Tag Archives: Weasels

Always On My Mind

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The goats bask in the lower pasture, the sun gleaming off their silvery new fleece, and I think — Pearl looks dead.  I turn away from the window and see Ruby flat-out on the wood floor as only an old Golden Retriever can be, and wait, and wait, and wait, to finally see her breathe.

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I wait for Garfield to come in at night.  I hear a cackle up the hill and I race to the window, saying, “Did you hear that?”  Surely the weasels are back for the ten layers they left untouched a little over a week ago, when they killed our 58 Cornish meat chicks.  I’m thinking about critters dying a lot.

“How many animals have died here?” I ask the Bearded One when he walks into the kitchen and starts to say something.

He stops, and I can see his face soften as he decides to indulge my need to process.  Again.  “Since we moved here in 2007 and started this farmlet,” I say, “and not counting rats, moles, birds and bunnies, which are legion thanks to Garfield.”

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“One dog,” says the Bearded One.  Jake, our 8-year-old Golden Retriever, three-and-a-half years ago.  I found him on the morning of November 17 here in the kitchen, over where the chest freezer is now.  Dead, in his bed with his sister Ruby looking on.

“One cat,” I say.  Tex, a 10-year-old, other-cat-aggressive Maine Coon we adopted, went missing in mid-July after living here almost a year.  He couldn’t climb very well.  He was huge.  We got Garfield the next month on Craigslist.  He climbs like a squirrel.

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The chest freezer is now empty of last year’s chicken harvest, and it doesn’t look like it will be refilled any time soon.

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If and when we do it again, we’ll fortify a new kind of enclosure with 1/2″ fencing or hardware cloth, but that’s expensive and down the road.  Right now, we’ll eat a lot less chicken, which is okay.  We ate a lot of it last year.  We went grocery shopping yesterday and I couldn’t bring myself to buy any of that chicken.

“A raccoon got Blackie.”  The Bearded One gets a cookie from the cookie box.

I have to think carefully to recall the names of the other two banty hens that we lost.  These are all laying hens, so we keep them for years and they get names.  “Dusty and Marilyn,” I finally remember.  “Eagles took them.”  I remember crying about Blackie, but not for Dusty or Marilyn.  Maybe because Blackie was the first.

“Then there were the 55 Cornish chickens we raised last year,” I say, “but we harvested them up the road.”

The Bearded One and I have offered each other various thoughts regarding the weasels.  In nature, everything eats and is eaten, we say.

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Cornish meat birds are purposely bred to grow fast and big and we accept that as a good thing as long as they have plenty of room and sunlight and fresh air.  The weasels haven’t gone up the road to our neighbor’s yet.  All our layers are alive.  Still, I need something more.  Some symbolic closure.  Anything will do.

“I’ve got an idea…” says the Bearded One.

“Does it have to do with animals dying?” I ask, suspicious that he might be trying to change the subject.  I’m not finished with all this just yet.  I wish I was.

“Maybe it’ll help you shut this down in your head,” he says, and smiles.  “Maybe we can mark the meat bird grave with the avocado trees.”

Two brown avocado pits the size of golf balls sprout in jam jars in the window sill by the empty freezer.  One has a sprout a foot high, another about four inches, both split open with roots and stems.  “They’ll grow, but never make fruit,” I say.  “It’s perfect.”

I feel the closure I need, draining the water into the sink, whisking the tiny trees outside and up the hill, as I gently remove the toothpicks and press the huge seeds into the mass grave.

Goodbye Meatbirds.

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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.

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

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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.

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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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Indiana Jones and the Monster Pothole Weasels

Hansel, age 8, hangs out the back window of his family’s idling car while we old people talk.  He still has an Indiana Jones scar face-painted on his cheek from his Halloween costume.  Gretel, age 6, waves from the other side of Batman, age 4, who sits in the middle in his car seat.

