Summer Week 4: The Battle of the Mink

THIS WEEK’S SUBSCRIBER MENU:
• Sugar Snap Peas
• Arugula
• Salad Mix
• Stir-Fry Greens
• Spinach
• Sorrel

Click on the links above for information and recipes about these crops.

COMING SOON:
Baby Turnips
Fava Beans
Summer Squash and Zucchini
Cucumbers

Great things are happening on the farm. Summer squashes are blooming, and soon there will be enough to pick for everyone. That is, more than a small basket. It takes more than that to feed 100 families, but it won’t be long. The peas are finally ready, and we’ve opened up the u-pick peas for all subscribers. Please come and take advantage of this part of your CSA share while they are in season—it’s usually not more than two or three weeks before they dry up in the July sun. We hope you’re enjoying your share so far—we’ll be bumping up the quantity very soon!

For the last few weeks we’ve noticed strange happenings in our young hen house. About once every two weeks a chicken has died—we have just been finding a dead hen in the morning. No real signs of injury, other than other chickens pecking at it. (Chickens are omnivores, not vegetarians, and will readily take part in animal protein. They’re not very discriminating, either.) We remove the body and ponder the causes. For a while it was only Auracanas (the hens that lay blue eggs)—maybe something was wrong with that batch of hens? None of the birds have been acting sick or injured.

A trail of barred chicken feathers through a planted field. There are no footprints, so apparently a hawk caught a chicken and flew over with it.

There is a Red Tailed Hawk nest next door—their nest tree across the street was cut down over the winter, so they moved to our side. We have lost a hen or two outside, and the hawks have been diving around the chickens, so it’s easy to blame them, but why wouldn’t they take the bodies? And they wouldn’t have gone in the chicken house anyway.

There are all kinds of critters that are supposed to live around here. They are on the maps, in the guidebooks. Skunks, Raccoons, Opossums, Coyotes sure—we’ve seen and/or smelled them. There are also many that are supposed to live around here that we never see—foxes, for example. Occasionally we see a weasel, and this year we’ve actually seen a few, mostly up by the big locust tree by the road. Weasels aren’t necessarily bad. They enjoy rodents, and are proficient hunters of rats because they easily fit in the rat tunnels, and they’ve never done any damage. We do have a rat problem here—between the river and the spilled grain at the feed mill down the street, it’s hard to stay on top of them. So, we’ve been hoping for a weasel family to take up residence and assume control, and they did. Haven’t seen a rat around the cow barn in months, and that IS a good thing.

But then, there are mysteries. Mike and I were doing chores Friday morning when two fuzzy black weasels crossed the driveway in front of us. They were not afraid of us, and had been visiting the big chicken yard behind the house. I tried to get a picture, but they were too quick. Then Mike yelled from the chicken house, “There’s another one coming!” So I got my camera ready, and waited for it to leave the chicken waterer and follow the other two.

I thought weasels were supposed to be rusty brown? Google on the iPhone is an amazing thing, because I soon learned that they were Mink. Yes, North American Mink are native here, before there were Mink farms. Now, it’s common to find Mink when animal rights groups release them from their cages at fur farms. This causes all kinds of havoc, for natural wildlife and for farms. They may be cute and fuzzy, but they are vicious, with few enemies. They can scare off a coyote or hawk. Michaele, at Growing Things Farm in Carnation said that there was a huge release of Mink by her old farm, and they just kept losing chickens. They never could get control of the situation until they moved to another farm. In the natural state of things, there just aren’t many, I think, or they’re not often seen. Regardless, we had a family. I was excited—no more rats! They were cute, a novelty! New wildlife!

It took us until Saturday morning to put all the pieces together. Four more dead hens Sunday morning, in the chickenhouse. Why were those old rat tunnels so clean, opening up into the chickenhouse? How long have the chickens been acting so frantic and terrorized? Hmmm. I looked up videos and more weasel/mink information. I found this, and it all became clear:

The mink had to go. (It is a weasel in the video, but a mink does the same thing, they’re just bigger.) They kill the chickens by attacking from the back and clamping their razor teeth onto the back of the head. We found not-quite-dead hens with their necks shredded, or brain-dead. Nothing could be done to rescue them. 

Monday morning there was another dead hen in the chicken yard. Tuesday morning two more. Wednesday morning, two small mink killed three chickens inside the house while Mike was standing outside. What could we do on a market day? No time to babysit chickens. I was at the Columbia City Market when Mike called me to report that he had shot the big one, and Cosmo had shot two little ones. We felt that the hens would be safe, finally.

They look cute, but we have learned a lot about Mink lately. They are ferocious killers, and they kill for sport, not just for food. It’s even worse when you have a mama teacher her three pups how to kill.

Thursday morning, no dead hens. My friend Cathy came over to learn with me how to skin them. Why waste good mink pelts, right? When I did the mama mink, I noticed three teats, not just two. There must be another one out there. Sure enough, it was sneaking into the chicken house and about to pounce on a hen when Mike got it. Hopefully that it is it.

Why let good pelts go to waste, when you can have a learning experience instead? My friend, Cathy and I learned how to skin Mink, and hopefully will successfully tan them as well.

I have always believed in the ecosystem of the farm. That means embracing the predators and pests, as well as the crops we’re growing. However, there is a line that has to be drawn. I was willing to make a sacrifice of a hen or two every couple of weeks in exchange for rat control. But four hens a day is not an acceptable loss. Soon there would be no hens, and no eggs. There is a huge investment in egg chickens—six months of nurturing before they even lay an egg. We can’t afford to lose very many.

Brazen destruction is not allowed, whether it is a massive flea beetle infestation in the arugula or a pack of coyotes traipsing through the backyard taking cats and baby chickens home for dinner. There is a balance to maintain—supporting the hawks for the short term (with an occasional chicken) means that there will be a predator base to keep the rabbit population under control next year. But there is also a tipping point to steer away from—a point of no return.

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2 responses to “Summer Week 4: The Battle of the Mink

  1. great stories at the farm!! we enjoy hearing about this stuff sounds like the fun never ends!!#**

  2. Thank you for defending the chickens! I agree an occasional chicken is fair payment for wildlife keeping nusance animals on the farm under control and keeping a balanced environment, but the minks crossed the line by killing too many chickens and became nusance animals themselves. Good for you for using the minks and not just letting them go to waste.

    Killy made me a very basic breakfast of fried eggs and toast soon after your post. It made for a breakfast with more thought about how the eggs get from the chicken to my plate and was very delicious!

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