Weasel Wipeout

The dead Cornish chick lies wedged at the bottom of the gate, the bite on its neck as deep and bloody as the cut I was planning to make in just five weeks.  Weasels only want the blood.

Weasel Massacre 002

Three more dead chicks lay against the  fencing to my right, forty more are scattered here and there, a hillside of horror.

Weasel Massacre 003

It’s late Saturday morning.  I let 57 healthy 2-1/2 week old chicks out of their overnight coops several hours ago.  And then the Bearded One returned from his morning walk and found me here in the kitchen frying our next-to-last chicken from last year.  “Oh my darling, you know that meat birds are not pets,” the Bearded One says, catching and holding my eyes with his.  And then, “Because weasels got ’em all.”

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Blood drains from my face and then my whole head as I register the massacre.  I must make meaning of this, but I’m racing up the hill.  My soul is already searching, but the event is still happening.  I can’t make meaning on the fly, though I keep trying.

We find four survivors huddled in the far corner of the pen, and a fifth shows up later, while I silently dig the mass grave and the Bearded One gathers the little corpses in a wheelbarrow.

“We didn’t keep them safe,” I say.  The Bearded One parks the loaded wheelbarrow near the three-foot deep pit and says, “Sorry, Meat Birds.”

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“Let’s count them as we go,” I say.  I’m surprised and comforted by the simple ceremony, how the enormity builds until I cry.  One…TwoThree…FourFiveSix….Fifteen….Twenty-ThreeTwenty-Four Twenty-Five…Thirty-Six…Thirty-SevenThirty-Eight…Forty-OneForty-TwoForty-Three…and finally, Fifty-Two.  We fill the grave in and resolve to do better.

The Bearded One calls Momma Goose and Brooklyn Man, our neighbors and poultry mentors.  We ordered the Cornish chicks with them last month.  They have 59 identical birds in their non-weasel-proof coop.  Brooklyn Man is horrified.  Another neighbor got wiped out precisely this way a few weeks ago.  He says that they’ve never lost any birds to weasels.  He knows that weasels can not only climb and dig and get through a one-inch hole, but they can also cross the road to his place.  His chicks are doomed.

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So we make plans to move his chicks to our aviary that evening.  We’ll do the work and split the birds with him.  The aviary isn’t Fort Knox, but it’s dig-proof (cement trench all the way around), there’s doubled chicken wire on super tall walls, plus goats patrol the perimeter.  Our layers have been safe in there for almost two years.

Cornish fryers and grown layers would fight if they were housed together.  So for now, the layers will be fine shut out of the aviary until we harvest the meat birds on August 2.

As he backs out the tractor and trailer to move Brooklyn Man’s chicks, in broad daylight, the Bearded One sees one of the supposedly nocturnal weasels loping across the tractor trail — long and dark and about the size of a stretched-out squirrel.  We see them on the road once in a while.

It’s the hottest weekend of the summer so far, up to 90F, and sweat drips into my glasses as I move Brooklyn Man’s feeders and waterers into the aviary.  The Bearded One catches dozens of chicks and then hauls them to our place.

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The transfer takes a couple of hours and we are exhausted when it’s all over.  “I’ve reached full kaput,” says the Bearded One.  The house is an inferno, and before I go to bed, I look outside and ask the wounded Barred Owl I removed from the aviary last week to please eat the weasels.

Sunday is blissfully uneventful.  Only Maybelline and Kimber, two of our bossiest layers, are out of sorts, furious about not having access to the aviary and their old nest boxes.  They pace the aviary perimeter while the meat birds mock them, dust bathing and stretching their drumsticks in the sunray.

Meat birds in aviary 001

All is relatively well for two nights and half of Monday.

And then the Bearded One hurries back to the kitchen after just finishing lunch — “Six or seven meat chicks are dead,” he says. “Weasels again.  I think it just happened.  I heard a loud squawk.  I left Ruby up top guarding the place.”

We move fast, I’m in the lead, and I see a dead chick by the aviary door, a deja vu of Saturday at the meat bird pen on the other side of the property.  There are five more dead, but all the rest are still alive.

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“You caught them in the act,” I say, and the Bearded One agrees.  He gathers the bodies.  “They’re still warm and loose,” he says.

I look up and around.  “You know the weasels are watching us,” I say.

“There’s no safe place on this property,” he says, “except inside the house.”

