Weasel in the Henhouse and “Oops” Babies

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Things have been unusually quiet and mild in the Northwoods. We didn’t have our first snow until November 19, and it really didn’t cover the ground. I haven’t started barley sprouts for the animals yet because there’s still green grass for them to eat. However, yesterday was blustery and cold. I’m looking out at what may be the last of the lengthy fall season.

The week has been rather unusual in more ways than just the weather. About three weeks ago, Fiona, my favorite Nigerian dwarf goat, suddenly had an udder. She’s always been very consistent in her pregnancies; two and a half to three weeks before kidding, her udder becomes obvious. I’ve read about goats that don’t develop an udder until the babies are here, but all of mine have been more accommodating and showed they were ready and producing milk.

It was pretty clear I was going to have a November baby or two fairly soon.

I had to be out of town part of that time, so I was sweating it. Laura, our critter sitter, was born and raised on a farm and knows more about the animals than I ever will, so I knew she could take care of absolutely anything. It’s just that I always want to be here anytime one of my animals gives birth. As I described before, Bambi probably wouldn’t have made it if I hadn’t been here. But Laura updated me periodically, and Fiona stayed out of labor until after I was home.

Since the weather has been gorgeous and the grass and browsing so plentiful, I didn’t want to keep Fiona in the barn unless I had to. Therefore, I was checking her ligaments and eyeballing her morning and night, but letting her out with the others during the day. Then I put her and a companion in at night. By Wednesday morning, her tail was up and she had a heavy discharge. I had to be at work, though, so I couldn’t stay. I gave her fresh bedding, got her a lot of hay and water, turned on the nanny cam (appropriate name, isn’t it?) and waited. By afternoon, it was pretty clear she was in labor. She’d lie down, stand up, push her head against the wall, and talk to her abdomen. I was in a meeting — sneaking peeks at her progress — when I saw the first baby appear. It was pretty hard to keep my mind on work the rest of the day, but somehow I made it through.

In honor of the circumstances of their birth, I’ve named my new babies “Oops” and “Allie.” I’ve heard some experts say there’s no excuse for an unexpected kidding, however I simply don’t know when Fiona got out or the buck got in. Maybe they mated through the fence. None of the rest of the does looks very pregnant, so I really don’t know what happened. Regardless, I have a pair of twins, a boy and a girl, to add to my menagerie for the winter.

That’s not the only thing that happened this week.

Bob, my husband, took a picture of a weasel near the barn a few weeks ago. It was in its winter white coat. The picture didn’t turn out very well, so I’m not adding it here. But the outline was good enough to know what it was and to know it was one of the big ones: a long-tailed weasel. We set out live trap for it, but didn’t have any luck.

A few years ago, when we first started having chickens, I did what I always do: read everything I could find. Then I tapped the brains of neighbors and friends and just about anybody I could think of to tell me what I needed to know about keeping a live creature before I decided to take the plunge. Then we got some beautiful, fluffy, baby Rhode Island reds from Murray McMurray hatchery and watched them grow. I wanted to be sure nothing happened to them, so I looked over them just like a mother hen would do. I checked on them several times a day and worried if the sky was cloudy or I thought they might get wet. In short, those babies were spoiled.

Because I checked on them so often, I was pretty aware of anything that didn’t look quite right. One day I was standing in the coop door and saw a small rodent dashing back and forth on the roost. It was a bit dark, so I was having a difficult time visualizing it as well as I would have liked. At first I thought it was a squirrel, but too small. Too big for a mouse, but skinny, not like a rat. After a few minutes, it decided to make a run for it and darted out the door across my foot, between one of the little hens and me. Then I got a really good look. I went into the house and announced to Bob that I’d seen a ferret in the hen house. He looked up at me with a dubious expression and asked, “You sure it wasn’t a weasel?” The truth was, I didn’t know what a weasel looked like, but I had seen ferrets in friends’ apartments in the city, and this is what it looked like.

Anyway, I read up on it, found out that ferrets don’t usually run around in the Northwoods, and that what I had seen was indeed a weasel.

The evening after Fiona kidded, I was heading to the barn. It was dusk, so I was a bit surprised to see that a bunch of chickens were huddled together under a platform we had erected for the goats to play on. A little odd. By now they should be headed to the chicken house. I registered the strange scene but didn’t worry about it. I wanted to go see my babies. By the time I came out, it was fully dark and the chickens were still out.

Something was wrong.

I ran over, opened the hen house door, and came face to face with a large, white weasel. It hissed at me and made a high-pitched squeaking, snarling sound. I slammed the door shut, closed up the ramp the chickens use to go in and out, and ran to the house.

We dispatched the varmint humanely and surveyed the carnage: three dead, headless chickens and eleven hens running around the pasture in the darkness. It took nearly an hour to round up the poor, terrified birds, but we did and shut them in for the night. By the next day, they were coming and going as though nothing had ever happened.

Down three hens and up two baby goats. If I add the dead weasel I guess we broke even.