Snap! Build a Weasel Trap to Protect Your Poultry

Learn to build a simple, non-toxic, and effective weasel trap – a tool that is on guard no matter the hour or weather.

By Cary Rideout

It’s another idyllic evening on your patch of rural heaven. Tired from a long day, you drop off to the Land of Nod. Not all is not peaceful in the kingdom this night, though. A feathered commotion shatters your slumber. What could it be? Grabbing the flashlight, and perhaps your trusty scattergun, you plunge into the inky darkness to defend your livestock. Needless to say, mayhem ensues and your flashlight reveals your worst fears. A weasel has been on a murderous rampage. What do you do when nature invades the coop? Bite back!

weasel trap
Simple, non-toxic, and effective weasel traps.

What Is a Weasel?

Few wild creatures have the reputation for barnyard mayhem that the tiny weasel does. A member of the mustelid family, it shares the same bloodlust as its cousins the mink and wolverine. Tipping the scales at just a few ounces and barely a foot long, this tiny hunter is well-equipped for relentless pursuit of a meal. Slim and slinky, it is astounding the cracks they can crawl through to get into a rabbit hutch. Poultry fencing is no barrier either, and they can find a way into any building.

Weasels must feed every few hours, and even the tiniest member of this tribe – those no longer than a well-fed field mouse – is a fearsome foe. The signs of a weasel attack can be bites to the back of the head or base of the neck. Blood and occasionally brains are consumed but little else. Victims are also sometimes arranged in rows — a real shocker the first time you see it. All weasels are lightning-quick, equipped with razor-sharp teeth, and fearless. Weasels have reddish-brown upper bodies, a white underbelly, and a coal-black tip of the tail. In snow, country weasels put on a white coat to blend in.

Long-tailed weasel in summer coat

It’s easy to demonize the weasel’s poultry attacks, but you must understand that in nature such behavior is a reaction to encountering a major food source. So it’s really just nature at work, unless it’s your turkeys, rabbits or Rhode Islands getting picked off. Then it’s war!

Most wild critters are fine neighbors, and a wise land owner will encourage their presence. The numbers of rodents and other crop-destroying pests weasels capture far outweigh the occasional attack against your livestock. Most of these hunters will never be a problem, but if an incursion happens it will always be the first of many unless you act quickly. Here’s where a simple homemade device, the enclosed weasel trap – a box with a rat trap – can provide both security and safety in the coop.

This is intended as a killing device, and if you are squeamish about administering a lethal end to things I respect your choice. Some folks will try using deterrents, but often this is unsuccessful. Even if driven off, the killer will search out a neighbor’s livestock.

Weasel Trap Dimensions & Design

Scrap lumber is fine, so don’t fret over mismatched pieces. Even plywood will suffice. Once you gather up a few old boards, lay the spring rat trap on a board and mark the width about an inch wider. Then outline a section 15 inches long (you need to have a box that fits the trap closely so the weasel is forced over the trap with no way around). Cut out two 15-inch-long boards for the top and bottom.

Next work on the sides. Lay your spring trap on one of the pieces you have cut out, raise the strike bar (the wire square that hits the rat) up to its height, and measure. A weasel box must have enough inside clearance that the striker bar can smoothly come up without interference.

Outline your dimensions and cut out two more 15-inch pieces. Next work on the ends; tack the bottom and two sides together with whatever old nails you have. Set the three-sided piece up on the bench and lay the top on. Use another scrap board to outline the ends so they’re closed tight. Make sure to not give the weasel any access except where you want him to go. Cut out two pieces — one for each end. Tack one in place and make the other your “door.” Grab a power drill and a hole saw attachment and drill a 2-inch round hole slightly below center (a large wood bit will also work).

After you tack the door in place, set the lid on and switch the drill to a slim 1/8-inch bit. Drill a hole in one of the lid corners and do the same opposite in the back. Drive a nail loosely in the rear hole so the lid will swing open. The front drill hole gets a nail to keep things shut tight. To access the box, remove the front nail and swing the lid. There’s your weasel trap. Now how do you get the bugger inside?

