May started out with a week full of some highs, but mostly lows at Bitchin’ Chickens.
A mink got into my pen – not once, but twice – in the same day. Both times I managed to scare it off. The first visit was a reconnaissance mission and the second time it managed to grab one of my hens and my rooster. It left clumps of feathers, but no lasting damage. You can’t have chickens or live in a rural area without being aware of predators, but I’ve had so few issues that it’s not always front of mind. I have an automatic door, my coop is predator proof, but my pen is not.
It isn’t cost effective or practical predator proofing 1700 square feet of pens with wire small enough to keep out mink, buried into the ground to deter digging and netted above to keep out aerial predators. Most of my problems have been with hawks and since installing overhead netting I’ve incurred no losses from them.
Mink are the chicken keepers’ worst nightmare. They are skillful hunters, can get into small spaces, dig under or chew through netting and when presented with an abundance of food go into a frenzy, killing far more than they can consume. I’ve heard all the horror stories of one mink wiping out an entire flock of up to 100 birds in a night.
I love my birds: they are my pets and I have put a lot of time and money into them. The thought of coming home to a coop full of dead chickens, or worse, mortally injured ones fills me with dread. I’ve been on edge anticipating its return and the carnage that might ensue.
For the first week after the mink visit, my birds were on lockdown and only out of the coop if someone was home to supervise. I borrowed, and have set, three traps every day since and haven’t caught it. Something small – a mouse or rat – has been eating the bait, but not setting off the trap. I was hoping I’d be successful and my birds could get back to being outside. No luck with the trap, but my birds couldn’t stay locked up forever so I have to hope that the mink has moved on.
When I have broody hens and chicks they are in dog crates for the first day or two after hatch and then put into a 4′ x 9′ pen attached to the main coop where they can be on real earth. It’s great to watch them forage in a relatively safe wired enclosure. The threat of a mink put a damper on that. They stayed locked up for a week and when I wasn’t successful trapping the mink I moved them out to a small pen under supervision. They are crated at night, and instead of sleeping in the pen, are carried back to the coop where they’re more secure.
Obviously this new routine is taking more time and space. I decided to re-home one hen, Puku, a Silver Ameraucana and her two five day old chicks due to space constraints. They’ve gone off to a new home where I hope they will be safe.
One of my favourite hens, Corazon (you know her from her numerous appearances here) had been dealing with repeated prolapses. I made the difficult decision to have her euthanized. My friend, Thomas, did the necropsy and found some things I didn’t expect. I sent her necropsy photos to an avian pathologist, who was able to shed some light on her situation.
And then, Mercedes hatched five chicks and got off five unhatched eggs. This one was cold to the touch so I intervened. More on what happened next here. (Spoiler alert: happy endings for all).
No one tells you about the lows of chicken keeping before you get them: predators, illness, disease, parasites, death. If you keep chickens long enough you’ll experience a bit of all of them. I try to stress to folks considering getting chickens to think about the hard days as well as the fun ones. Some things never get easier, but the good days do make it all worthwhile.