Saturday, February 09, 2008

Varmints

Last year we were finally getting the numbers of our laying hens up a major notch. We got a couple dozen Rhode Island Red chicks with our broilers and a friend of ours was moving so we got a bunch of her hens as well. The Rhode Island Reds were getting big enough to introduce to the flock and our friends chickens were already successfully integrated. Finally we hoped to get our egg production up to help us keep up with the demand of egg customers.


Then one day there was a hen with a broken wing tip. Kind of unusual but, not too surprising given the ruckus that can go on in a hen house. What with roosters chasing hens and hens squabbling with each other from time to time. So a day or two went by as I contemplated what to do with the hen. It didn’t seem to effect the hen at all so I was thinking about performing a home surgery to remove the wing tip. Then I found her dead on the greenhouse floor minus her head. That’s when I suspected we had a predator and perhaps that’s why she got hurt in the first place. And the bandit returned to finish her off.


Some time went by and nothing else happened so I figured it was just some fly-by-night thing that wasn’t going to be a problem. Boy was I wrong. One day out of the blue there was another headless hen. Then every other day or so after there where more dead chickens. Some with heads missing, some with heads still there but, necks pretty much gone. And some just dead without anything at all missing. Just a little blood and roughed up feathers around the neck.


I suspected we had a weasel. We’ve never had one but, judging by what I’ve heard about them it sure seemed a good fit. The worst night it had gotten sixteen chickens most of which were our brand new Rhone Island Reds. So Kelli and I did a stake out. We made a bed in the back of our Jeep and parked it as close to the chickens as we could get. With shotgun by my side we opened the windows a couple inches so we could hear better. Half the night went by and we heard not a thing. So we tried to get a little shut eye snuggled under a warm blanket on that chilly fall night. Sunrise came without a sign of the nocturnal bandit.


We are getting to a point in our lives were pulling all nighters are too hard to recover from so I figured we’d better try a different approach before we lost our entire flock. I talked with a local trapper and he agreed with our suspicions that we were dealing with a weasel. So he brought over some weasel traps and set them up in strategic places, baited with some fresh meat. The traps were simple in design. Basically just home made wooden boxes with a weasel sized whole in one end. A metal leg hold trap was placed at the entrance with a piece of meat on the other side of the box. The critter had to cross the trap to get the bait. But, wouldn’t you know the thing had no interest in dead meat when it could have fresh blood from a live victim.


Actually the only thing we caught was one of our curious cats. It was the first or second night of the traps being out and I was working on my truck in the garage. I thought I heard something outside and the dog started barking. I grabbed a flash light in anticipation that something was in a trap. I ran to the closest trap which wasn’t were it was supposed to be. Then I heard a hideous growl which sounded something like a cat. I swung the flash light around and there was our cat Junior (in picture) hunkered down and appeared to be staring at the trap intently. I thought how in the world did that trap get all the way over there. Then it dawned on me what was going on. That crazy cat had his paw in the box and he was caught fast in that steel trap. As I approached him he took off running with that box bouncing along by his side. He finally stopped and was making such a pathetic sounding growl. I figured his paw would be mangled pretty bad by this point. I talked soothingly to Junior as I opened the box and squeezed the release on the trap. No sooner did it open and he was off like a flash. He attempted jumping over a gate but, fell back down as he grabbed the top with his sore foot. I tried catching him but he made a second attempt and flew over the gate. He disappeared into the night and I couldn’t find him anywhere so I gave up. I figured his foot was in bad shape as he went off some place to nurse his wound.


Later the next day he showed up in the shed were he usually stays. I examined his foot and to my amazement everything was intact. No blood and not even one mangled toe. However he did have a pretty good limp. It didn’t take long though and he was as good as new. Junior never went near those traps again!


I found evidence that the varmint was going under our chicken coop. Hey why not? Might as well live right were the food is right? I filled in the holes under the coop and time went by and we weren’t losing anymore birds. We began to think that perhaps the deadly beast moved on or died or something. The local trapper finally came and got his traps.


Then out of the blue it was back and we started loosing chickens again. My wheels started rolling. I knew the creature preferred live food. So I started thinking about ways to devise a trap with a live bird. What I did was to make a cage within a cage. Big enough for a live chicken. The chicken would be safe inside. Basically it was the same idea the trapper had only on a much bigger scale. I made a weasel sized whole with a trap right inside the door. It would have to go across the trap to get to the chicken which it actually couldn’t get to anyway but I figured he wouldn’t know that.


Several nights went by and it wasn’t taking the bait and still we were loosing chickens. In the mean time, I was pretty sure we had a skunk going in the shed eating cat food just like we had over a year ago. Actually we already had one a couple months previously which I had killed with my shot gun. But, this skunk was proving most illusive. I could smell and see the evidence that it was around but just couldn’t seem to get it in my sights. It was like we where being over run with varmints and it was getting down right discouraging.


Finally we were getting desperate and Kelli and I both prayed fervently that we’d catch these unwelcome invaders. I had set up a live trap in the shed because the skunk was coming sometime in the middle of the night much later than I’d want to stay up on stake outs. So the next morning after our praying I went out first thing to see if by chance we’d caught our skunk. I don’t know why I was surprised but I was practically jumping up and down to see that there was the skunk securely within the live trap. Praise the Lord! No sooner was I rejoicing over the skunk when I heard Kelli yell from the green house where we keep the chickens. “We got it!” she exclaimed. “It’s in the trap but it’s not dead.” Immediately my attention was off the skunk and I had a much more serious critter to deal with so I wasted not one more second and raced to the house to fetch my gun.


