Tuesday, December 18, 2012

Bird House & Barn

... a sad, and frustrating, Farm Report

This is the chica we named Zoe. Before five, this morning, something squeezed into the shark cage and ended her life. She cried out, and Geoff ran to the garden, I followed close behind, but we were too late.

I'm sorry. No one wants to read any more bad news. I hesitate to share another sad pet loss story. We've been hit hard this year, and well... we're trying to figure this out. Seems like whenever we feel confident that all is well and secure, a new predator assault is launched, and we find ourselves, once again, mourning, and puzzling. The reason I am sharing the story, this time, is because I hope my chicken farming, urban and rural, comrades can learn something from our mistakes. So, while this is not a post I am happy to write, I do hope it can serve to inform, and perhaps save a life.

This is "the shark cage." Back when our first concern was coyotes, we were proud of this strong, practical, secure monstrosity. We figured what it lacked in idyllic farm beauty, it made up for in sheer shark proof engineering.

We were wrong.
The spacing of the wiring of the original panels is too large. Way too large.
We learned this the hard way, when Kamen was attacked by a bobcat through the bars. As large as that cat was, and the boys saw him doing it, the cat had no problem fishing his hungry paws into those spaces and shredding Kamen.

Incredibly, Kamen did survive and if you want to know what we learned about first aid for an injured chicken, then read this post. And if you want to learn more about great hen care and treatments, please go to Hencam, where you will find practical advice, and emotional support, including the true, sometimes, hard to take realities of keeping backyard hens.

We added chicken wire, a skirt of it all the way around the chicken's coop, and we paved the coop, so nothing could dig under and in. And, once again, we breathed a sigh of relief, confident that we outsmarted the predators, and we did... for about ten months.

Last month something smaller than the bobcat, we think it was a raccoon, pulled Zelda through the bars. Probably the same bandit that took away our two rabbits. Two pet rabbits, two chicas lost... I am still trying to come to terms with all of this. We added new remedies, and measures, and felt certain, again, that we were secure... but last night came the new twist.

This attack was from inside the closed, covered, reinforced shark cage. It did not tunnel under, it did not cut through anything. As near as we can tell, it was small enough to squeeze between the steel bars, a narrow, tight, two inch gap, and whatever it was, it was big enough to behead a hen. After examining everything, standing in the predawn drizzle, and trying to manage my emotions, too, I went to the Internet.

Fellow chicken keepers, I hope you never have this issue... trying to figure what might be attacking your coop, taking your hens, but I did find a useful tool at Backyard Chickens. They have a list of predators, with signs and indications, that may help you figure out your enemy. As I scrolled down the list of suspects I was surprised to see who I could rule out, and the further down the list I went, the more confused I became... I was running out of suspects. Then I came upon "Weasel." What a match: "Weasel: Bites on neck found, will attack only a few or a lot, bluish coloration of skin about head and under wings. Sometimes run in family packs. Occasionally a faint skunk odor may be evident. Weasels will enter a one-inch opening. Hard to trap." Even the "faint skunk odor," was a clue we had detected.

But I had my doubts, too. Weasels in San Diego County? I could not be sure, so naturally I Googled "Weasels in San Diego." This recent Union Tribune article is conclusive. We do have weasels in our county, and they love to eat chickens. Weasels climb, tunnel, squeeze, and dash. They are persistent and lethal.

"Weasels will enter a one-inch opening..." this is critical, frustrating news. Our shark cage is not secure, and it won't be until we have it practically shrink wrapped in quarter-inch hardware cloth. Also, I will be adding more pavers around the perimeter of our chicken coop.

Our five hens, Betty, Kamen, Shebot, Little Debbie, and Lucky Penny will sleep in a dog crate, in the barn, until the new and improved weasel-proof shark cage is updated and fully operational.


Janece said...

My heart hurts with, and for, yours.

You are wonderful for sharing with others, so that they can avoid losing their chicas.

Love you, Natalie.

Kate said...

Oh no! Sorry to hear of the loss. One thing about urban (or suburban) homesteading is that it is a constant learning process. As hard as it is to report these things publicly, I'm glad you do. I had no idea weasels were even a thing in California! Wise decisions to make and execute a Plan B until the coop is more secure. Good luck.

Anna Banana said...

Not a rat? They can be quite large and resourceful. If you need another dog crate, I have one for you. Hugz!

Kim said...

Oh! How sad and frustrating. I am sorry to hear about this. Hope you get the kinks in the cage worked out, it sounds like you have formidable opponents :(

Jenny said...

Oh no - not another poor chica. So sorry to hear Natalie. I've been wanting to get chickens for several years now but after hearing all of your trials and the cleverness of these predators I think I've been talked out of it for a while. I fear we'd have a heck of a time keeping them alive.

Your poor family - hope you get it sorted out. Maybe they'll have to sleep in the garage at night?

Shanda said...

I'm so sorry. I hate when I lose one of my girls to a predator. But like you I always try to adjust my approach. I've never had a weasel attack, but ive read that they are ferocious. Thanks for sharing your knowledge.

judy in ky said...

I'm so sorry to hear this. So frustrating to work so hard and care so much, only to have predators find a way in. I hope you find a solution to protect your critters.

Jennifer said...

So very sorry to hear this; we know you have always been doing everything you could to keep all the animals safe....

mtnchild said...

Oh my goodness - I'm so sorry Natalie, those little girls are so special.

I've had critters trying to dig under my chicken yard - I put chicken wire half under the ground inside and half up the "cage". I'm not sure we have weasels, but I'll have to check on that. Our main predators are skunks and racoons - not counting mtn lions.

Cheyenne -Millie said...

We are sorry for you and the chickas! We hope that you can get that chicka house fixed. We used to live in an apartment that was in the woods and we had mountain lions raiding the garbage cans in the wee hours!

nikkipolani said...

So sad, Natalie. I'm so sorry you are having to learn about the local predators in this way. Weasels? Who knew?!

Terry said...

Predator losses are hard on many levels. There's so many "what ifs" and guilt. I know. I'm not familiar with predators in SoCal, but the weasel family is large. Around here, we have mink, which can flatten themselves to nothing and squeeze through the smallest hole. This is why, regardless of how good my fencing looks, my hens are closed up at night inside of a coop with a concrete floor. Sadly, we up the protection only after we have the losses.
Terry at HenCam.com