Our gourmet meat chickens were minked a few nights ago. I showed up at 8:20 to put them to bed only to discover mayhem had ensued. All the layers and meat chickens were in a state of hysteria; feathers everywhere. When I stepped into the meat pen, I saw 3 carcasses with the neat, almost bloodless, incisions in the neck. The bodies were probably still warm although I didn’t stop to check.
I walked to the end of the meat pen, which earlier in the day Trent and I had expanded to account for the increased size of the birds, and found many, many more dead birds. But there was squawking in the layer coop, unusual in its frequency and volume. I quickly walked back, opened the coop door and caught a glimpse of slender black scurrying as a mink found its way into a hole in the exterior wall. I waited for a moment to see whether it would re-emerge and then thought that, in sandals and with no sharp tool of any sort, I should regroup.
First, I phoned Trent (twice) but got voicemail. So I texted him to come over asap. Meanwhile I got two pairs of boots and a digging fork. I went back into the coop to make sure it hadn’t re-appeared. I closed both doors and, with daylight beginning to fade, I rapped on the wallboard where I could hear it scratching, hoping to coax it out. The coop had a dozen or so birds in it including one layer who was killed and lying by the closed chicken door. (As a fluke, the automatic chicken door must have closed after the mink had entered thus trapping it). But that sacrifice gave the other hens a chance to seek perches and the ability to escape attacks. In any case, the mink was not in any rush to come out and, with little light and lots of chickens still in the pen needing to get to bed (er…sweet dreams?), I thought it best to entomb the mink at least until the morning when we could get the chickens out of the coop safely and then consider our options.
Trent showed up then and, using smart phones on flashlight mode, we got a corded trouble light going and boarded up the hole on the inside of the coop. Then we rounded up the remaining meat chicks and put them in their coop. Meanwhile, the agile young layer chickens had flown up into their sheltering trees, higher than I’ve ever seen them. There must have been 20 chickens in that tree up at far as 15 feet. It took a while but we relocated them to their coop, lest their instinct to seek the shelter of a tree put them in the feet of an owl or the jaws of a raccoon.
We went home after that but something troubled me. I wanted to make sure that the meat chickens stayed inside the coop the next morning until we let them out, and that the layers would be able to get out of their coop as soon as the automatic door detected morning light, just in case the mink escaped to the inside of the coop. So I went back with a flashlight to make those adjustments but then found myself picking up carcasses.
Thirty seven carcasses, all but one meat chickens.
It’s times like these that I question why I’m in this occupation. While other aspects of our farm operation are going pretty well, the whole meat chicken and, previously the layer chicken business, has had more downs than ups. Having made the investment on a new coop, feeders, fencing and on and on, it’s tough to end it on such an unsuccessful note. On the other hand, not only is it a painful financial experience but a painful emotional experience as the birds are subjected to existential threats that they really ought not to have.
But what to do. I cannot use chicken tractors for they require electric fencing to keep out things like mink, and irrigation (to ensure good ground conductivity. In the only conceivable space on Rainbow to tractor chickens, the soil is so well drained that the water would have to be on a lot. Plus with all my escapee layers, they would probably get zapped more than predators). Setting up a secure pen is an option but one that would require considerable time and expense, both of which would have to be spent in the next week or so to have any benefit before their late September slaughter. If I knew we would grow chicken next year, I might put my head down and do it. But right now, there’s quite a bit of work to do keeping up with cucumbers and cherry tomatoes. The peppers and sauce tomatoes will be coming any day now and will add to the workload. If I wasn’t tied up at home baking bread right now, I probably wouldn’t be writing this opus.
So I don’t really know. We’re putting in the meat chickens early now (7 or 7:30) and only letting them out when we get to the farm in the morning. The layers are on their own but at least they have a rooster (who, admittedly, bravely ran away in the heat of the mayhem, seeking his own safety atop a chicken coop), a size advantage and relatively low hanging branches upon which to take flight.
The mink, by the way, escaped during the night, having enlarged a small hole in the exterior of the coop. Just as well. I was troubled at the thought of killing a native animal who was living ‘in the wild’ to the benefit of my non-native animals. Prevention of further slaughter will be the key, except that I thought I had already taken all reasonably precautions.