“I’m entering the anger stage,” I say.

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We decide that we have to move the chicks back to Brooklyn Man’s.  At least they’ll make it through the afternoon.  The weasels haven’t discovered his place yet.  They’ll be back here the minute we leave.

I babysit the chicks while the Bearded One calls Brooklyn Man at work, and then we spend the afternoon catching and transporting 58 chicks back to the hopefully weasel-free zone.

At least for now.  Any place is safer than here.  We quarantine the aviary to clean it up for the layers, all of which we now wonder if we’ll lose.  That’s how weasels are.

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38 responses to “Weasel Wipeout

  1. Oh no. Good luck.
    Up til now I’ve thought of weasels as fierce friends (no poultry here, and they keep the rats down).

    • I know what you mean about the mixed blessing. So far the layers have been untouched — maybe it’s because they can fly. The fryers were sitting ducks, so to speak. 😦 I don’t know what we’ll do. We’re still pondering it all. Thanks for the good wishes.

  2. Oh nooo! I didn’t know weasels were vampires. And for some reason I pictured them only living in India, having their fill of cobras. Not on the Farmlet sucking blood from chicklets!! Good thing you hadn’t named them like Sarah Plain & Tall. Still…sorry. You are brave – and an awesome true storyteller.

    • Neck-draining is the tell with weasels. Our UPS guy who lives just a mile or so from here says he can’t raise any chickens because of weasels. The only way to deal is with super duper tight enclosure (no cages!!!) or traps. The whole point is happy, free-range lives! Sigh. It helps to write the story, as you know. Thanks, Pierr!

  3. As a fellow MotherClucker, I sympathize with your plight. I have had great success protecting my chicks with a portable rope electrified fence surrounding the enclosure we have around the coop. When the hens free range, they are vulnerable still, but at least they have a shot at running away.

    • Thanks, Colleen. I’ve read about those electrified fences. Maybe we’ll try that. I’ll tell the B.O. There is an element of luck to any chicken’s long life, but as you say, at least laying hens can “fly” and run like the wind.

  4. I now know in a way that I didn’t before what it truly means when one calls a person a weasel!

    You told the story so sensitively and well – it was hard to read but so good to read. Thank you.

  5. Christine Widman

    Ooohhh. My heart sank as I read.
    Nature is fierce and beautiful and deadly and filled with life.
    We are experiencing this about nature here by the searing heat wave. Watching literally one of our loquat trees (which doesn’t belong in the desert but has been happy these past 11 years) being parched to shriveled leaves no matter how much water we pour around it.
    I felt astonished realizing that there may be no weasel protection for the chickens. I know there are many stories about weasels in the hen house. But I didn’t know how predatory their nature is to kill every chicken in sight.
    I hope you find a solution for your chickens’ safety.
    The Bearded One is very keen and inventive.
    I felt this line. I can hear him saying it, “Oh my darling, you know that meat birds are not pets,” the Bearded One says, catching and holding my eyes with his. And then, “Because weasels got ‘em all.”
    Every day – on your farmlet and on our desert acres – life before our eyes unfolds.
    Love you.
    C
    PS
    I have to confess:
    I laughed out loud and long over your asking the Barred Owl to please eat the weasels.
    lolololololololololololololololololololololololololol

    • Nature is all of those things, Christine. And sometimes a person has to go back to her charter and purpose, etc. to remember what and why she’s doing this…a jolt! We have to change something, and I love how you say that the B.O. is keen and inventive. He really is. Certainly as much so as a weasel!!

      Oh, and “Please Eat The Weasels” was my back-up title for this blog. Love you.

  6. A devastating story. I’m so sorry. Since we have not even finished our enclosure yet, I know that we are taking huge risks with our free-ranging brood. Thanks for reminding me to take this whole adventure more seriously.

    • Thanks for your comment, and good luck with your flock! Building a weasel-proof enclosure that allows for lots of room is a lot of money and work…we thought we had one in the aviary, but we’d have to fix the gaps at the very top and use 1″ or less wire over everything to try meat birds again. We’re pondering it all.