Our neighbor family is returning home after gathering fallen maple leaves for turkey art, and we — our dog Ruby, the Bearded One, and I — are on a walk.  We meet on the road.  We meet everyone on the road, and, more often than not these days, we talk about the road.

Hansel studies the HUNDREDS of potholes, each full of murky brown water.

“We found a hubcap next to that one,” I say and point.  “That’s the granddaddy pothole.”

“Hey, there’s a car down there!” the Bearded One says as he leans over the monster pothole.

Hansel and his father laugh.  Batman listens from his car seat, and thinks about the word hubcap.  Gretel adjusts her golden headband and smiles at me.

Then the father gets serious and says, “Any idea when the road’s going to be fixed?”

“Didn’t Edeltraut call you?” I say.  “She left a message on our phone machine a week ago.”  Edeltraut and her husband are the new road managers.

Hansel’s mother leans over her husband and says, “We got rid of our landline, Christi.”  I remember our conversation about both of us being maxed out with solicitors and political calls.  She’d told me about a new cell phone tower close enough that we can all get more bars, and I’m considering following her lead.

The Bearded One takes back the conversation.  “They got 18 checks out of 25 households, a new record.  The road company’s scheduled.  Should be just a few days now.”

“We’ve never seen it so bad,” the Bearded One says, still talking about the road.

“Turned out the hubcap came off of Honey Girl’s little Geo,” I say, referring to another neighbor.

“Hubcap,” says Batman.

“Honey Girl not only lost a hubcap,” the Bearded One says.  “She lost half her laying chickens to weasels.  I just talked with her yesterday, and they dug under her pens and killed fifty more hens.  That makes 70 out of a hundred gone.  The weasels went wild up there.”

Hansel’s father shakes his head, and I make a sad face.  I’m glad that the Bearded One doesn’t elaborate on the grisly pictures of scalped layers that Honey Girl showed him on her phone.  Weasels tear into the heads and suck the blood.

“Honey Girl sells eggs,” I say, “or she used to.”

Hansel has never seen a weasel, but he imagines he knows where they live: in the potholes!   You can see it plain as day on his face as he leans farther out the car window.  If only he had brought his Indiana Jones bullwhip, he’d stir that brown monster pothole water up good, force the monster weasels to the surface, chicken feathers still stuck to their lips, their razor-sharp teeth glistening with fresh chicken blood, and whack their heads off, one after another.  He fairly glows at the sheer glory of it all.  I remember our grown son at this age.

“Speaking of eggs,” Hansel’s mother says leaning over her husband again, “we’ve got some egg cartons for you.”

Gretel is out of her seat now and crowding Batman and Hansel, who suddenly snaps out of his daydream.  “I’ll bring them over!” she says, and then elbows Hansel aside so she can see Ruby.  “I’ll do it, Mom, I’ll do it!”

“Thanks,” I say.  “Bring them any time.”

Batman cries for Gretel to get off of him, and it’s time for us all to say good-bye.

Hansel smiles and sinks back into his seat, having defeated the Weasels of Doom.  He waves to us and chews a piece of well-deserved Halloween candy as his reward.

Security Briefing

The slug invasion is sustained, slimy, and has devastated the newly-planted daisies.  We’ve researched the deterrents and fortifications, again, and are weighing the costs.  Second, a neighbor told us on Monday that he had just watched a weasel cross the road straight onto our property.  We believe that weasels cross the road to eat chickens or to set up chicken operations near future chicken sites, so our former fencing plan isn’t enough.  We’re switching to the smaller fencing holes in poultry wire.  Finally, our 20-year-old truck’s security system drained the truck battery and left us stranded at home.  This, too, has been addressed and the one-and-only farmlet vehicle is secure.

