I’m having a problem with my Pekins and mixed race small chickens and some cockerels who live in a shed at night. There don’t seem to be any holes for rats to enter, but every few days, in the morning when I let them out, I’ve been finding dead chickens which have been partly eaten.

They’re on the floor, but when they go to bed at night, they’re roosting, so this indicates to me that there has been cannibalism. What do you think? What is the remedy? Unless I sit in there all night I won’t know who the culprit was.  I was thinking of isolating the cockerels, as they will have to be culled anyway. But it seems unlikely that they would attack hens.Annabel, via email

I suggest you move all the birds and just leave one to prove if it’s a rat or not. If there has been cannibalism, there should be blood on the faces of those who have partaken. Poultry will, of course, have a go at a corpse, it doesn’t mean they’ve killed it, but vent pecking is a fast way of one bird killing another. Rats can get through unbelievably small holes – also through ventilation roof spaces, so check all this – as can a weasel or stoat. I have since discovered that it was indeed a rat and that the hens had been eaten around the neck which is a trademark for rat predation. All the holes have now been carefully covered with small mesh wire, and thankfully, there hasn’t been another death.Identifying what has killed stock is possible, as predators all have different methods of killing and eating: 

Fox: head bitten off, bitten across the back, lots of deaths, signs of entry such as wire pulled out. Rat: flesh eaten off neck or stripped to skeleton, eggs broken and licked clean. Crows: flesh stripped on the neck, goslings and ducklings taken up to six weeks of age. Holes pecked in eggs or eggs carried away. Rooks: rarely attack birds but love eggs. Magpies: young ducklings or chicks totally disappear, eggs broken or carried away. Mice: nibble carcases usually starting at tail end. Weasel and stoat: bite marks at the back of the head and several dead. Mink: bites around head and neck, several deaths, no sign of entry (they climb well), heads off smaller birds. VR

Victoria Roberts BVSC MRCVSEmail the Vet’s forum at: vetsforum.csh@archant.co.uk

Disclaimer: The information and advice in this column is given in good faith. However, as the animals in question have not been examined by the author, no liability in respect of diagnosis or application of any treatments is accepted either by the author or by Country Smallholding

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