Sunday, 12 July 2015

Stoatily Surprised

This happened a couple of weeks ago, but that amazing storm we had a while back blew up my broadband router! Well, that's a bit melodramatic, but it stopped working anyway, along with both my neighbours.
Anyway, it was a fun storm and I now have a new router.

So, as usual I head down to the chicken enclosure to do the afternoon feed and collect eggs from the various locations where the chickens choose to lay. It's always a surprise which chicken house will have the most eggs. Some days a particular house may have no eggs and the next almost all of the eggs. No rhyme or reason.
I open up the flap to the nest box of the big house, where the Indian Game hen has been sitting for quite some time now looking after each days offerings until I pluck them from under her warm belly. She never pecks me and often tries to snuggle back down to sit on my hand! But today she has moved to a different nest box, still in the same house. The reason for this soon becomes evident.

To my surprise, to say the least, a young stoat is staring up at me! This is very bad news, for not only would a stoat in with the chickens be bad news for the eggs, it would be bad news for the chickens too.
I love stoats and weasels. They're beautiful and amazing predators. I see more weasels on my land than stoats and have often wondered why they don't seem to have developed a penchant for my chicken eggs. For a ruthless predator, they can be remarkably blind to my presence. This stoat too was just staring straight at me, despite the fact that I was only a couple of feet away. My first instinct was to grab it but self preservation prevailed. I like my fingers just the way they are.
So instead I grabbed my phone cam - I always have one mind on the blog, it is a great way of capturing events and progress on the farm for posterity. By now it was becoming apparent that something was amiss with this stoat. It had flies buzzing around it and seemed to have multiple puncture wounds. It was clearly a young one, closer to the size of a weasel than a stoat, and it seemed to be looking for somewhere to nestle down.  The fact that Indian Game hen was still in the chicken house confirmed that something was up.

I opted to shoo the poor creature out of the chicken house, hoping that it would bounce off and leave the enclosure by the same route it came in. The enclosure is completely fenced to a foot underground, but over the years various tunnels have managed to get round my defences. I think the moles follow the fence line and the rats use their tunnels as a starting point.
Back to the stoat. I poked and prodded it towards the fenceline. It clearly wasn't well. But it did one and a half sides of the fence before disappearing down a hole. It never came out the other side and the hole didn't seem to go very deep, but for now the injured stoat was hunkered down out of reach. I left it alone.

Twenty minutes later I return to check things out and there, back in the nest box... yes, you've guessed. This time it really does seem to be nestling right into the straw. I fetch a bucket to catch it in, but it won't fit through the opening, so instead again I prod the stoat out of the chicken pen and then plonk the bucket down over it. The only available lid is a rather oversized bin lid and in my effort to slide it under the bucket, the stoat squirms out. I try again, but now the stoat is slithering through the long grass and I just can't get the bucket over it. Then, all of a sudden, it heads down a hole that I didn't even know was there.
And that is that. Never to be seen again, despite constant checks over the next few days.

My best guess is that this young stoat was inexperienced. Kicked out of its parents' territory, it wandered until it found what it thought was a perfect hunting ground, full of chickens, ducks, eggs and even the occasional rabbit and rodent. But the poultry had not welcomed it and had been brave enough to tackle it. I'm guessing here that the guinea fowl may well have something to do with this as they really are very defensive and pretty fearless, operating as a team (unlike the chickens) and able to dispel all predators. Indian Game hen may well have taken part too, for she is a tough old hen. The other day she even chased Boris! (My fast growing puppy, if you're not a regular visitor)

I'll leave you with the Facebook conversation which ensued on the Fenland Smallholders site. I especially like the bit about sucking out brains!!!

25 June ·
Not what I expected to find in the nest box! I chased it out but 20 minutes later found it back in there. I think it's a young one and the chickens or guinea fowl have wounded it badly. Buzzing with flies. Seemed more intent on snuggling into the straw than stealing eggs. I eventually lost it down a hole having failed to capture it in a bucket..

 we have 3 of them out the back too
 That will take more than your eggs! I'm pretty sure I have one that took 4 cockerels and even a Turkey!
 Generally very welcome (catch rabbits and rodents) but not so in the chicken pen. Anyway, pretty sure this one is fairly badly injured and pretty sure it was the poultry what done it!
 if it stays around your chickens it will eventually suck their brains out while they sleep - ok for catching rats and rabbits but NOT with your poultry - we had one once which eventually wiped out 2 dozen laying hens. they pretend to be sick and then 'dance' to the chickens to mesmerize them and then strike - nasty vicious little beasts!!!
 Yes I know what amazing predators they can be. Which is obviously not good when it comes to chickens. But if pretending to be sick includes real wounds and an entourage of flies then hats off to the stoat!

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