One of the frustrating facts of farming is that you can always expect the unexpected. As a lifelong roll-with-the-punches player, I can deal with that.

The hard truth is that the outcomes are often bitter and unpleasant.

Weather and equipment breakdowns are usually at the top of the challenge list. My latest farming drama is dealing with a predator. If only it were as easy as a fox in the hen house, but this column has nothing to do with the opinion some have of President Donald Trump’s cabinet appointments.

Instead we are at war with a Neovison vison, commonly known as a mink.

The carnage began one morning this past week when my wife, Sherry, called me to report that eight chickens had been slaughtered overnight. They were strewn about the floor of the coop, their necks bitten and heads severed or nearly so.

I immediately suspected a weasel, because there is a gap under the chicken coop door that previously I blocked every night. But because we’ve not had any issues for nine months, I admit that I became complacent and just shut the door.

I blocked the doorway that evening and set a live trap with a can of tuna as the bait. I went at dawn to the coop — which is part of our shed where we also house our sheep — and heard lots of noise. I opened the door and there were two massacred chickens plus the perpetrator — a mink that was scrambling around on top of our nesting boxes. It quickly leaped up the wall into a hole it had chewed through the foam insulation lining the ceiling. Even though I had sealed the doorway, the mink had found another way to crawl into the space above the coop.

Minks are nasty little furbearers. Their only interest in killing chickens is to drink their blood. Smaller minks can crawl through gaps as small as 1 inch in diameter. They leap on the chickens, bite their necks and it’s all over.

I tried to staple chicken wire on the foam insulation, but the staples would not hold. Instead of closing the chickens into what would have been a slaughterhouse, we left the chickens out to allow them to roost around the barn.

Sherry was checking on our pregnant ewes about 9 p.m. when she spotted the mink. I grabbed my .22-caliber rifle, but the mink scampered off into the darkness. This morning the chicken death toll is up to 13. Half of our flock has now been slaughtered.

This has been a gut-punch and I’m gasping a bit. But I don’t quit. My plan is to secure the ceiling, tighten every crack to make our chickens safe — and make that can of tuna look more appealing.

I like diversified farming, but I have no interest in raising minks — even though Wisconsin leads the nation in mink production with more than a million pelts per year. I’d be content with one fresh pelt for now.

In addition to the trap, I will spend some quality time in a lawn chair with a flashlight and my gun. I may be down in the scorecard, but I’m swinging back and still in this fight.

Stay tuned for the next round.

Former La Crosse Tribune editor Chris Hardie and his wife, Sherry, raise sheep and cattle on his great-grandparents’ Jackson County farm.


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