Snap goes the weasel. The satisfying conclusion.

We got it. (WARNING: graphic photos to follow.)

Which is to say, The Man got it, the damned weasel that killed so many of our girls. My heart is still broken, but I am feeling a sense of victory I wasn’t sure I’d feel.

Weasels are not easy to catch. They are very small, and very clever. They will evade an open trap, and will steal bait from an enclosed trap without setting it off. We saw this night after night, much to our frustration. The Man has spent a lot of time on the internet researching how successful hunters have caught this predator, and I went to Tractor Supply yesterday to get a different kind of trap.

This trap, inside a weasel box, baited with fresh chicken liver, is what caught our chicken killer.

photo 2

This trap uses heavy plastic, a brutally-powerful release snap, and a hair trigger to get the job done. Weasels have a great deal of finesse, but this trigger is so sensitive, it goes off at the slightest disturbance. I carried the loaded weasel box to the back of the coop with the respect one would give nuclear waste.

Yes, outside the coop. The weasel was killed outside the coop. Does this mean s/he couldn’t get in? The identical trap inside the coop was untouched. We made two changes yesterday: we removed the poop pit and I filled the inner door track with sand. Did we cut off its method of entry?

Not so fast. The bait to the Havaheart trap inside the coop was gone, and the trap was sprung, but there was nothing inside. Now, on the advice of the internet, The Man set the Havaheart last night with the bait twist-tied to the side of the trap; it’s possible it was eaten from outside the trap. It’s also possible it was eaten by a non-weasel.

We will not be letting down our guard anytime soon. The remaining eight hens will continue to spend the night inside the crate (sorry, girls), and we will continue to set traps, just as we did last night, for at least a week. I will not lose more hens. I won’t.

Contrary to threats made earlier this week on the Heedley’s Hens Facebook Page, I will not be feeding the corpse to the chickens. My fury has boiled down to a deep, abiding sadness; tears come easily these days. I feel satisfaction today, and a sense of victory, but my bloodlust is gone. This wass a living creature, doing what nature created it to do.

That said, I do get satisfaction in the knowledge that The Man found it still alive. Oh, I haven’t mentioned that part? Yes, alive. If you ever have the opportunity to test drive one of these snap traps, you will understand my shock. I thought it would take the weasel’s head clean off its body.

But, no; The Man found the weasel will alive and writhing, and dispatched it with his air rifle. So, when I think of Coraline, and Haley, and Trixie, and Abby, and Maisie, and Dorothy, and probably even my darling Buffy, I can know that this creature suffered for hours before it finally died.

Please know, I am the kind of person who rescues worms off the road after a rainy day. I have a very soft heart, but I am glad it suffered. When my mind calls up images of my girls’ chewed necks and lifeless bodies, and I doubt my memory will ever surrender those images, I can now add this one:

photo 1

The wound look remarkably similar to those on Buffy and Coraline, and I am feeling an Old Testament satisfaction.

Advertisements

I can bear no more. And then there were eight.

This post is three days late,  today is the first day I could face writing it. Trixie is dead.

After the weasel killed Coraline and Haley last Sunday night, I was a mess, as you might imagine, but not completely without hope. It was the first time I’d opened the coop to fatalities myself, but I felt confident we’d dealt with the issues before bed. Deeply depressed by the newest losses, I did something I hadn’t done all winter: I sat in the coop at roost time, and let the girls sit in my lap.

This is primarily a 1.0 pursuit; 2.0 wasn’t handled enough as chicks, an error I plan to rectify with 3.0. I was able to find solace in the wrestling match between Big Tallulah and Trixie for my lap, the winner getting big body scrubs. It made me cry, but there was a sweetness to the tears, as well as bitterness.

The next morning, I opened the inner coop door to find Trixie lying lifeless on the ground by the poop pit.

It was too much, and I broke. I spent the day either sobbing hysterically or staring into space, catatonic. The Man forbade me to drive. This fucking rodent was killing my new life and there was nothing, it seemed, I could do to stop it.

The good news is, we found a way to stop the deaths (see Heedley’s Hens Facebook Page for more details). The bad news is, the weasel is still alive and taking bait from traps, leaving the coop unscathed, night after night.

