Murder most fowl

Homesteading life isn’t always as easy as collecting eggs and milking the goat. Sometimes the unexpected can occur, and tragedy can strike in an instant.

It was an extremely cold and stormy January night. All the ducks had piled into their house for bedtime, around 4 p.m. Nothing seemed out of sorts — it was the end of another day for the ducks.

Somewhere in the wee hours of the morning, however, our buck goat Cornelius let out a loud “bahhh,” waking me up enough to register that the snow outside had finally stopped. 

I got up before dawn and went off to work, leaving my husband to ‘wake up’ all the animals a few hours later. When he opened the door and the ducks rushed toward him, throwing themselves over one another to get out of the house, he knew something was wrong. That’s when I got a phone call at work—the kind you never want to get—letting me know we had a predator in the duck coop overnight, and that we lost one of our drakes, Clover. 

We knew from the telltale signs of head and neck injuries that we were dealing with a mink, which are native to Labrador but not to Newfoundland (those on the Island are either escapees from fur farms or part of an intentional introduction plan dating back to 1934. Mink are aggressive predators who literally drink the blood and eat the brains of their victims. They are known spree killerswhich return every night until all their prey is dead. I was shocked at first, and then baffled: how on Earth could a mink get in the coop? It was sealed up tight, or so we thought. 

Steve did some investigating. On the ground around the coop were some tracks that circled three times, then reappeared on the roof where they circled again. The mink found a way underneath the corrugated plastic part of the roof — literally an opening the diameter of a hotdog. Steve spent the whole afternoon turning that little coop into Fort Knox. Not a single hole was present, so there was no way it could get in again. Out of caution I purchased a baby monitor so we could listen to our ducks overnight and respond to any trouble. I got home from work around 9 p.m., and we went out in the dark to install the new security system.

The mink returns

When I opened the door the ducks literally flew at me. It was way past their bedtime — so strange! I suspected they were still frightened from the mink attack the night before.

I grabbed the flashlight and went in, closing the door behind me to keep the ducks from going out into the yard. Once I was in, the ducks huddled up in a corner far away from their nesting boxes. I shone the flashlight toward the nesting boxes and to my great surprise, two beady little glowing eyes were staring back at me. It was the mink! 

It must have stayed hidden in the coop the entire time, probably even sleeping the day away between the nesting boxes, but here it was again, stalking the ducks. Afraid it would make a break for the door and escape, I called out to Steve to bolt the door and go for supplies. 

“Keep an eye on it, I’ll go get your knife,” he said. In the meantime he slipped the closest tool handy into the coop — a gardening hoe with a sharp edge. After a stare down with the mink, it went for the ducks. I grabbed hold of the hoe and went toe to toe with the mink as it dove through the flock of ducks and back again. 

After a few tense minutes, Steve came back with my Bowie knife and a thick pair of winter gloves. I hastily shoved my trembling hands into those gloves and unsheathed the knife, readying myself. I knew what I had to do for the sake of my flock; surely the mink would have killed one or even several more ducks that night had we not shown up. 

As it lunged in front of me I grabbed the hoe and plunged it toward the mink with all my might. CRASH. I broke out the window of the coop instead.

“Quick,” I shouted to Steve, who is still outside: “To the window!” 

Vengeance and hat-making

The mink could smell the fresh air and tried desperately to get out of the coop, as it knew it was in mortal danger. Luckily we had installed fine metal mesh around all the animal coop windows, including this one, so the mink was trapped between the remaining pieces of window pane and the wire mesh, and he wasn’t going anywhere. Steve held the mink in place while I stabbed and quickly killed it with my Bowie knife. 

After all the commotion, I hoisted the dead mink to show it to the ducks. It was important that they saw the threat was gone. They immediately went quiet and calmed down, knowing the mink wouldn’t be bothering them anymore. After about a minute all the male ducks stood tall, puffed out their feathers and shuffled from one web to another, trumpeting “wrap, wrap, wrap,” as if to thank us for their safety and honor the death of our alpha drake, Clover. 

I was conflicted afterwards. The threat was no more, which was an immense relief, but now I had a dead mink on my hands. I grew up in a family that respected wild animals and hunted sustainably for food, so the idea of a wild animal killed by my own, and one that I could not eat or otherwise use, was bothersome. I had never killed an animal and not eaten it. So I decided then and there that I would remove its pelt and tan it, in order to make a good, functional item, like a winter hat, out of the luxuriant, soft fur. 

Photo by Lisa McBride.
Dried mink pelt. Photo by Lisa McBride.

It was a bit of a smelly process as minks have a scent gland, much like a skunk, that releases a musky oil that smells a lot like rotting fish to any predators provoking it (in this case, me). Otherwise, the experience of taking the mink’s pelt was quite rewarding. It felt good to turn such a sad situation into something practical and useful. I used this tanning recipe, and found the process from skinning to tanning to be very informative. 

It gave me hands-on experience and allowed me to really understand the anatomy of the mink, to understand how it fit (and climbed) into the coop, and how it managed to kill poor Clover — how it used its wicked sharp teeth and claws to tear him apart. This unpleasant task was giving me knowledge that I can use to better protect my flock in the future. 

Now I have a mink pelt and a story. I’d rather have my boy Clover back, of course, but at least something came from the experience. I like to think that Clover as the alpha duck died protecting his flock and that this pelt will be worn and his memory not forgotten. 

We care about our homesteading animals as you would a dear family pet. Our goats and ducks aren’t just pets but members of our family, a part of our life on our homestead. An incident like this reminds us how real homesteading can get sometimes, how raw some experiences can be. At the end of the day, those memories of Clover splashing around in his pond, or following his sweetheart Clementine around, are the things that make enduring tragedy so worth it; the love and happiness they bring is something no predator can ever take away. 

To talk more about backyard animal keeping, predator proofing, and many other aspects of sustainable living and homesteading, join our thriving online community on Facebook, Backyard Farming & Homesteading NL

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