(This post probably deserves a PG rating, at least. It contains photos of dead chickens and a dead weasel. Read no further if that sort of thing bothers you.)
It is a given, living in the sticks and keeping chickens, that a bird will be lost from time to time. I once lost four chickens to a marauding horde of raccoons who tore apart heavy-guage wire mesh panels to get them and I know that a determined predator — especially one with a family to feed — can get into just about any enclosure.
Sometimes we let the chickens out of their pen to forage in the yard and have only been able to shrug when a fox darted out of the woods, grabbed one of our birds, and ran away with it to feed its young. I get that. I can understand it. It happens. At least the fox was killing for a reason.
Dogs, whose owners are sure would never do such a thing, lose their heads around chickens, sheep, cows and deer, killing indiscriminately, for no reason at all, and they have taken a toll on my birds, but this post isn’t about my feelings regarding humans who let their dogs run loose.
Dogs, foxes, bobcats, coyotes, bears, owls and hawks are ever present and we do what we can to keep them away from our birds without breaking the bank. We have a sturdy, six-foot tall fence with the top three feet of wire mesh hung loosely to discourage climbing. Netting and small shelters provide protection against aerial attacks, the doors and windows on the coop are secure and the vents are covered with 1/2-inch mesh. So far, that has proven to be sufficient.
Until this morning.
I’ve run into weasels before, usually in the barn, and they are afraid of nothing. They charge out from behind cans or beneath pallets, backs arched, crabbing sideways and screeching — even little eight inchers — and they are the only creature remaining that can send me clambering atop a chair. They are foul-tempered, they smell bad, and have a reputation as indiscriminate killers. This morning’s weasel encounter took place in the chicken coop and there was no chair to climb on. It also confirmed, to me, that weasels will kill for no reason other than to kill.
All it took was one loose corner on the mesh covering a vent, pried with a nose to an opening less than two inches across, and Mrs. Gordon and I found ourselves down six birds.
Miniature cousin of the wolverine. Just look at those chompers!
I have never been in the “kill ’em all” camp regarding predators. I’m still not, but I’ve never seen anything so small wreak so much havoc for no apparent reason. I like watching weasels work the old stone walls, hunting for mice, and I don’t even mind when they hunt in the cellar. I will still recoil and let out a squeal when they surprise me in the barn but they keep the chipmunks and mice under control so I can probably tolerate them in there, too, but the immediate vicinity of the coop is strictly off limits from here on in, no quarter given.
(April 11, 2011 — It should be noted, a day after the fact, that the above varmint is actually a mink. Weasels and mink are in the same family (along with otters, skunks and wolverines) and I used the generic “weasel” mostly out of spite. You never hear someone say “that guy is such a mink” but there was this guy named Delvin I knew, way back when, who insisted we call him “Mink,” and he used to piss me off a lot. But I digress.)