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The break-in site

The break-in site

I need your help. Something got into our “predator-proof” chicken run, and I need to know what it was.

Yesterday morning, when Kevin went out to let the chickens out of the coop, he found a hole in the floor in the run. He followed it to its natural conclusion, and found the tunnel’s end on the backside of the run wall. Something dug a two-foot tunnel under the 6×6 lumber that forms our run’s foundation, and came up through the wire fencing that lines the floor of the run.

He was en route to his office when he discovered it, and he called me when he got there.

“Something got into the run last night,” he said.

I pictured a grizzly bear, and carnage.

“It dug under the wall,” he went on. “You should go take a look.”

Whew. He wouldn’t be telling me to go out there if there were a man-eater on the loose. I put on my boots and headed out to the run.

Tracks of my fears

Tracks of my fears

Now you would have thought I’d read enough mysteries and watched enough cop shows to know that you can’t be blundering about in a crime scene, but that’s exactly what I did. I stomped around in the snow, looking for the tunnel entrance, covering all the animal tracks in the process.

Nevertheless, I have three clues:

1.  The tunnel was narrow – my hand couldn’t fit through – and whatever it was fit through the 2×3 inch hole in the fencing.

2.  There was a well-worn path from the tunnel to the woodpile, indicating many trips, presumably with chicken food.

More tracks

More tracks

3.  The same animal came back the next day, but didn’t bother to dig, either because he was sore from the night before or because Kevin hung the feeder out of reach.

There was a dusting of snow yesterday, but the culprit didn’t have the decency to leave any sharp prints. I can see, though, that its feet are about the size of a quarter, and they look to have four slightly oblong toes

I’m thinking rat. I’m hoping rat. If it’s after the chicken food, it’s a nuisance, but if it’s after the actual chickens, it’s a real threat.

Any ideas?

tracks3

Rats?

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Comments

  1. Hmmmm. . . My uneducated guess is that it is after the grain, not the chickens. Why not trap it? A small have-a-heart trap would allow you to view your varmint live, observe if it is a nursing mother, and then release it elsewhere if you don’t want to dispatch it by other means. The Humane Society frequently loans h-a-h traps for that purpose. Good hunting.

  2. Is that a tail slide mark next to the quarter? That would definitely indicate a rat. They did under like that too. If it’s not a tail mark, I would almost say raccoon. Lucky it wasn’t a weasel…they put me out of the home chicken business. Love keeping up with your adventures!

  3. Dig, not did 🙂

  4. I’m guessing muskrat, if there is water close by.

    If it were after your chickens, you would have lost one or more already. (Take it from me, I’ve lost 12 out of 25 this year to predators. We’re planning some serious upgrades to the chicken coop next spring.)

    It’s not weasel; they are carnivorous. They would have ignored the food.

    I can’t tell from the picture if the track has four toes or five. It looks like four with one on the left, like a thumb print. That’s almost like a raccoon, but they are larger than the hole. They will go after the food as well as the eggs or the chickens.

    If you have rats around, then that would be more of a problem over-all. If it is a muskrat, they’ll stay out.

  5. Mimi — If I’ve got one rat, I suspect I’ve got legions. Trapping probably won’t be a permanent answer. But there are other (edible) animals I’m considering trying to trap …

    Saundra — Good catch on the tail slide! I hadn’t even noticed. I’m not sure it is one, but now I know to look for them. A raccoon couldn’t have fit through the hole, although one may have been gallivanting around outside the run. It’s the weasel that scares me. We may have to reinforce our run bottom with 1-inch chicken wire.

    Aaron — Muskrat didn’t occur to me; we are near water, so it’s a possibility. If it was a carnivore that broke in, it never made it into the coop where the chickens were secured — it only got as far as the run. I’ll try and get better pictures of the tracks so people who actually know something about this have more to work with.

  6. Them are squiril or chipmunk tracs. Any droppins to consider???
    Squrils are damn good eatin ya know. Could kill 2 birds with one rock by gettin you some of them.
    Rats woulda gone for the eggs, weasals and coons too.
    Look in the trees, lots of squril nests to see up there this time of year.

  7. keep an eye out for Fisher
    Fisher

    Description: This member of the weasel family is the size of a large house cat, with a long body, a long bushy tail, and short legs. Color is dark brown to black, with possible gray on the face and chest. Total length 33 to 41 inches, tail length 13 to 17 inches, weight 3 to 12 pounds.

    Track Description: Fishers lope in the angled two-print pattern characteristic of members of the weasel family (See Track Patterns), but may walk in an alternating pattern, or may use a three- or four-print gallop pattern. Prints are very similar to those of martens, but larger — two very specific measurements are essential to differentiating these two species — width of an individual print (greater than 2.5 ” for fisher) and straddle, or total width of two side by side prints (greater than 4.5″ for fisher).

    Click Here to learn more about the Fisher.

  8. Rich — I’ve read about fishers, and they seem to be ferocious. Fortunately, they’re too big to fit through the 2×3 fencing wire. But their cousins, the weasels, certainly can. It’s them I’m most afraid of.

  9. I lost my first batch of chickens to a Fisher. See if you can get a Trail Camera with night vision and set it out.

  10. Dina Lyons says:

    Tamar, have you considered asking the folks over at Long Pasture Wildlife Sanctuary? (Mass Audubon, on Bone Hill Road). They are extremely helpful and friendly. The director’s name is Ian.

  11. Rich — We think alike. We bought the camera over the weekend. I’ll report back.

    Dina — Now why didn’t I think of that? I know Ian (we were on a panel together a while back), and he most certainly is helpful and friendly. Great idea.

  12. We have chickens and this problem also. The “problem” seems to come in the fall and winter. Our coop is outside our window and my husband and I have often played flashlight tag with our visitors. Our visitors are rats. We have the same holes that mysteriously appear. They have left the chickens alone and this is our second season with them. Last year- we put out some special food (outside of the pen) and removed our feed and this seemed to get rid of them quickly. I love animals but not the ones that threaten the wellness of my girls. Good luck!

  13. My first reaction was that they look mighty like raccoon tracks, but the quarter size threw me, unless it’s a juvenile, which would explain why it went for feed instead of a hen- so I did a Google on both weasel tracks pictures and raccoon track pictures, and I’m sticking with my first guess. It’s that elongated heel that makes me think so. It sure will be interesting to hear what Ian thinks it is!

    I’ve read that running hardware cloth about a foot deep along your fence line does a good job of keeping burrowers out, and that it should curve away from the fence as it goes down, so say if you’re installing it from outside the run, the deeper the wire goes, the further away from the fence it is. I hope that makes sense. Anyway, since the animal would be digging with it’s paws towards its own body, all it sees is wire and gives up. That’s the idea, anyway.