The Killer

Today I would like to tell you about my beloved monster, a husky named Nukka. Please note that this post contains some graphic imagery in both pictures and words, so carry on only if you are strong of stomach.

This is Nukka. And this is a story of a monster, reformed.

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Back before we lived on this property, Greg and I lived in an apartment. We’d been living together for about a year, and we had two wee little pet rabbits and one big ‘ol dog named Persy. Greg grew up with a Jack Russel as a kid that was a nightmare. It would bite him and literally eat his homework. He did not like dogs, but after a year with Big Dog he had grown quite fond of them, and we decided to get a puppy together.

There was some drama and a falling out with a very negligent veterinarian, but ultimately we ended up with Little Dog. Nukka is a 40lb AKC husky. People are surprised because she seems small for a husky, but she is breed standard. Huskies seem to have one of two personalities. Either they are graceful, serious, intelligent, devoted dogs…. Or they are absolutely nuts, mouthy, wild, neurotic, and not necessarily too bright at all. We were hoping for the first. Nukka was the second. Alas, but her love of live was infectious and we loved and love her anyhow. She was a permanent fixture of our home, from the moment we brought her home.

When we moved to this property, we acquired rabbits and then chickens in somewhat short order. And in somewhat short order Nukka devoted herself to destroying them. She would chase them through the cages and try to bite them. It was a monumental effort to keep her from killing everything in sight. Sometimes we won. Sometimes she did. For a bit, she seemed to be killing every kit that slipped it’s confines. It was a problem. I was heartbroken. How on earth could I keep animals without having her kill them? How could I keep her on a farm at all? No matter how hard you work there will always be something that slips up eventually and something will die for your negligence.

And I speak of this in casual or perhaps inoffensive terms, destroying, chase, bite, kill… But these don’t do justice to describing her shockingly brutal actions. She picks animals up and shakes them with extraordinary violence, snarling, beating them on the ground, biting them over and over again. It happens in seconds. Bones snap, skin tears, a drumming sound as the animal hits the ground while being shook as hard as she can. It’s a terrifying sight and when a rabbit is caught this way it screams. Rabbits scream, and it sounds so horrible and almost human. It’s like it cuts a hole it your soul. It’s heartrending. It’s painful. It must hurt terribly, though in reality it’s over as quickly as it starts and takes no longer than broomsticking or other methods of dispatch. Even large hens don’t stand a chance. Their hollow bones simply shatter and they fall with shocking ease as their rib cage simply collapses in her jaws. I will not shy away from this, it is a disturbing sight.

Over the years, we have kept our monster in check, with ever-increasingly tight fences, cages, leashes and ropes. We have a tie-out in our back lawn wrapped around a central tree that we can hook the dogs to in a pinch. We’ve had to use it on our monster more times than I can count because she could not be trusted to leave the animals, secure in their cages even, alone. We even purchased (though never used) an electric collar. We had to find a way to keep her from eating our animals. We were struggling. We were constantly trying to train her to leave the animals alone.

Then, a breakthrough, two years back. A chicken got out and Nukka charged. “NUKKA NO!” I shouted across the lawn in the most angry voice I could. She stopped. She looked at me. “Nukka! Come here!” I said cheerfully. She turned back to the hen… “NUKKA NO. Leave it. Come here!” This time, she turned around and came back. For the first time in her life she didn’t attack and kill my chickens. Many kisses and treats were given that day.

After that it was like something had clicked in her. To this day the rabbits are still a process, but the transformation was dramatic. Some animals are off limits. No chasing, no killing, no biting. She stops. She leaves it. She comes to me when I call.

She’s still a monster, though. The last year has been a brutal one for local animals. You see, last year we had a problem with a groundhog. Groundhogs are HUGE. They are hulking, massive creatures that you really don’t get an appreciation for until you are staring an angry one down, it’s massive front teeth chattering, both of them yellow and each one as wide as your thumb nail. A bite from those teeth could break small bones and will rend flesh as easily as any dogs. The rabbits have given me a healthy appreciation for teeth like that.

This groundhog slipped into our garage one day and we used a broom to show it the door. We like to be polite to animals who aren’t bothering us. We let the bluejays rip up our trees and pull strings for their nests, and we were happy to let the groundhog leave under the same fence it came in.

But little did we know we’d created a problem for ourselves as the groundhog began eating our garden to the ground. Heavy logs blocking gaps under the fence were insufficient to keep it out. And I watched with sorrow as my cayenne plants and corn were devoured by hungry jaws every morning.

Then, one day, the dogs went out at the same time as the groundhog. And our monster decided she had found her calling. She grabbed the groundhog and to my great distress began an epic war with even Big Dog getting angry and joining in. Together they tried valiantly (and in vain) to dispose of the hulking beast. They’re thick bodied and Nukka is not actually a big dog. No amount of biting or shaking deterred this hog. It kept coming back and the dog’s efforts to remove it got more brutal. At one point the whole chicken fence was torn down on one side as the groundhog broke through it and the dogs followed, straight through the whole flock. Chickens went flying in the air all around Nukka, the monster, the killer of chickens, yet she touched not a feather. She had had her eyes on a different prize, the groundhog pinned in the corner. Another time each dog had half of it and they were biting and pulling but it broke free. Yet another time Nukka flipped it over, dived in and tried to rip it’s stomach apart, earning some small, bleeding bite wounds for her efforts. Somehow the groundhog lived and still walked away. Despite being hurt she tried to dig under the fence to follow it. Groundhogs were now The Enemy. Nothing else mattered. When the dogs were let into the lawn to pee and play, their first order of business was scouting for the groundhog and attempting to kill it. Bathroom breaks only came after their lawn was secure.

