Mink!

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WARNING: This post contains images that might be too graphic from some readers…

When I constructed my hoop-coop I neglected to protect the foundation of the coop from predators. With the Great Farm Move putting pressure on me to get the thing constructed and birds moved in, at the time I felt like I just didn’t have time to dig a ditch all the way around the base of the coop to lay wire mesh down. I said to myself, “I’ll come back, kick the birds out some morning after the move─when things settle down again─and knock it out.”

But I never made it back to that project. It was a mistake and the Runamuk flock has paid for it….

The oak forest at Paul’s place abounds with all sorts of wildlife who love to feed on the acorns dropped every fall. There are a plethora of rodents: squirrels, chipmunks, mice, rats─as well as deer and wild turkey. But where there are bountiful rodent life, there’s bound to be predators: weasels, owls, foxes, and coyotes. In early January we experienced the first in a series of raids on the ill-prepared chicken coop.

I was home at the time, in the house, and I could hear the raucous sounds of terrified chickens squawking in the dark of the night. With heart pounding I went out with my headlamp into the dark, calling Murphy to come with me. I wasn’t sure what I would meet, but I knew I had to go see what was causing all the commotion.

This is the site that met my eyes….

mink-killed-chicken

It looked as though he came in under the feeder, snatched one of the birds off her roost, and was in the process of trying to haul her fat carcass out under the coop when I arrived on the scene.

The creature had killed the bird─beheaded it─and was trying to haul the carcass out under the frame of the hoop-coop. It was still tugging on the dead bird when I got there and I moved the bird to glimpse a blackish face and beady eyes. And then he was gone.

I didn’t know what it was, but judging from the kill and the size of the hole the critter had dug, I guessed it might be some variety of weasel (we have several here in Maine).

predator-proofing-the-chicken-coop

We had a roll of 1×2-inch wire mesh on hand from a previous project, so Paul used that to beef up defenses in the coop.

In an attempt to protect the rest of the flock while we tried to catch the predator, Paul dug an 18-inch trench along that side of the coop and laid 1×2 wire mesh. Because the roosts run the length of the coop on the opposite side, it would have been much more difficult to lay mesh there, so we left it as it was and hoped for the best.

In the meanwhile we set up the havaheart trap and baited it with one of the dead and discarded chicken carcasses in hopes of catching the beast.

The wire mesh kept the “weasel” at bay for a while, but we could see a tunnel on the outside of the fencing which grew longer as the predator returned again and again digging to find a way in. One day while we were both away at our off-farm jobs, the “weasel” came back and went right in through the door that I had left open for ventilation. We lost another 2 birds that day.

Then─just last week─I returned home from Johnny’s to find utter carnage. At this point the predator had a tunnel running all the way around the perimeter of the coop, and he’d finally gained access. Post work-day critter checks revealed 4 dead birds and a hole that went under the frame which looked big enough that a bird could have been hauled out and away.

We were determined to catch the beast, so I scheduled to pick up an arsenal of rat-traps at Tractor Supply on my way home from work Tuesday. What a surprise while I was sitting in my cubicle when Paul (who was on the farm this day) sent me this image via text….

mink-in-a-trap

With a legs off one of the discarded chicken carcasses we were able to catch the predator in a havaheart trap.

I can’t tell you how elated I was to see that black face and those beady eyes! The weasel had been caught in the havaheart trap!

Before, when all we had was a black face and the aftermath to go on, we thought it was most likely a stoat weasel. But once we’d caught him it was clear that this predator was something else. He was too big to be a stoat, and he didn’t have the right coloring either. Research narrowed it down to mink.

Mink! Wow! I’ve lived in Maine all my life and had never seen a mink before. If it’s all the same, I’d rather not see one again either.

According to Maine laws governing wildlife, it’s legal to kill a nuisance animal such as this mink.

Except as provided in section 12404, the cultivator, owner, mortgagee or keeper of any orchard or growing crop, except all types of grasses, clover and grain fields, may take or kill wild animals or wild turkeys night or day when the wild animals or wild turkeys are located within the orchard or crop where substantial damage caused by the wild animal or wild turkey to the orchard or crop is occurring.

There are some exceptions to that law, such as bear, beaver, coyotes, deer and dogs. See the Maine Department of Inland Fisheries & Wildlife’s website for more on the laws regarding this subject.

I don’t believe in relocating nuisance animals because studies have found that those animals do not tend to fare well following relocation. It can be difficult for them to learn where to find food and shelter in this new location, often they have to fight existing inhabitants to reestablish themselves and many don’t make it. Personally, I feel it’s more humane to put the nuisance animal down.

That’s what we did with this mink. It’s not easy. Taking a life is never easy, and I know that this mink is only doing what minks do; I harbor no ill-feelings towards him. The blame for chickens lost falls squarely on my own shoulders. I should have taken the time to dig the ditch and lay the wire mesh; most likely it would have only taken a day’s worth of work.

We lost a total of 8 birds to the mink. This is the life of a farmer and homesteader and dealing with predators such as this mink is a natural part of that life. With winter winding down and the first day of spring just 11 days away, I’m thankful to still have the majority of the flock. I have replacement birds coming soon, and you can be sure that once the ground thaws this spring, action will be taken to modify the hoop-coop to defend the flock against such predators.

Have you ever had to deal with a weasel problem? Ever seen a mink in real life? Feel free to share your stories with us!

Share your thoughts, comments or questions!