We got up on Thursday morning and I did my usual pre-breakfast round of taking out the dogs, letting out the hens and feeding the wild birds.......except that I only got as far as the second item on this list of three.
When I arrived at the hen run, the first thing I noticed was how all the hens were lined up eagerly trying to get out. That's unusual in itself in the winter, normally Mo is out there and the rest of the gang are still in the coop in the (relative) warm. Then I realised as I rounded the corner that Sherri was lying in the run, stone dead.
If I'm honest, I'd really been expecting it. She was old (6-7), had been suffering from a tumour on her leg for some time and we'd been told that she was effectively on borrowed time. So, to find her dead wasn't a great surprise or shock, other than its timing giving us a bit of a jolt.
Instead of finishing my pre-breakfast tasks, I ended up burying her and planting a rambling rose on her little grave. (Rambling Rector for anyone interested.)
That night, the rest of the gang were reluctant to go to bed, to say the least. We just assumed that was because of losing one of their number. We chivvied them along, locked them in and the whole routine started again the following morning.
Well, that is until step two of the three step pre-breakfast routine, when like some horrible groundhog day experience, there were the chooks desperate to get out........and Terri, our other oldie Light Sussex, dead in a more-or-less exact same pose as her sibling Sherri the previous day.
Of course at this point we smelt a rat and of course deeply regretted not smelling it the day before. Two in tow days was one too many to be natural.
So, we took notice of the small holes around the run and decided that we must have been attacked by either rats or a stoat. The next step was a major upgrade of the fortifications, already with concrete supports for a heavy-duty aviery netting run - completely fox-proof. We added mesh to the floor, repaired an old rat hole in the door and made a vow to shut them inside the coop rather than rely on the run for defence.
Saturday morning dawned with four live, though distinctly scared, hens. They couldn't wait to be out of there. Sunday morning too, all OK. Sunday afternoon, I popped to the shop for milk and happened to mention to the lady who runs the shop that we'd lost two hens on two consecutive days and she told me that our neighbour (from five doors up the road) had also lost two of her hens on consecutive nights and had decided it must have been a stoat.
We reckon that when the stoat found that she'd fortified her defences, that it'd try its luck on our brood. He got lucky twice, but hopefully no more.