I now have three remaining 1.0s: Tallulah (who will now, surely, be Head Hen), Alexia, and Hermione. To see my (only) eight girls grazing on the lawn makes me so sad, every day. So few.

The weasel saga will continue, and 3.0 will hatch (she said), but I want to take this moment to remember Trixie, who yelled louder than anyone over nothing, who laid nothing but fart eggs for ten months, and who was my last remaining Buff Orpington. She is missed.

Month 08 Trixie

Gaps kill. And then there were nine.

Yes, nine. For the first time ever, the population of Heedley’s Hens has dropped down to a single digit.

The weasel came back last night, and I opened the coop door this morning to find Coraline’s body by the spilled water dish, her neck chewed to the bone, as Buffy’s had been. A quick visual sweep saw Haley in the right nesting box, motionless.

We believe we found the point of entrance. The Man found Barred Rock feathers outside the coop, by the nesting boxes. When he pried up at the corner of the nesting box lid (and I mean hard) he was able to squeeze two fingers through the gap. That has to be it. Oh, please God, let it be it.

The Man screwed the lids shut, and we will be setting traps tonight.

It’s funny; yesterday was a day of bad weather, too: dangerously high winds. I am definitely seeing a pattern. We had planned to set the traps last night, but we were making beer and had guests over and it got late…I’ll add that to my very long list of self recriminations.

We’ll need to bury Coraline and Haley today. I’ve asked The Man to dig the graves, as I don’t think I can face the task so soon after digging the last three. I dread telling the Stepdaughters; upon hearing of the death of the first three a few days ago, Stepdaughter the Younger was upset, but deeply relieved that her precious Coraline had survived. And now…

Beyond the emotional toll, which I’m finding crippling, there is the practical cost. Of the five hens killed, the weasel managed to kill my four best layers. He may have killed a third of our hens, but he has cut egg production in half. I’m glad The Man and I decided to add another twelve hatching eggs to our order from The Garry Farm, but it will be a lean summer, egg-wise.

The count is now devastating. 1.0 now counts 2,1,1. That’s it. All our Plymouth Barred Rocks are gone. I feel like hatching some, to be honest. In my limited experience, they are the best layers I have found, and Abby was broody, and I hear they make good meat birds. I will have to see how the Ameraucana/Maran hatch goes. I don’t think either breed is famous for its egg output, pretty as the eggs may be.

I have obituaries to write, on their five pages. I’d been putting off moving Abby, Maisie and Dorothy over to the “In memoriam” section, waiting until the wound had healed a little. And now, there are two more. It may take me a while to bring myself to do it.

In the meantime, here are pics of our lost girls in happier days. Abby checks out Tallulah’s molting butt…one of my faves:

photo 3-1

Maisie, in the chicken hospital for a badly-ripped nail:

photo 1-1

Dorothy, checking out the Nest on Pooh Corner:

photo 2-1

Coraline, in the chicken hospital for bumblefoot (with Buffy):

photo 4

And Haley, all shiny in her new, post-molt feathers (Abby, at left):

photo 3

Oh, my poor girls; I’m so sorry. I’m sorry I failed you. You were all so good to us. Thank you.

Home kills. And then there were eleven.

Eleven.

Readers of the Heedley’s Hens Facebook page will know that we had a terrible loss Monday night. The Man and I were visiting family and friends in Canada, and Chicken Debbie was staying at our house, looking after Sergeant, the cats, and the chickens.

I received a text on Tuesday that there had been a terrible sight greeting Debbie that morning, when she opened the coop door: three of our chickens were dead, killed by a predator. She told us she felt it was a weasel, given the state of the bodies.

It was horrible to be away in that moment, as you might imagine. I had no idea which of the hens, specifically, had died, as Debbie could only give me the breeds: two Plymouth Barred Rocks and one Silver Laced Wyandotte. I was grieving and guilty, but I was also terrified; we weren’t to leave until Wednesday…what if the predator came back Tuesday night, as well, before we had a chance to find the point of entrance?

Debbie reported that the remaining eleven girls had made it safely through Tuesday night, all praise be to The Great Chicken, and The Man and I returned home yesterday, as planned. I went into the coop expecting to find a crime scene in need of a cleaner, only to find it looking…perfectly normal. No blood. A few feathers.

