The Warehouse Chicken Hunter

Last Sunday I was contacted by a local farmer who stated he was having an issue with something preying on his chickens. “I think I have a weasel, the thing’s been killing chickens sporadically, and yesterday my dog cornered it in the wall – it hissed at the dog!” Based on my conversations with the farmer, I’m picturing a weasel sneaking through a hole, or under the fence of a small dilapidated coop in the middle of a field – and I couldn’t have been any more wrong!

I loaded the back of the truck with some 110 and 160 traps, a few weasel boxes, and a couple bags of muskrat hind quarters for bait and headed over to the property. Upon arrival I almost thought I had taken a wrong turn. When I pulled into the property described over the phone I was greeted with your standard farmhouse, with two adjacent warehouse-type buildings that reminded me more of a pair of aviation hangars rather than barns. I met with the farmer, and we proceeded through a narrow side door and dimly lit staircase, down into the basement of one of the buildings to investigate the scene of the crime. The farmer brought me over to a sidewall, loaded with some kind of very old fibrous insulation. I believe it was red wood insulation, but to me, the stuff resembled some kind of moss. The farmer believed the culprit was gaining entry through a rot hole on the exterior, tunneling through this insulation, down the wall to the basement floor and into the coop. The empty cage traps, and makeshift weasel box baited with a rat trap and half eaten can of tuna fish told me this guy was in an all-out battle with this critter, and just about at his wit’s end. Once my flashlight hit the first casualty, I had all the confirmation I needed to determine what I thought we were dealing with.

I walked over to the headless chicken; apparently dragged and partially pulled through a hole in the corner of the coop cage. The body of this chicken was pristine - not a mark or speck of blood on it. The head completely gone, and some of the neck innards were also missing. It looked like the work of the legendary Chupacabra. 

I gave the farmer a casual nod as he continued to explain the last two weeks of hell his chickens had endured in the confines of their coop. “The bastard dragged them all under here to eat them, or store them, or whatever it’s doing with them” he continued. I turned my attention to a 5-foot pile of broken up cork-board wall panels in the middle of the basement. It resembled some kind of stone rubble pile in the low dim light. The way it was stacked allowed for two distinct “burrows” down at the bottom of the pile, and inside these voids were several torn up chicken carcasses. “I pulled one out and laid it on top yesterday, went into the other room to grab something and when I came back it was gone” he exclaimed. This statement peaked my interest, as it told me that whatever I was trying to trap was a regular visitor, and could possibly even be in this pile of rubble as we spoke.

The large interior basement side-wall.

The large interior basement side-wall.

I could rule out hawks, foxes and coyotes based on the location of the killings. I could rule out larger critters like Raccoons and Fisher based on the size constraints required to get down into this structure, and I could rule out possums and skunks based on the path of travel and manner of killing. There aren’t too many critters that are going to leave behind headless chickens, and I had seen this scenario many times over in previous predator control calls. “What you have here may be a weasel, but I think you're more than likely dealing with a mink” I confided. My assumptions were even more solidified when we went outside to take a tally of the entry points. I asked if there was any water near by, to which he pointed out a small creek running just a stone’s throw from the driveway. I pointed out a potential rat hole in a corner of the building, to which the farmer stated he had an issue with rats some time ago, but after throwing out some bait blocks, he hasn’t noticed any. “Now I know for sure you have either a weasel or a mink,” I stated. Anyone in the pest control industry will admit that rat populations don’t just simply “go away” with bait blocks. They are very suspicious of new objects in their territory and will avoid new things for some time before continuing. Weasels and Mink on the other hand, will make short work of a well-established rat population.

I chuckled with the farmer as to whether he wanted rats or dead chickens – to which he didn’t seem too amused.

The corkboard pile - note the chicken carcasses around the traps.

The corkboard pile - note the chicken carcasses around the traps.

With a lay of the land retained, I returned to the truck to gather materials to hopefully end the tirade of slaughter on this farmer’s profitable brood. I was pretty dead-set in my mind that we were dealing with a mink, but decided to entertain the possibility of a weasel as well. Along the exterior wall where this "shadow-beast" was making his entry, I installed a weasel box – your typical setup with muskrat meat, and a Victor rattrap guarding the entrance. Down in the basement, I installed a couple body-grip traps in the cork-board pile amongst the mutilated chicken carcasses, and another weasel box along the sidewall where this creature was coming down from ground level. This box I modified for a mink - complete with a 110 guarding the entrance, and some “freshly squeezed” mink gland for curiosity.

Finally, I turned my attention to the gap along the chicken fence where I believed entry was being made. This gap was guarded with a 160 body-grip trap (equipped with a “belly wire”), and the outline broken up with some straw from the chicken pen. I re-scanned every set, reiterated my procedure with the farmer and headed home, wondering if I had set enough. On the ride home I started to think about what the outcome would be – will I catch it under the rubble pile? Will there be a weasel in the box tomorrow? Nah, I was pretty dead set on that 160 against the fence, and confident that whichever species we were contending with, that particular set would give us the confirmation come sun up.

Late the next morning I received the call from the farmer. I could tell by the tone of his voice that we had snagged something. “We got him dead, I don’t know what it is but it’s brown,” he proclaimed. I instructed the farmer to cover the carcass up with a feedbag to keep the chickens from pecking holes in the pelt. At the end of the day I arrived on scene to determine what we had snagged. Before even lifting the bag I could get a whiff of that pungent and distinct mink gland scent. I had snagged a modest sized female mink! Better yet, it was caught in the “fence” set that I had anticipated.

I brought the prize out to the farmer and proceeded to explain mink habits and characteristics, so that he could be better prepared for the next attack. I also instructed him to have the exterior hole sealed off to reduce the risk of another unwanted visitor in the future. I was very happy to nip this in the bud in just one night – anyone in the predator control business, especially with chickens, can attest to the challenges of waiting days or even weeks for a return visit from the target critter. I’ll admit that even though it seemed logical – I couldn’t believe that a mink, of all critters, would feel so “at home” in such an “industrialized” setting. This mink had to boogie across several hundred feet of asphalt, find the soda can-sized hole in the wall of the 4,000 square foot building, push through yards of insulation and descend down 12 feet of vertical wall just to get into the same room as this chicken pen. I guess it just goes to show you that when it comes to an easy meal, nature’s critters will make due even in our “industrialized” habitat.

The end result - a nice fall-season mink. 

The end result - a nice fall-season mink.