised by a fox attack they survived and they do usually recover. I hope your new ones thrive and that the fox leaves them alone.

    • I’m happy to say that Ruby is looking and acting much calmer today. She had the new enclosure all to herself because the new gals haven’t ventured out of the coop yet.

  5. Hopefully poor Ruby will now be higher in the pecking order! Sorry about your chickens…When I started reading this I thought of the movie Chicken Run and thought about those chickens personalities. I am sad for your loss.

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