I cannot tell you how I felt knowing that we had lost chickens, not to illness, not to a car or an accident, not even to an outdoor predator, but in their coop, their home, where they should be safe, while they were asleep, helpless and trapped. I felt sick.

We tightened up the coop with the daylight hours we had left last night, but, honestly, there wasn’t much to tighten. We’re still not sure how he got in. We set out a couple of rat traps last night; this morning, one was untouched, and the other had been sprung, the bait taken, the thief nowhere to be seen. We will be bringing in the weasel trap boxes tonight, loaded with fresh chicken livers.

Early this morning, I steeled myself to deal with the bodies. Debbie had placed them in a large black garbage bag, inside the courtyard. We will be burying them when the ground allows, and I wanted to wrap them, individually, for burial. More even that that, I wanted to look at them, to not turn my eyes from what had happened to my girls. More and more, this becomes my most important mandate.

They looked…asleep. There is very little damage: a few feathers missing at the neck. For reasons I can’t quite explain, I took photos, maybe to have in case The Stepdaughters wanted to know. I am attaching them here, in the smallest size wordpress allows, so as to not upset anyone. If you want to know more, you can click on them to enlarge.

photo 1 photo 2photo 3

From left to right, we lost Abby, Maisie, and Dorothy. Abby and Maisie were 1.0, and Dorothy was one of 2.0’s “good girls”. Their loss is difficult to bear. Abby was my superstar layer, and my last known broody. She will be sorely missed. Maisie was her breed sister, with her curved toes, long, skinny eggs, and flappiness. Dorothy laid late, but eventually turned out marvelous snowglobe extra-large eggs, almost daily. She was three weeks shy of her first birthday.

I wrapped each of them in one my dad’s old shirts, brought home yesterday as protective wrapping for a sculpture he gifted me. I find it comforting that they will go to their rest wrapped in his figurative arms. That will have to wait for softer ground.

The revised count is heartbreaking. From my original eleven 1.0 girls (after Jack was rehomed), I now have only six. I feel their losses more than I do those of 2.0, which is not something I’m proud of. One thing I have determined: I cannot continue to keep them all in the chicken graveyard. Not only do I have three chickens to bury, I also have five headstones to paint, and that’s not the worst of it. The worst of it is that a graveyard containing all the chickens we lose will be a constant, daily reminder of loss, one that I’m not sure I can bear.

I’ve decided that, going forward, only 1.0s (or others particularly are close to my heart) will be buried; others will be cremated.

These are the risks we assume when we have chickens. I know that. Doesn’t mean it doesn’t suck.

Sometimes, you just never know. And then there were fourteen.

Here we go again.

I’ve had a hard time getting the girls to bed lately, especially 1.0. I guess they figure they’re all grown up now, and they don’t need a curfew. I’ve had to herd them into their coop at almost-dark, an hithertofore unknown problem.

At around 5pm last night, when I fully expected them to be all roosted. I looked out the kitchen window to see most of 1.0 peacefully grazing on the lawn, as though it weren’t very nearly dark. I shooed them into the barn and up the coop hallway.

In so doing, I heard a distressed chicken, outside the run. When I got the girls herded into the coop, I did a quick count. Twelve. WHAT?!

I ran out to the run, to find Haley deep in Junk Jungle, crying. Highly unusual. I called her out to me, and carried her into the coop. Thirteen.

A quick count told me that Marilyn and Delilah were still missing. I wasn’t too worried; two or more chickens missing generally means shenanigans more often than it means trouble. I went back around to the run to find Marilyn, staring at the closed run door. She was a bit harder to catch, but I got her settled into the coop, too. Fourteen.

At this point, I began to worry. While all had seemed business-as-usual with the 1.0 crowd southeast of the barn, Haley’s and Marilyn’s behaviour told me something predatorial may have happened northwest of the barn. Haley doesn’t just hide in the brush by herself.

I searched the perimeter of the field, the barn, and the house. I searched around the pond and through Fox Woods. I searched the inside of the barn, and all the various nests. It wouldn’t be the first time I’d had a first-year layer laying after lockdown.

