When A Predator by the name of Weasel Comes to Visit January 29, 2019

Predator attacks are part of owning chickens. There are many informative help topics, blogs, social media posts, books, and even podcasts with great tips for protecting your flock. Most folks study this information and do everything possible to prevent the inevitable. Yes, I said inevitable. No one really wants to hear or think about attacks by predators like a weasel, but they happen. In this line of work, I meet and or talk with very few who don’t shed at least a few tears when a predator comes calling.

The Story of Lily 

Lily the hen belonged to a neighbor of mine who had recently acquired her and brought her into his flock. Lily was stressed and scared. She never fit in with the new flock and their resident rooster was aggressively determined to have his way with her. Therefore, it was decided that Lily needed a new home and so this sad, thin, and bedraggled loner joined our flock of four.

 

Lily's green egg, before she was attacked by a weasel

Lily laid a beautiful green egg

At first, Lily stayed to herself, but thankfully, our girls (a Speckled Sussex, a Black Jersey Giant, a Welsummer, and a Silkie) were friendly and kind. As the months progressed, Lily’s feathers filled in and she gained some needed weight. Lily became a stunning Easter Egger and she laid the most gorgeous, huge green eggs! Eventually, she joyfully joined her sisters in supervised free range time and enjoyed a five hen dust bath in the woods. Lily had finally “come into her glory”!  Six months after we took her in, our neighbor was shocked to see how large and pretty she had grown. But the very best part was that Lily was happy and part of the flock.

Lily the hen, before the weasel got her

Lily at left, just after her introduction to our flock

Life before weasel

Lily’s feathers filled in!

 

The Fateful Day

My husband planned and built our first coop. Safety was carefully considered. He dug a 12″ deep perimeter trench. He buried the  half inch hardware cloth deep into the ground and secured it around all posts and the roof. (Always invest in half inch hardware cloth! ) No raccoons or coyotes were getting in this coop! The flock of five girls happily perched in their coop nightly for a year.

One late afternoon day in June, I noticed that the girls were standing tall and were hesitant to enter their “secure area”. I went in, looked around, and decided they were probably upset over the hooting barred owls….. but I knew the owls could not enter. The girls climbed the ramp and the next morning, all was well. I let them out into their day run and thought nothing more of it. But the next afternoon, the same thing happened again. My husband was working out of town and I needed to finish up all the chores. So I looked around again, saw nothing worth concern, and shooed them into their secure area. However, things were very different the next morning.

I was up early, very early as it gets light here before five in the summer. I walked out to the coop to find four panicked girls. This wasn’t their happy, “good morning mom” jumping, this was blue-blooded panic! I unlatched the door and they raced out. No Lily. I opened the drop-down door to the coop and saw what no chicken parent wants to see. Sweet Lily had given up her life to save her sisters’ lives. After a few minutes of frantic sobbing,  I gathered myself, “pulled up my big girl panties”, and took care of the cleanup. It was heart- wrenching and more gruesome than I ever thought I could handle.

A Surprise Predator

Based on Lily’s injuries, the predator had to be a weasel. Weasels can enter through an open hole as small as 1″ in diameter. We had used half inch hardware cloth–so how had this happened? 

Through my heartache,  I realistically understood that the weasel was just trying to feed her family. We live in a rural area and while I’ve never seen a weasel, I have occasionally smelled that musky smell. We prepared for coyotes, raccoons, possums, and skunks. Our day runs were covered to protect from the many hawks, eagles, and owls that call our woods home. But we missed several  1″ openings between the 2×4’s that allowed the weasel to visit and wreak havoc in our coop.

Weasels predate upon chickens

Weasels can squeeze through a 1″ hole

Picking Up The Pieces

Of course, the four survivors were extremely traumatized and refused to go in or near their “secure area”. I was traumatized, guilt-ridden, and scared for them, and didn’t want them to have to confront the weasel who would surely be back. So every night, for a week, I brought the four of them into the house. That first night, when I put them on the temporary roost in a hastily converted pet cage, they immediately sensed safety and fell asleep. Luckily, three of the four had no physical injuries. But when bringing in our beautiful Black Jersey Giant, Pansy, I discovered a huge, gaping hole under her wing. Quickly, I realized had I not gone outside extra early, she would have been the weasel’s next victim. Pansy’s wound was cleaned, treated, and healed in record time.

Predator-proof coop keeps weasels out

Our coop is now predator-proof.

Upon my husband’s return, we spent several days evaluating the situation in the so-called “secure” area. He reinforced the coop air vents, added half inch hardware cloth to the window area, and removed and reset the roofing tarp. Meanwhile, I spray foamed and sealed several areas that most likely allowed the weasel entry. Finally, we thoroughly cleaned the interior of the coop. After the refit and a week’s time, we felt we could leave the girls outside again. And they seemed ready. But for another week, I went out after dark with a flashlight and lit up every nook and cranny of the coop and run, anyway, just to check. Literally, I saw the relief in the eyes of Gertie, Daisy, Pansy, and Cherry.

In Conclusion

It’s been 8 months since Lily’s passing. For quite some time, I could not get that image of her wounds out of my mind. Handling the situation was one of the toughest things I’ve ever done; mainly because it was violent and unexpected and I’ve a rather tender heart when it comes to my pets. Yet, I learned that I’m tougher than I thought and can handle the unthinkable. My husband and I considered this predator experience as we finished up building the new coop. The four survivors have healed and are happy, confident hens once again. Our ten new girls are enjoying life with the four older girls, our ten cats, and our two dogs. Lily’s loss, while a sad  and difficult learning experience, was not in vain. 

 

If you have any great weasel or general predator prevention tips, please share them in the Comments section!

One Comments
Traci January 30th, 2019

I’m sorry you lost your hen! The new coop looks wonderful — nice work.

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