Kelli met me on my way to the green house, she told me that the weasels foot was in the trap and it was standing there outside the cage just looking at her. It was really quite funny to see. The varmint was standing outside the cage just looking around like it was bored with one foot caught in the trap. You could almost imagine the thing whistling a tune as it stood there taping it's hind foot waiting to be released. Well, of course a release wasn’t going to happen I wasted no time in taking aim with my shot gun and ended our long ordeal in a split second. Cut the rascal almost in two. I figured I might hurt the bird but it was well worth the risk. I was pleased to see the chicken alive and well. Not even grazed by the shot.


Well, Kelli and I firmly believe that God answered our prayers. It was getting pretty discouraging there for awhile. We thought we were going to get on top of things as far as our egg production getting up to a higher level. But, then I don’t know why we wait until things are desperate to really get down to praying with passion. We were exceedingly grateful to be rid of the varmints. (I dealt with the skunk later) And things have been quiet ever since.




This is the culprit that killed half our flock of chickens. I'm not certain it is a weasel actually. The markings are nothing like the pictures I've seen of weasels. It didn't have the light colored under side like in the pictures. It had one tiny white patch on it's chest and one between it's rear legs. There is a weasel like animal in our region called a pine marten that I wondered if this might be one. And this little critter seems a little blockier than the pictures of weasels I've seen also.


I wondered if it could be a baby fisher but, the feet didn't match the pictures of fishers I looked at either. I described it to the local trapper, however he thought it sounded like a weasel or at least in the weasel family.
In this picture you can kind of see the hole I blasted in it with my 20 gauge. I used small game shot. The animal measured about 14 inches from nose to tail.
After my fiasco with my air rifle and the skunks back in 2006 I learned my lesson and got a real gun for dealing with varmints.




Life is full of challenges, especially life on a farm. You have to battle the elements, the bugs and pestilence and predators that would destroy your livelihood. Often you have to be creative to rise above it all. Not to mention relying on prayer. Prayer and hope should be our first line of defense, not a last resort.


Until Next Time

8 Comments:

Blogger Lynn Bartlett said...

Hi Russ,
Great story! I am hoping we don't have any trouble with our chickens, since last summer some researchers from Penn State stopped by to see if they could set some live traps on our land for pine martens and fishers. Guess they are beginning to repopulate our area. If our cats can get in and out of the shed where the chickens are, so could something else. Prayer is definitely a first line of defense. We are asking the Lord to help our animals get through this very bitter cold; we do all we can, but He is in charge.

9:45 PM  
Blogger jayedee said...

wow! what a sojourn! we're blessed in that we've never had a marauder get any of our flock, but we stay vigilant! thanks for sharing your story!

8:19 AM  
Blogger RL said...

Hi Lynn,
We go through long periods of no trouble with predators but, when one finds an easy meal it sure is hard to keep them out. Especially something as small as this weasel type animal.

So far we've never had a problem with a fisher. Our neighbor lost a rabbit to one once. And from time to time you hear about people losing their cats to fisher. I sure wouldn't want one of those around.

I am always amazed at how God has equipped animals to with stand the cold. We’ve never lost any here to winter weather as long as they were inside something and out of the wind.

We’re getting socked with bitter cold here right now too. Last night it was down around 45 or 50 below with the wind chills. Our out door wood burner didn’t keep up with the howling winds and the house wouldn’t get over 61degrees.

Russ

5:02 PM  
Blogger RL said...

Hello Jayedee,
Your welcome and thanks for the comment.

That's quite the chicken out fit there in the picture! Must be a an extra large jumbo broiler! :)

Russ

5:08 PM  
Blogger Peggy said...

Love the post! Without prayer we could never get through a single day around here.

6:35 AM  
Anonymous molly said...

Here in Aussie we don't have those animals raiding our chook (hens) pen, we have foxes.

I don't know how big your hen house is, but here we put a single line of cement pavers (about 2' x 2' each) all the way around the inside of the pen, the foxes wouldn't or couldn't dig under this, saved all our hens for many years.

Over the top (since the foxes will climb) we placed bird netting, they hate the instability of that stuff!

cheers

9:32 AM  
Blogger RL said...

Hi Peggy,

Thanks for the comment. I was looking at the pictures of your goats. You have some very nice looking animals.
---------------------------------


Welcome to the blog Molly and thanks for the tips.

Currently we have our hens in a green house that is roughly
30'x30'. But, we will be moving them out to portable pens in the spring time following the Joel Salatin model.

I am hoping that with moving them to fresh ground every day it will help deter predators. The idea being that the animal might be apprehensive of something new. The longer they stay in one place the more likely the predator is to become emboldened.

But, yes I can see that with a permanent structure paving blocks and netting would be secure protection. The netting would even keep the owls away.

I’ll be checking out your blog. I find it interesting to see how people do things in other lands. Thanks again for the comment.

Russ

10:48 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

russ, you just described our story, we've lost at least 50 chickens in the past month, some jsut splattered, but mostly all with heads chopped off, could you please send me a photo of the weasel trap you built so we can make our own, I would gladly appreciate it! Mlowe@tampabay.rr.com

6:14 PM  

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