I tried the whole circuit over again ten minutes later, with a flashlight this time. Dark had fallen, and I was searching for a black hen, possibly an injured black hen, who couldn’t respond. I did the circuit yet again, fifteen minutes later. When The Man came home after The Stepdaughters’ soccer practice, he did it, too, just to give it a fresh set of eyes.

Something had spooked Haley and Marilyn, and likely, Delilah, as well; that much is safe to assume. What happened then is only a guess. There was no body, and no black feathers. The only predator I know of who could possibly kill so cleanly is a hawk. Either Delilah had been caught and killed by a hawk, or she had been scattered far enough that she couldn’t get home before dark.

There was nothing to do but wait and see. The low last night was a relatively warm 23F; if she were alive and unharmed, she might survive, and she might find her way home in the morning.

Except that she didn’t. It’s 1pm now, and I think it’s safe to say she’s gone. No body, no feathers, just…gone.

We’ve been through a lot together, gentle reader, so I’m not going to lie to you: there have been no tears for Delilah. There was a sigh, a curse, and a shrug, in that order. Delilah was a nasty, ornery hen, and she didn’t like me much, either. I am upset, but far from inconsolable, as I was with Buffy.

It turns out I don’t love them all the same.

Delilah, I hope you make it back some how, or, if you can’t, make it to another flock you can join. We’ll keep a candle in the window…

Snap goes the weasel.

No, we haven’t trapped it yet. But we’re gonna.

I swear, as God is my witness, with a scrabby carrot clenched in my dirty, chapped fist, we will get the weasel(s) what done it. The Man has turned to the knower of all things (Youtube) to learn the best way how. It worked for beer; it’ll work for this.

First off, let’s get to know our target a bit. From Wikipedia:

They are small, active predators, long and slender with short legs. Weasels vary in length from 173 to 217 mm (6.8 to 8.5 in),  females being smaller than the males, and usually have red or brown upper coats and white bellies; some populations of some species moult to a wholly white coat in winter. They have long, slender bodies, which enable them to follow their prey into burrows. Their tails may be from 34 to 52 mm (1.3 to 2.0 in) long. Weasels have a reputation for cleverness, quickness and guile.

Weasels feed on small mammals, and have from time to time been considered vermin, since some species took poultry from farms, or rabbits from commercial warrens. They occur all across the world except for Antarctica, Australia, and neighbouring islands.

Weasels are related to ermine, stoats, minks, polecats, and ferrets. And, you know what? They’re pretty cute:

702px-Mustela_nivalis_-British_Wildlife_Centre-4

long_tailed_weasel

But, like so many people you dated when you were single, they’re only cute until they open their mouths:

stoat

That’s what killed Buffy, and that, according to Tricia of Tricott Dairy, is what could potentially kill one of our cats. It/they has/have to go. End of discussion.

Our research revealed that New Hampshire is ground zero for the weasel, right next door. Here’s what you should be looking for in the snow, if you are concerned you might have a local population:

LeastWeaselPrint

Now, how to trap. This is tricky. They shun Hav-A-Heart traps, and ignore poison. The best way to catch them is with snap traps, but to put them out is to endanger livestock, pets, and other local wildlife. The solution is to use the litheness of the weasel to its own disadvantage.

(Things get a tad graphic from this point on, gentle reader. Please use your best judgment as to whether or not to continue reading.)

A regular large rodent snap trap is baited with meat, the bloodier and fresher the better. The snap trap is placed in a long wooden box, with a removable or hinged lid. The box has two openings, one at each of the small ends. One of the openings is large and closed off with wire, so the weasel can smell the bait but not access the box. The other opening is a small  circle, left open as an entry. The trap faces this opening.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

The round entrance is high on the box so the weasel must jump into the box, facilitating trapping. This is the desired result (you were warned):

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

The brush has been cleared from the left front of the barn, the cover the weasel used to hunt Buffy. As a precautionary measure, I shoveled a bit of Billie poop there, as well. The Man will get to the traps soon, I hope; he is pulled in so many directions, and our task list is miles long. Goodness knows, we have the scrap wood for the job.

Our intention is to set traps at the barn, and westward along our northern property line, toward the other home where the weasel has killed.

And we will keep setting those damned traps until my girls are safe.

Know thine enemy. Buffy edition.

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.