The day I lost Buffy was the hardest chickeneering day yet, here at Heedley’s Hens, and there have been some doozies. The manner in which she was killed was so very ugly, if there could be such a thing as an unugly violent death. Armed with the assurances of a neighbour that her hens had been killed in a similar manner by a local feral cat, I felt fairly confident in assigning blame to said cat, recognising him from his territorial spats with our boys.
A visit to Agway today to return alfalfa pellets with which my girls would have nothing to do (man, I almost sprained myself on that one) brought insight from Chicken Debbie, the hub of all things chicken in this area. You see, Debbie had spoken to the masculine half of the same neighbour from which I had my feral cat intel. They lost more chickens.
They lost more chickens (the number is uncertain) from inside their run, which has no roof, recently enough that there had been snow on the ground at the time. This places this second attack after Buffy’s death.
He asked Debbie if it might have been the work of an aerial predator, to which she replied, no, they wouldn’t maul the chicken’s neck and head and leave it there. Just not their m.o. The man looked perplexed. Was it not the cat again, Debbie asked? That’s the weird thing, he replied…there were no prints in the snow.
A light went off for Debbie, an awful light. It was a weasel. Debbie knows a little something about weasels; her girls are fully enclosed at all times because Debbie once lost half her flock in a single weasel attack.
A weasel wouldn’t leave prints in the snow, explained Debbie, because it would burrow under the snow to sneak up on the hens. A weasel would destroy several hens at a go, and a weasel would chew just the neck of the hen, because that is the easiest access to the greatest flow of blood.
Which is precisely how Buffy died. Debbie asked where Buffy died. Right in front of the barn, to the left of the doors, I replied. Is there any brush there? Indeed, there is a persistent vine precisely there, one I’ve wanted gone for some time. If you look closely enough at the barn in the Heedley’s Hens masthead, you even see it.
Debbie nodded solemnly. That’s how they do it. They lie in wait, covertly.
And that must be how Buffy died. The day I found the girls huddled in the coop nesting boxes, shortly after her death, must have been another close call. That the flow of eggs has slowed almost to a stop is hardly remarkable.
And, yes, the regular patrolling of our two black cats might be the very thing keeping it at bay. I know it’s cold boys, but…OUT!! Go guard the chickens.
It goes without saying that the brush will be dispensed with post haste. That Buffy’s death need not have happened is a bitter, bitter pill to swallow, and I am punishing myself tonight. Debbie was not optimistic about catching this killer; apparently weasels don’t fall for Hav-A-Heart traps or poison, and foot snares might catch any number of local animals. Anyone with workable suggestions on exterminating weasels will have my undivided attention.
For those of you who feel that free ranging is just too dangerous, I’d like to point out that I have lost one chicken to this predator, to my neighbour’s five-ish. That’s the thing about enclosing your hens. If your coop and run really are Fort Knox, you’re golden. If there is the slightest weakness, however (and a weasel can enter through an opening the size of a quarter), your girls are trapped. I may have lost Buffy, but my other girls were able to get away. This is a scenario we’ve seen here before.
I miss Buffy like crazy, but I’m not giving up free ranging. Not yet, anyway.