Slug passing through the daisies and Sluggo slug bait

Slug security is an illusion.  Still, we try.  To lessen the carnage and to make ourselves feel useful we can bait, trap and/or block the slugs.  We don’t use any poisons at all.  Non-toxic slug bait options include beer and Sluggo (iron phosphate).  Both are expensive, and Sluggo, which we use, disappears in the rain.  Only a small elite of the slugs drown happily in the beer.  Traps — overturned flowerpots with a stone placed under the rim to lift it up a bit, grapefruit halves and wide boards or plastic placed likewise — all attract slugs, but again, it’s a bucket in a waterfall.

Blocking strategies like seaweed and copper strips, and abrasives like diatomaceous earth, lava rock, and coffee grounds, also have unintended side effects and consequences because of the salt and caffeine.  Plus they just don’t stop the dudes.  We frequently see a slug crossing our gravel road, unimpeded.  Why would he undertake such a trek?  To make his escargot, of course.

We have heard that chickens eat slugs, and will cross the road to do so.  So, to keep the chickens safe from the secretive, tricky, nocturnal, carnivorous weasel, we have ordered four 50-foot rolls of 1 inch chicken wire ($167) to reinforce the 2×4 inch squares of the goat fencing.  The hens will have a huge cage to sleep and awaken in, ready for a day of slug grazing elsewhere in the pastures above or below.

Why did the weasel cross the road?

Photo credit:  http://bedsflorafauna.blogspot.com/2008/04/weasel.html

On other garden security fronts, the bunny fencing — chicken wire around the entire base of the yard fence — is holding this year.  Or maybe we remembered to close the gates.  Anyway, there have been no droppings sighted.  Last year we bought a catch-and-release bunny trap when we spotted several rabbit poops near the onion starts, but it was never sprung.  The bunny left, we double-checked all the fencing, and we called the trap a success.

Garfield is getting a mole a day now, and he soon will have a cat buddy — our younger daughter’s girl kitty named Ditto who will be summering with us — for backup.

Ruby the Golden Retriever goes reliably berserk over dog intruders, but almost always holds her tongue when people arrive.  We’re working on this.  We want a watchdog sounding out, and she did so magnificently until the day her brother, Jake, died.  This week she barked briefly at a strange man (to her, anyway…) in our driveway, which brings me to the gravest threat to our grocery shopping security — the loss of our vehicle.

I turned the key in the ignition of our 1991 Toyota Four Runner last Thursday morning and there was no sound.  Dashboard lights came on, but the engine made no effort whatsoever, as if it weren’t even there anymore, stolen in the night.  I tried again.  Same.  I waited.  I stroked the steering wheel, whispered, but the truck wasn’t buying it.  An hour later, a carrier backed into our driveway — I love AAA — to tow the truck two miles to Virge, the local mechanic, for resuscitation.  This is when Ruby barked.  We’re still very happy about that.

The nice tow man told us that 90 percent of cars on the road today cannot be towed with the traditional hook and drag, but because of drivetrains and insurance, they use these flatbed trucks called "carriers".

Virge called in a couple of hours to confirm a screwed-up security system and a dead battery.  The culprit was a long-forgotten fancy alarm the dealer had installed 20 years ago.  To unhook the alarm looked like a job for specialists, Virge said, but he could supply a manual battery cable release — an inch round knob — so the cable itself is pulled off of the battery.  A short-term solution.  If we suspect we won’t be starting the car for a week, we’ll disconnect the battery.

This is a trick Virge usually reserved for old people.  But with gas at $4/gallon, there might be more of us, old or not, who stay out of our cars for a few days in a row.  Our truck gets only 16 mpg, which would be a sin as well as a bank-breaker if we drove very much.  But we don’t, and the insurance is just $45/month.  We sincerely hope to never buy another vehicle.

About 4:40pm Virge drove the fixed truck into the driveway (they deliver!), and the Bearded One met him and returned him to the townlet while I prepared a bucket of warm soapy water.  Then, when he got back, the Bearded One hosed down the truck and I washed the permaculture from its eyes and wiped its nose.  All is well.  We have peace of mind.  Really.  The bears are only scratching things up at our neighbor’s house.