Setting Up the Weasel Trap

If not needed right away, I like to season weasel traps. Set them in the grass and toss some grain inside to get the mice interested. After a few mouse visits, the box will smell like a weasel’s buffet fantasy. Baiting up a rat trap is just like a mouse trap, but in this case we are after bigger quarry. Bait the trap with bloody liver or thick white fat from pork or beef (don’t use the remains of any previous attack, as this encourages more trouble). Offer the weasel an interesting scent, and his natural reaction will be to investigate the tasty-smelling box. Place boxes on the inside of the livestock area along the wall. You can also set weasel traps up near the roost or beside individual cages in the barn.

Make sure the bait pan is set up to work with nothing under it that might interfere. Another method is to place a billiard ball-sized piece of fat at the rear of the wooden box and set the trap pan right next to it. As the weasel approaches, he naturally jumps onto the pan or will fire it as he eats the fat bait. Either method will work. A few drops of inexpensive ladies’ cologne is a sure-fire attracter. Lastly, set a brick or block of wood on the box.

A weasel trap can be left in place and ready for days. I generally check once a day if combating an intruder, but keeping it set for weeks is no problem — just freshen up the bait often. The spring bar traps keep its tension fine, and if you let them down occasionally they will last for years. Weasels seem more inclined to cause problems in the late summer or early fall. I’ve never had winter attacks. The beauty of this device is that it is enclosed and poses no danger to people or other animals like an exposed trap does. Weasels explore tiny caves all the time, so they are not scared to enter a hole in a box.

Simple, non-toxic and effective, the enclosed weasel trap is a tool that is on guard no matter the hour or weather. Put out a few and rest easy, knowing they will be ready to snap at a moment’s notice.

Editor’s Note: This article appeared in the March 2016 issue of Acres U.S.A.

Flock Management for Increased Production

By Kelly Klober

Prior to World War II this country was liberally dotted with family farm-based breeder flocks of 100 to 500 birds supplying hatcheries; producing chicks, hatching eggs, and breeding birds for direct sale to other farmers; and to market table eggs in the off-season. In that 1885 magazine a setting of Light Brahma eggs (13-15) cost $2, and a breeding trio of birds of the year was priced at $4 to $8. And those were gold backed, pre-inflated dollars.

A large breeding flock established under the classic model will have 50 females and five to 10 breeding males. From such numbers separate breeding lines can be maintained, multiple small matings can be tried (termed side matings), and overall flock vigor is more easily maintained.

Even at a most modest level of productivity and fertility this number of breeding birds could easily produce 225 or more baby chicks week-in and week-out for many months each year.

The traditional hatching season for producing baby chicks for sale and for flock replacements is mid-February through mid-June. Exhibition breeders with large sized or more elaborately feathered breeds might start hatching as early as December of the year before. Most begin the task of putting together breeding pens in the weeks between the two major holidays at the end of the year.

Chicks of the early hatches have greatest value as pullets to be well grown and in place for fall and winter laying. The later-hatched chicks are more targeted for those with simpler brooding and rearing facilities or are producing meat birds for the barbecue and fried chicken seasons of the year. We once had a neighbor that bought 50 to 100 heavy breed cockerels, generally Buff Orpingtons, each mid to late July.

These he grew out to sell as heavy roasters to market to those who wanted an alternative to turkey at one of the holiday season meals. This would still be a neat side market to be explored by producers with a brown egg laying flock based on one of the larger breeds; one that answers, in part, the question of what to do with surplus cockerel chicks.

There are far fewer hatcheries and farmer/breeders now, but with the growing interest in poultry keeping even reaching into the backyards of suburbia and urban terraces there is a very real need for those again doing serious work in the poultry yard for the “good” of their chosen breed. It is, after all, the logical next step in the preservation of rare and heirloom poultry breeds.

Poultry-Centered Regenerative Agriculture System
Workshop led by Reginaldo Haslett-Marroquinn, the chief strategy officer of the Main Street Project, at the 2016 Eco-Ag Conference & Trade Show.