  7. As much as I wish “something” would come in the night and eat our roosters I know that our hens are sacred. I feel for you my twin in Olalla :(. When an unstoppable force like weasels decides to land in your lap it suddenly becomes obvious that we humans are NOT immune to disaster. It looks like the weasels want you to become vegans. I doubt they would steal your corn. Here’s hoping your layers are better able to survive the weasel onslaught. I think you are right, in saying that the Cornish hens were sitting ducks. To be honest, they have had all of the spunk bred out of them. They are just feathered sitting bags of meat futures now and a weasels idea of winning the lottery. Tinkering with the gene pool to deliver size and docility is going to have a flip side. Weasels 1, chicken dinner nil :(.

    • You make very very good points, Fran. And I’ve been thinking along the same lines…because we are so obviously not going to have a freezer full of chicken this year. “The spunk has been bred out of them.” This is true. They play a bit, but after about 3 weeks it’s pretty much sitting and eating. The idea was to humanely raise our meat. I’m going back to the drawing board… Thanks, as always, for your love and honesty. 🙂

      • Hopefully you didn’t think that “I” was saying you should become vegan! I was merely pointing out that the weasels had other ideas to you about your chook futures :(. The flip side to my rabbit food diet is that rabbits, indeed (and possums…and wallabies) ALL love what I eat. We humans can’t win really can we? 😉

      • I knew you weren’t telling me to become a vegan, but rather highlighting the fact of the helplessness of these hybridized creatures in nature. Which is something I’m pondering. I appreciate your thoughts, Fran! It’s true, we have to wrangle nature somewhat to eat….hmmm….I’m pondering. 🙂

      • I have been pondering Adobe Flash all day and have been up for 18 hours now so I think I might go to bed before I meet myself getting up tomorrow 😉

  8. I clicked the ‘like’ button – but that is not what I mean. There should be an ‘I empathise’ button …. There are no weasels where I live, I’ve never met one and now I don’t want to – they appear to be an animal version of a vampire! I do hope the owl will be obliging. But I remain confident you will rise again from this and continue to make your farmlet be what you want it to be – the BO will come up with something I’m sure!

    • It has definitely been a “what are we doing here??” few days. The B.O. and I are pondering our navels. lol Thanks for your confidence in us! 🙂

  9. christy deese

    So sorry to hear about your poor meat birds. Wayde saw Keith at Home Depot and he told them the story. I too had no idea weasels were vampires. The kids and I read all about them…they are viscious and strong creatures all wrapped up in a little body. Hopefully things calm down on your farmlet!

    • Oh, Christy, it’s been crazy. I’m sure the kids couldn’t believe it! (I couldn’t.) It’s good to know they are continuing their science lessons through the summer, though. lol

  10. I can’t stop thinking about your poor chicks today. I needed to write again to inform you that perhaps goats are not the best perimeter patrollers in the business. And I have my doubts about Ruby too.

    • The old pup Ruby isn’t a great patroller anymore, you are so right about that! Thanks for your thoughts…I’m there, too. Thinking. At this point, I don’t want to raise Cornish chicks again. We can’t keep them safe. Our layers are still fine; I think it’s because they can fly, but it’s also just luck.

  11. Oh, Christi, I was so sorry to read this post!

    Not many storytellers can relate a sad occurrence and make the reader laugh even while they feel the sadness . . . We tried chickens a few times over the years, and in different parts of the province, but between weasels, hawks and (once) a neighbour’s dog, they never lasted long. Weasels are very ingenious about meeting their needs and are likely out there giving thanks for the abundant buffet that was provided for them . . .

    This whole nature thing is a real balancing act, isn’t it? I remember reading in a few of the Findhorn books about Dorothy MacLean contacting the ‘group soul’ (or whatever she called it) of various pests that ate the veggies and as far as I recall, she got them to desist on at least several occasions. Weasels, I dunno . . . I had a hard time the first time I saw one of our hens after a weasel drank her blood; then I realized that the weasel wasn’t actually wasting the meat; it was left to feed something/s else . . . even after you buried the bodies, they will nourish something.
    Unfortunately, not you!

    Everything eats and is eaten, in the end. But we all work to survive and to outwit those whose idea of dinner is either us or our own dinners. Tricky!

    I expect you and the BO will come up with a solution and the weasels will have to work a bit harder (and elsewhere) to find their dinners.

    This is a bit of a philosophical approach, I know, and maybe it’s a bit soon for it; I’ve lived outdoors and in real country much of my life. When you are in the midst of wild nature you see things differently. We studied New Age teachings such as those from Findhorn and also the First Nations’ approach to killing; both helped. But philosophical as I can be at times, I still find it hard to deal with some things and widespread slaughter is one of them. It would have made me cry, I’m sure.

