The last few days have been an adventure for the chickens and me. On Dec 30, I went into the chicken barn to find two dead fowl. One was a lovely black hen and the other was my best silver splash rooster. It was easy to see what happened from the tiny neck wounds. We had a weasel. Outside in the fresh snow around the barn (we had received about 16″ overnight,) were the tracks of the tiny predator. It hopped across the top of the deep snow right in the barn door and then squeezed through the chicken wire into the pen. The weasel must have grabbed the hen and the rooster went to defend her. This is the first time a weasel has ever bothered my birds.
Weasels are tenacious little killers. They latch onto the throat with a massive grip that is not dislodged by the frantic thrashing of the victim. The strangle hold subdues even a large, strong bird like a goose in a couple minutes or less. Often a weasel will kill more than one animal, almost as though it were sport. Because the prey was too large to pull back through the wire, my beautiful chickens were left dead on the floor. So sad for me.
I only had thirteen hens, my breeders overwintering to produce spring chicks, and two roosters. The lost rooster was gorgeous. I found the two pictures of him that I’ve posted. One was taken when he was a very young bird and the other when he matured. In both photos he is in the back so it is hard to see just how attractive a rooster he was.
Unlike a regular silver color rooster, this one was splashed with lots of white. He had luxuriant muffs and beard, the feathering around his head. He was also the dominant rooster, yet a gentle soul peacefully coexisting with the other males. The ladies all loved him. And so did I. Now I have to find a way to dispose of his body in two feet of snow and with the ground frozen. So aggravating. And devastating since I planned to use him as my main breeding rooster.
I removed the bodies of the chickens I’d raised from eggs and placed them on the floor outside the pen. If something wasn’t done to stop the slaughter, I could lose all my flock to the villain. I started worrying about how to protect the birds. A couple hours later alarm calls began sounding from the barn. Hurrying down the snowy path, I crept into the barn and there was the weasel. It had returned to feed on my dead chickens. When it saw me, the weasel scattered. In a cloud of rage, I dug out my only trap, an ancient leg hold variety left over from my brother’s trapping days 40 years ago. It was designed to hold foxes. I hoped the powerful jaws would get a chance to dispatch the little chicken murderer with a quick snap to the neck. I set the trap and laid it between the bodies on the floor.
That night the chickens went voluntarily to their safest roost, an enclosed space I use for segregating birds. Securing the door with layers of fine mesh chicken wire, I closed my diminished flock in the small space. A dedicated weasel could dig under the wall and get in with some effort. I hoped the fresh kill would keep the weasel busy. The next morning the chickens all wanted out of the confining pen. The dead birds and trap had not been disturbed.
This continued for two more nights. The chickens instinctively went where they felt safe at night. The trap was undisturbed. Then yesterday morning when I went in the barn door: victory! There was a small, white creature with beady black eyes staring back at me. It tried to run, but couldn’t. The trap held it by the right front leg, high up at the top of the humerus. As I approached, the chicken murderer became frantic, struggling to escape. I grabbed a sturdy club for the final coup. The weasel froze and watched me. I got a good look at those big ferret eyes, the tiny little white ears so cute and rounded, the pleading expression, almost as though the animal knew what came next. I couldn’t do it. I was too weak to crush the skull of the little white murderer.
So I got a cat carrier and made a loop out of baling twine. I worked the loop over the weasel’s head to act as a leash. Weasels are vicious. Teeth are their weapon and they brandish them, waiting for the right moment to sink them in deep. I gave the weasel a stick to chew on so I could step on the trap to open the jaws. It latched onto the stick, but let go in favor of my boot. After several minutes struggle I pulled my boot out of the weasel grip. I was left with puncture marks in my nice LL Bean Bob chore packs. Such power compressed in a small package was amazing. No wonder birds haven’t got a chance.
Finally, I maneuvered the tiny wild ferret out of the trap and into the cat carrier. The skin where the trap held the animal was badly abraded, but not an open wound. The weasel put no weight on the leg and I feared it was broken. Such a large trap was designed for thicker bones. I had hoped the critter would have been quickly killed by the trap instead of maimed.
I gazed into the carrier and the weasel looked back. It was fairly terrified. It pushed under the newspaper lining and watched me with huge dark eyes. It also emitted the odor of weasel, not such a fine cocktail of musky scent very reminiscent of its ferret kin. I decided to bring the weasel in from the cold, give it food and water and see if it started to use the leg. After a few days, it might actually recover and I could release it far away. The weasel was settled comfortably in the bathroom and it went to sleep.
Quickly I realized it was illegal to hold onto wildlife. I called the game warden. He said he would contact a local wildlife rehabilitator to see if they wanted to take the creature. Turns out they did want to try and help the weasel. So I drove 45 minutes to South China to the Wildlife Rescue people. They assured me this was not the first weasel they’d wrangled. One of the specialists put on gloves and proceeded to try and extract the weasel from the carrier. The chicken murderer was not going to come easily, launching itself repeatedly at the man’s hand as he tried to subdue the animal. Little weasel managed to find a hole in one glove and bit the rehabber’s thumb. Luckily, wildlife specialists get their rabies vaccinations so he was not in mortal danger.
He got a good grip on the weasel, removed it from the carrier and restrained it to look at the wound. The skin was not broken. The upper leg was swollen. It was impossible to tell if the bone was broken. I smoothed anti-bacterial salve on the trap burn and the weasel went in a new cage with an old blanket to tunnel in for comfort. The rehabber said they’d give the weasel a few days to see if it resumed use of the limb. Because the sturdy little animals are so muscular, lithe and athletic, it is possible this weasel could survive just fine in the wild with only three legs.
I left a donation to help purchase weasel food (frozen mice) and was glad to leave the creature in skilled, if bitten, hands. Maybe I’ll call later to see how Mr. Weasel is doing. In the meantime, I salvaged 42 eggs from the refrigerator and set them in the incubator. It is very early in the year to hatch chicks, but my only hope for preserving the genes of my best rooster. Hens carry sperm in them for up to 10 days after being fertilized so the eggs I collected after the rooster’s death could still hold his DNA. My fingers are crossed. If any babies do hatch, there will be the new problem of how to deal with chicks in the house in the middle of winter. That is for a later blog.