The Ice Age that caused the demise of many land animals seemingly had no lasting effect on weasel populations and they were able to survive in less-than-ideal conditions, in large part because of their ability to burrow under the snow and hunt the small rodents tunneling through the frozen landscape. These tiny carnivores most likely made their way to North America via the Bering Land Bridge approximately 200,000 years ago. These well-established weasels are found throughout North America, as well as Northern Africa and Eurasia, from where the original populations came from before the continents separated.
The weasel and mink are distant cousins with similar body shapes and hunting techniques. Each have brains that are triggered by movement. Rodents have adapted to these fierce hunters by “freezing” in place thus avoiding the predatory instincts of the weasel or mink that would be excited by movement. In the case of chickens, when something invades their space wild, erratic chaos ensues and would be impossible for a mink or weasel to turn away from. They just are not wired to leave a situation that could secure for them enough food to see them through lean times. They will literally attack, bite, and kill every single moving object until nothing else is so much as twitching. Their long body, extremely flexible spine and quick movements make them formidable hunters and chickens enclosed in a coop would not stand a chance against their superior strength and predatory abilities. Once they have killed all they can, they will begin moving their victims to cache them for later. This is why you may find a pile of chickens near where they were killed still inside the coop. Obviously the weasel or mink cannot drag a chicken back through the hole it entered, but they will try. How do you identify whether or not a mink or weasel is the culprit causing the demise of your poultry? Look for the bite wounds. If the puncture wounds are located on the top of the head or back of the neck and are arranged close together, then you can probably blame the mink or weasel. Otherwise, you may have another predator wreaking havoc. Animals such as fox, raccoon, coyote, dogs and rarely even a hungry opossum will all dine on your chickens. After all who doesn’t love a chicken dinner? In the case of these predators, typically they do not kill everything in sight. Nor do they attempt to create caches by piling up bodies like minks and weasels do.
Fortunately, rogue weasels and minks are rare, they generally do not go after poultry, instead they prefer to eat more wild fare in the form small rodents and rabbits, or in the case of the mink, fish, and frogs. Both mink and weasels can swim, but weasels tend to stay close to the shore and grab food from there, whereas mink will swim out into water for something to eat.
Least weasels on the homestead are excellent at rodent control and are far more beneficial than harmful. Their larger cousins can, and will sometimes create problems, but if wild food is plentiful, they too are beneficial. Many animals will turn the tables on the least weasel and the hunter becomes the hunted. Hawks, owls, snakes, foxes, sable, stoat, and other carnivores all kill and eat least weasels. These predator/prey relationships make them important components of the ecosystems where they are found.
How do you protect your poultry from determined predators? Mink and weasels are capable of slipping through the smallest of access holes, they can climb and dig. You will need to tightly seal your enclosure and check for openings in your wire with a diameter of more than two inches. Make sure you have a wall at least two feet high and the wire above that is high enough to prevent chickens from jumping over. The best solution is to have a top on your coop. There are mink repellents on the market that are reported to be effective. This liquid repellent is harmless to chickens, but reportedly discourages these intelligent, motivated predators from attacking your feathered friends.
Death of an animal that you have raised and cared for that provides eggs and companionship is never easy, and when that death comes in the form of carnage it is even more difficult. Rest assured though these incidents are rare, and in many cases can be prevented with a little due diligence on your part.