    Hope the birds do better over at your neighbours’ place. And I hope the Barred Owl finds a few handy dinners soon, too.

    A final thought . . . a weasel jacket may be in order . . . 😉 ~ Linne

    • Oh, Linda, what a wonderful comment! The B.O. and I both read it and both appreciate your experienced perspective. Nature IS a balancing act, everything eats and is eaten…”but we all work to survive and outwit those whose idea of dinner is either us or our own dinners.” The word Dorothy MacLean used for the “group soul” of critters as well as plants is Deva. There is a Deva of Zucchini and a Deva of Cornish chickens and a Deva of Weasels. I learned about this method of gardening with the nature intelligences through Machelle Small Wright’s “Perelandra” books, and actually do open “conings” and work with the Devas to make decisions. See the Jam Recipe tab on this blog where I contact the Deva of Jam to help with the sugar addition. 🙂 Anyway, I didn’t enlist the Deva of Weasels…and perhaps I should have. Maybe then we would have made the coop even more weasel-proof!! Which is our thought now. No new Cornish until we have a more secure place for them. The Deva has spoken! Hugs, ck

      • I do know about the ‘Devas”; wasn’t sure you did LOL
        Will have a look at the Jam Tab, but not likely tonight. I’m working on a post of my own in between trying to keep up with at least part of my FeedReader. I remember the Perelandra books, but I don’t think I read them; if I did, it was in a country far away and long, long ago . . . if my dwindling library still carries them, I think I’ll borrow them.

        You might think about getting a llama or alpaca or two; I’ve heard they are excellent guardians. Not sure if they’ll guard fowl, but one can always try.

        Hugs back from Canada. ~ Linne

      • I was quite into the Perelandra world for a few years, and still do conings and consultations with nature spirits, but it’s more intuitive with a few candles lit for me now. I have lots of flower essences but use them just a couple of times a year.

        There are alpacas down our road! They are big boys. I do like our little goats, although the alpacas are sweet. Who knows what’s in our future…:)

  12. Ohhhhh Christi, been thinking about you since I read your last Farmlet…so sorry to hear about the chicks. Must have been hard to write the blog, but I think, wow, what an experience to have and tell others…thanks for your sharing. Do hope you and BO will figure out how to keep the weasels OUT! HA!

    • Thank you, Suzanne. And the owl is keeping the weasels away now because the layers are unscathed, and it’s been a week. Turns out many people have experienced this. All of nature likes to eat chicken….!

  13. P.S. I know the owl heard you, just keep asking him to help!

  14. Awwwwwwww, no! I know nature has no obligation to be “fair”, but come ON. After all you do to work with nature and give your animals good lives for as long as they last, to shoo predators away instead of trapping them…it’s clear to me that weasels are poo heads.

    I hope the layers stay safe! The owl might be more motivated to protect them, since he was trapped in their enclosure 😉

    • Weasels are poo heads, I agree. Well put, Erika. And yes, the layers are all safe. It has got to be the owl keeping them safe, too — how else?? 😉

      • Good! It probably took the owl a little time to realize what was happening, too. Now that he knows, he’ll keep an eye on things! I like owls…can you tell?

  15. Ugh. My heart sank for you when I read this. I can remember having dogs and raccoons (I don’t remember any weasels) devastate our chickens when I was a kid; it was an awful sight. At least the layers are unscathed.
    Good luck.

    • Thanks, Becky. The community of bloggers really helped on this one; the comments continue to be so thoughtful and useful in my processing of this hit. It’s different to live outside the city limits, eh? 🙂

  16. I think you should grow Emus Christi! 😀 Seriously, Australias National emblem animals are really good eating when prepared properly and you can make really decent omellettes (?) out of one egg too. And they will kick the weasles butts long and hard if they even try to nibble on them. Or you could try Ostriches. Same deal plus you get lovely feathers to make hats out of 🙂 And the only fence you’d need would be one like you have in the top of the blog. Win,win!

    • Emus! We’d have to catch one first, Cathy! LOL We’re talking exotic, but I like the way you think, girl.

      • Sock over the head Christi. Woollen sock over the head and you can steer it anyway you want it to go. 😀 Of course corralling it somewhere and then attempting to put the sock on its head is the harder bit 😀

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