Granted, it is a legitimate question as to how many breeder flocks of White Faverolles or Blue Hamburgs are really needed. Some “rare” breeds have always been rare. Most are going to need substantial breeding up to restore them to former levels of productivity and thus increase their demand.

The more widespread and popular breeds would benefit from friendly competition between breeders working steadily to make them evermore utile and productive. Some hatchery catalogs may speak of Rocks or Reds laying in excess of 240 eggs per hen per year, but not only is that data decades-old but was compiled from only the more elite flocks of that era.

The concept of a “thoroughbred” chicken may be 125 years old, but it is where all independent producers with poultry now must be aiming. To preserve the breeds was the first step.

Best of the Best

To advance them is the next step and the really big one. To that end a farmer/breeder must:

  • At the onset the producer must assure the genetic purity of the birds with which he or she is working. Begin with the best stock you can afford from established breeders, cull ruthlessly for good type and performance while building numbers, and breed to the type standards set down for the breed in the American Poultry Association’s Standard of Perfection. The type and weight trait standards set for the breeds in those pages are there to guide selection for performance type of the role for which the breed was developed.
  • Select for vigor and growth. Select keeper pullets from the fastest growing and most well formed one-third of the chick crop and breeding males from the elite, top 10 percent of the crop. This is also natural selection for general good health, breeding vigor and that all-important and hard to define will to live and thrive.
  • Evaluate the birds often as they develop, possibly as often as every two weeks from hatching to entering the breeding or laying flock at 22 to 24 weeks of age. Take each in hand, examining for the most basic flaws such as crooked keels and foot ills to the frame and body dimension that lies beneath the feathers.
  • Invest in a good set of scales and weigh the birds often as they grow. You can’t just eyeball the liveweights of developing meat birds or laying birds. When developing a purebred broiler line it is crucial that growth rates and feed efficiencies be closely monitored. Such data will both protect your bottom line as a producer of meat birds and increase sales to others wanting to establish meat bird flocks of their own.
  • Selective breeding will require being able to identify and quickly access each individual bird in the breeding program. This is perhaps best done with a system of colored and numbered leg bands. Breeding pen assignment, ancestry, hatching year, and the like can all be denoted with a banding system and good flock records. It can begin with simple toe punches or even regularly touched up paint or ink marks atop the heads of different hatchlings. At that state of life they are not easily banded.
  • Achieving exacting performance data on egg production once involved the trap nesting of all hens in a breeding flock and recording pedigree mating data on each egg laid with light pencil strokes. This was time-consuming and challenging to do even when flock care was the near full-time job for at least one family member. In trap nesting the hen enters a nest with an auto-closing door released by some sort of trip mechanism. She is then held there until her egg is gathered, her leg band number can be transferred to the eggshell if being kept for hatching, and the production of the egg logged into her performance record. It is time-consuming work, but does yield exact performance data on every female in the breeding flock, allowing the producer to create pedigreed matings and quickly pinpoint the most productive birds.
  • With many farmers working away from home for at least some hours each week there are some ways to simplify this procedure and still gather much meaningful data including:
    • Trap nest only for about 30 days or so at about 90 days into the flocks’ laying cycle. It won’t give a complete picture, but can help to pinpoint many of the better-performing birds.
    • Trap nest for just the second or third week of each month for several months during the laying cycle. Again, don’t start until about 90 days into the flocks’ laying cycle. Even with trap nesting, the birds should be taken in hand at different times to evaluate individual bird condition and to weed out poor-laying or poorly developing individuals.
    • Break the flock or at least select elements of it into small breeding pens of three to five females each and one male. Couple the egg production rate with rigid culling for birds not demonstrating desired vent condition, abdomen feel, width between the pubic bones, and head and leg color intensity in keeping with the bird’s point in the laying cycle.
  • Breed only from the best performers, cull the rest, and steadily build up a breeding line based on your best-performing birds. It will take time, and you may have to sacrifice much in the way of numbers in the early stages of the flock-building process.
  • Testing measures and individual bird evaluations should be ongoing, and it will take years to restore some breeds to their former levels of production. Actually, it never ends as your goal as a breeder should be to produce a new generation better than the one before it. There is that for-the-good-of-the-breed thing again.

