12/09/2014 10:29 am ET Updated Feb 06, 2015

Losing My Chickens -- Lessons Learned

I lost my chickens. I lost them, all seven, to a predator: a raccoon.

For background, this is a particularly devastating story about a violent event. I'm a suburban chicken mom. I thought I did everything right in trying to keep my girls safe during the day from hawks and at night from raccoons. My predator protective practices worked for twelve years.

One night, last July, so quietly I never heard a thing, a raccoon got into the 95' x 25' by 15' chicken yard with two coops inside. It, or they, chewed up seven chickens. My pets: Thelma and Louise, Chloe, Frankie and Jonnie, Olivia and No Name. Chloe was 10 years old. It was a savage sight. My pets were massacred. There were body parts strewn around their enclosure.

I cried so hard for two weeks my eyes ached from the pressure of tears. My face was frozen in grief--a clay mask overlay of sadness and guilt. I didn't protect my pets adequately and they suffered due to my neglect.

For some people, chickens don't rank up with dogs and cats as meaningful companions. I strongly disagree. I know, lots of folks think chickens have no individual personalities, have no recognition of familiarity in terms of differentiating one person from another or purposeful group dynamics.

However, I have witnessed deliberate behavior between two and more of my chickens. Sometimes it is declaring dominance. On one occasion it was "rescuing" one of the flock from being entangled in a bush. Specifically Louise saw Phoebe stuck between some branches. As the others looked on, Louise went back and led Phoebe to safety.

Getting back to my flocks demise, my overriding question is why after 12 years of safe living they fell victim to a night-time predator?

One explanation kept returning from other chicken owners, my chicken board,, and friends: Suburban predators, raccoons, fox and hawks are encroaching more and more into neighborhoods they shied away from before due to the drought and loss of habitat.

It made sense to me as there has been a lot more construction in the hills surrounding where I live on the Peninsula in Silicon Valley. I was used to seeing raccoons stroll over my property for a drink from a tub of water I keep for my visiting ducks and other birds. They never went near the chicken yard, although I kept a close eye on the critters. The chicken yard fence was festooned with little red blinking lights that until that fateful night. Before then apparently the lights looked threatening enough to night time beast of prey. I was comfortable my pet fowl were safe.

No longer.

I understand raccoons need to eat too, just not my chickens. I can't argue with nature, but I can keep my pets safe. Although their suburban yard is large, they have limited space to run and hid for cover. They are trapped.

Hence, my newly built "Chicken Alcatraz" was created: a fortress of hardware cloth to replace the old yard. This time the wire is dug one and half feet down with 2 x 8 boards with hardware cloth stapled to rims. The door a marvel of metal with a key lock.

There was no other way I could have pet chickens again unless I can be a more responsible owner. I don't blame the raccoons for trying to survive in an increasingly hostile environment. I just can't be supportive by supplying them with food. Water, yes, a meal, no.