Weasel Family Predators

The Weasel Family

The weasel, or Mustelidae, family contains a large number of species. They are characterized by elongated bodies and short legs, rounded small ears and thick fur. The smallest in the family, the least weasel is 6-8 cm (3 in) long; the largest, the giant otter is 2.5 meters (8 ft) long. They are typically nocturnal and solitary, with exceptions.

Well-developed scent glands are characteristic; in fact, until recently the skunk had been classified in with the weasels. Members of this family are either carnivorous or omnivorous with teeth adapted to tearing flesh. Some are aquatic, some arboreal, some are a combination.

Without a doubt, a number in the weasel family are a significant threat to our backyard chickens. It contains many species of weasel, ferret, mink, otter, wolverine, marten, fisher, badger, stoat (ermine) and polecat. These animals can be found throughout the world, especially in North America and Europe.

Some of the main species implicated in chicken harassment are:

Otter Most otters are fully aquatic thriving solely on fish and shellfish. The exception to this is the dog otter (also known as the Eurasian, European or Old World otter). This semi-aquatic otter is found in many places in Europe, and is very common in parts of the UK. Dog otters feed on fish part of the year but then come ashore during the colder months to supplement their diet with frogs, beaver and also poultry. They are always found near water, are solitary, very territorial and are becoming a major problem for some chicken keepers. .

Wolverine The Wolverine is the largest land-dwelling member of the family; it is stocky, powerful and very fierce. The northern tier of North America, the Nordic countries of Europe, Russia and Siberia are its territories. It resembles a bear more than a weasel. It is ferocious enough to bring down a moose and crush its bones to retrieve the marrow. Obviously this would pose a problem to our backyard flocks of the north.

Marten The sable is a member of this species. The medium-sized bushy-tailed marten lives in trees and hunts squirrel, mice, rabbits, birds, fish, fruit and nuts. They are located across the northern hemisphere.

Weasel A weasel is smaller but still tenacious, tricky and a threat to rabbits and poultry. They are found throughout the world. They are masters of squeezing in through tight spots.

Mink Another animal that is very similar to the weasel is the mink, known for it’s luxurious fur and is a semi-aquatic small predator. Mink are very clever and can be a real cause of problems amongst chicken coop residents. If there is a stream near you then mink will probably an issue.

Stoat The stoat or ermine is found in Eurasia, North America and was introduced to Australia in an ill-conceived attempt to control the rabbit population. Preferring the indigenous wildlife, the stoat and rabbit populations continue to grow. The stoat is similar to the weasel in most ways.

Fisher This North American predator is larger than the marten and vicious like the wolverine. It neared extinction from the trapping industry but has been successfully re-introduced in the northern US to help control the porcupine population. Few predators will take on the porcupines who have been damaging the forest floor and the base of trees. Unfortunately when the fisher gets bored with porcupine he will terrorize the nearest hen house. He can chew through wood siding, bend metal and eat chicken wire. Then he will slaughter everything in sight and maybe take a chicken with him. The scenes he leaves behind are could be taken from a horror movie. Fishers were named by the Dutch, fitchet, which comes from their word for “nasty”. This explains why something with the name fisher isn't particularly known to eat fish. The fisher has also been reported in dog and cat attacks, and at least once in the attack of a child.

How to Protect poultry from members of the Weasel Family

Unfortunately, the only complete solution to protecting against any of these members of the weasel family involves very strong fencing and tight coops. Some will chew through wood, all will chew through chicken wire and many will dig under.

Here are three options and depending on the severity of the problem, a combination of all can be used.

If it is legal, attempt to trap and humanely dispose of the varmint. Most of the weasel family are solitary so there is probably only one you have to deal with (for now anyway). Next, encase your runs in heavy-duty wire, making sure to bury it around the edges, keeping it held down with 2 x 4s. The tops must be done too as weasels climb just fine. If you are dealing with a fisher or wolverine, the wire needs to be chain-link and the outside of the entire coop (the wood walls) needs to be covered in the chain-link also. These two will chew through siding. Another solution is to use electric fence all around the perimeter of their area.

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