This article appeared in the June 2015 issue of Acres U.S.A.

Kelly Klober specializes in raising livestock using natural methods. He is the author of Talking Chicken, and Dirt Hog: A Hands-On Guide to Raising Pigs Outdoors … Naturally, and Beyond the Chicken available from Acres U.S.A. For more information call 800-355-5313.

Poultry Hacks for the No-Fuss Flock

By Kelly Klober
From the December 2017 issue of Acres U.S.A. magazine.

Lately, I have been seeing a lot of articles and even entire books written about what are called “hacks,” bits of wisdom and common sense that tend to accumulate around one subject or another. In other times it might have been called lore, the experience and the essential skills and knowledge that have grown out of a particular calling or pursuit.

Chickens standing in a field

Yes, even concerning chickens, there are practical hacks — hacks and what old-timers might call tricks of the trade. One that comes to mind is the practice of wing clipping to prevent fully feathered birds from flying up and over enclosures.

Wing Clipping

Most know to clip just one wing to make the bird unbalanced and un­able to get aloft, but which is the best wing to clip? Can it possibly matter? Clip the bird’s left wing. The internal organs on the left side of a chicken’s body are generally more developed, making that side of the body a bit heavier. By clipping that wing the rea­soning is that the bird is made more imbalanced for flight.

Heirloom Breeds

A lot is now being made of a bird being in an heirloom variety or a heri­tage breed, but, what exactly, do these terms mean? Perhaps the best defini­tion for them was established by the Livestock Breeds Conservancy when they defined such birds as being of pure breeding and of one of the pure breeds recognized by the American Poultry Association by no later than the year 1950.

A heritage broiler must be taken a step or two further and not harvested from a range situation until they are 16 weeks old. The added time on range affects muscle development and gives the resulting broiler meat the color and flavor more traditionally associated with chicken.

Limit Scratch Grain

Scratch grain, rather than being fed with a heavy hand to pare down mash consumption and feed costs should be used as not much more than a treat fed for a very short time each day. Grain to a chicken is like ice cream to an old farmer and they will fill up on it if it is freely offered. The result is that they will not eat enough of the complete laying ration to assure good egg production and body condition.

Most layer rations are offered as complete feeds needing little or noth­ing in the way of supplementation. A light feeding of grain in cold months will give the birds a bit of added en­ergy, may be strewn across the floor litter to encourage the birds to scratch and turn the litter material and, in small amounts, may be used to draw the birds back into housing at the end of the day.

New Arrivals

Chickens are the creatures that defined the term “pecking order” and the task of introducing new birds into an existing flock can be a rather chal­lenging one. Roosters will quickly challenge each other, and serious in­juries caused by fighting can result. More likely though, a bird will suc­cumb to the heat stress or other stress factors stemming from the fight.

Even females will scuffle, and new­comers can be pecked and held back from feed and water. Some will posi­tion newcomers in a fairly open coop set in the housing for a few days. It should offer them protection from pecking but still allows the birds to see and somewhat interact with each other. After a time, the new birds should be placed on the roost with the established group after dark.

The old joke is that the intellectual properties of the chicken are such that it wakes up in a whole new world ev­ery day, but new introductions must be monitored carefully. Ahead of add­ing birds, some will try to break up the pecking order by removing the two most dominant hens to be reintro­duced later. There should be sufficient space for chased birds to have a place to escape to, and some birds may never make a successful transition.

Drinking Water

The most important of all feed­stuffs is the drinking water. In very hot weather it may be necessary to change or freshen the water pans up to three times a day to encourage con­sumption and the needed hydration for birds in production. A vitamin/ electrolyte product is an inexpensive addition to the drinking water during times of stress on the birds when they will drink but won’t eat.


Sooner or later a problem with egg-eating by the birds on hand will emerge. I once wrote an entire article on just this subject, and there have been some rather elaborate nest de­signs and practices employed to stop it.

Most important is to bring the problem in check as soon as possible after it is first detected. It is a practice that can be learned by other birds in the flock if exposed to broken eggs in the nests or on the house floor. It is a bad practice that may begin with just a single bird.

The producer should always be on the watch for birds showing signs of egg-eating activity. Look for birds with egg-related staining around the beak and head and down the feathers of the breast. There are many ideas on how to break them of this behavior, but the best recourse would be to turn them into chicken salad for a Satur­day night supper. The chicken salad solution actually has a great many applications.

Easier Monitoring

With any number of chickens on range, even day ranging, there is always the questions of, are they all there, and is all in good order with them? The addition of a few birds of a distinctly different color can make a rapid head count of at least those birds possible. If you can only count four of the eight white ones it is a safe bet that even more of the red ones are missing.

Think At the Chicken Level

When human beings enter a farm building most of their senses are fo­cused at head and shoulder level. Chickens, on the other hand, live their lives at floor and roost level. A popped knothole the size of a nickel can allow a chilling draft to blow across the birds at roost on a winter night. And minor changes in a floor’s surface in a far corner may be the first indication of problems with predators.

Pullet Development

In growing out a set of as-hatched chicks remove the first few males that reveal themselves in their develop­ment. They should be the first consid­ered for retention as breeding males due to that rapid development, but their presence will discourage second­ary sex character from developing in other males in the group. On more than one occasion, and especially with very large-breed birds, I have had the pullet count change once I began removing the early developing males from the group.

There is growing evidence that young pullets and cockerels should be separated and grown out in differ­ent groups. They will certainly grow at different rates and may respond differently to feeding practices. The presence of young males as pullets approach point-of-lay may become a source of stress on the females.

Buying Chicks

Before going all in on baby chicks from a single source it might be best to buy small lots from multiple sourc­es to do one’s own on-farm genetic tri­als. Closer to home is always the best place to buy as those chicks should be from flocks acclimated to the region.

That is not always possible if some­thing very rare is being sought or new blood for a complete outcross is needed. It is the task of the good pro­ducer to find and match the needed genetics to his or her farm environ­ment and farming practices as closely as possible.

Transporting Birds

Though not always possible, it is al­ways best to move chickens after dark. I once received a set of Wyandotte hens that were moved across three states in the course of a single night. They were transported in boxes that were painted black and topped with a fine black wire mesh. One egg arrived that morning, and the hens continued to lay well after their arrival.

Transporting can push a bird into molt, and a change in water source and feed can dramatically affect bird performance. Any changes in rations are best done gradually over a period of seven to 10 days. Some will buy a portion of the ration birds are current­ly being fed to assist them in adjusting to a new farm environment.

Better Breeding

When taking up birds to breed from, I prefer buying adult birds over chicks. On a per-bird basis the costs are substantially higher, but there is a finished product to view before any money changes hands. It also cuts down the time to get into production by as much as a full year.

Further, a trio or even a pair of well-bred birds can produce substan­tial numbers of chicks in fairly short order. They are chicks from birds that are better known and understood by the producer.

Started Pullets

A growing number of people want­ing a few layers for a small flock or family needs are opting again for what were termed started pullets. They are doing it for many of the same reasons that I gave for buying older birds for breeding. You see what you’re buying. Many don’t want the bother or aren’t equipped to grow out baby chicks; they want birds in such small numbers or want the eggs to begin arriving right away. And there is no doubt about their gender.

A started pullet in the 12- to 20-week range is no small investment, but convenience has always had a price. The started pullet business has legs, many commercial hatcheries are already offering them despite high shipping costs, and it may be one more way for the more experienced poultry producer to be paid for what he or she knows and puts into the birds developed for sale to others.

It is the little things that are learned in the course of the farming life that often prove to be of the greatest value.

This article appeared in the December 2017 issue of Acres U.S.A. magazine.

Kelly Klober specializes in raising livestock using natural methods. He lives in Silex, Missouri. He is the author of Beyond the Chicken, Talking Chicken, and Dirt Hog, available from Acres U.S.A.

Read an excerpt of Beyond the Chicken here.