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The groundhog ran into the back corner of the pen because it had dug a hole as an escape route. I had blocked the hole with logs and it became trapped. The dogs broke down this fence and another section to get at it.

Nukka’s rage did not stop with the groundhog, though. She also took on predators attacking the birds and simply any wild animal that dared cross our threshold. She dragged possums out from under chicken coops to drop (still very much alive, just playing dead) at my feet, and once I watched with horror from the other side of the lawn as she snuffed the life out of a stray kitten that thought my chicks looked like a snack. (The rest of the kittens got live-trapped and rehomed that month and the mother cat got fixed and returned to keep other strays away. Huge shout-out to the awesome rescue lady who helped with that when other rescuers turned me down.)

These incidents layed the groundwork for her efforts this year. And while part of me is heartbroken by the loss of life, I can’t help but be impressed by her. Her efforts have saved as many lives as they take.

This year, Nukka proved herself to be the most reformed monster of all. She’s killed more animals this year than ever before, yet just today she stood sniffing the ground for rodents while the ENTIRE flock of chickens loosed themselves from their pen not 3 feet away from her. I was terrified for them. I watched her. She saw them, she sniffed them, she knew they were there, and she just didn’t care. She wanted to find a mouse instead. I was so proud (and terrified). I called her away and she came right up to me, her tail brushing the chickens as she ran past. The chickens were put away, the fence repaired, and not a feather was harmed.

But the rest of the animals around the lawn…?

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They have not stood a chance.
My dog is a legend. Many dogs chase squirrels. Nukka catches them. Songbirds too.

And the groundhog saga? It continues as well. And the groundhogs are none too pleased about it.

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That is a groundhog, a baby one. The groundhog from last year was a mama. And she was back. My garden demolished. My peppers (once again) devoured. The dogs remembered, though. And they were angry. Both of them were enraged. I can only assume they remember being bit from last year. They killed two baby groundhogs and beat the mama groundhog up so badly that she hasn’t been back at all since. Even after the baby ones were dead they wouldn’t stop trying to rip it in half. Even Big Dog stood barking at the dead groundhog for minutes. Even after it was buried in the compost pile they did not give up trying to dig it back out to bite it some more. It took them the whole day to calm down. I have never seen them so angry.

And the tiny animals? Have you ever seen a dog throw a live vole eight feet across a lawn just for the joy of it? I have. That vole got away, I heard it squeaking still very much alive afterwards. Some of them have not been so lucky. Baby wild rabbits have also paid dearly for trying to eat our garden this year. Nothing is safe.

And lastly, Nukka has taken on another kind of monster entirely as of late. And she’s been getting better at it.

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We had 16 rabbit kits and 40lbs of wheat berries, until these monsters got to them. Now we have no wheat berries and 4 rabbit kits. We are waging a war, and our monster’s killer instincts have gone from being our greatest source of losses to our best defense against future losses.

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This one was MASSIVE!

So while Nukka is still a killer, a monster in her own right, constantly set on the violent destruction of other species, she has really found a place on the farm. I no longer question her role on the homestead. She truly is reformed, walking right past the farm animals, her brood, her wards, without a care in the world. They’re off limits and she has greater ambitions. Her face says it all. Her eyes filled with excitement, she destroys only the disease-spreaders, the garden-wreckers, the kit-eaters and the chicken killers. She does not even try to eat them. She just kills them quickly, drops them and leaves them for me to dispose of safely. It’s the hunt that she lives for, and loves. And it’s the hunter that we need right now.

She’s still a killer, she will never not be. But I love her deeply. And I couldn’t be prouder of my little monster.

Get out of there Hawk! You are not a meat bird!

You don’t even weigh 5lbs!

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This is a rough-footed hawk. And that is my chicken tractor it is inside of.
This particular bird, you may know, killed one of my CX’s earlier this year when they were about 6 weeks old. Ripped off it’s head and would come back time and time again to dive bomb the tractors, even when the birds were about 8lbs. I am pretty sure this bird may have taken one or two of my maran chicks as well and maybe some baby bunnies.

The last of those CX’s went to freezer camp a few weeks ago after a month of no hawk sightings but then I saw an ad on Craigslist. This person inherited nearly 50 chickens (30+ egg layers and 10+ meat birds) from their neighbor when they died. This person had NOTHING to do with these animals, raised them all to laying age (9 months) including the meat birds and then gave them away for free. So last week I brought home 10 new chickens. Six egg layers that are fitting in quite well, and four 14lb CX hens, one of which I butchered day of.

Three ratty but huge CX hens.

Three ratty but huge CX hens.

The other three CX’s went into a tractor to basically detox. There were kept quite poorly, free fed nothing but scratch grains and water inside of a small pen in a gloomy shed. I wanted to give them a massive dose of nutrients and basically make them cleaner inside before butchering. Especially after seeing the dismal conditions of the organs on the first bird. Yuck!

Well this morning I awoke to them screaming. I poked my head out my window, peering at an empty yard and panicked birds in the tractor… But an empty yard. Then I counted the birds in the tractor. One, two, three…. Four?

Well. Fuck.

I went running outside in my jammies only to find this hawk all stuck up in my chicken tractor. The door to the tractor is like a funnel of wire through the top. A great way in, nigh on impossible to get out. The hawk went in, thinking there was an easy meal, realized the chickens weighed 3-5 times what it did, and then could not get out. It spent quite some time, leaping at the walls with it’s feet, grabbing them, falling on it’s back and then being trampled by 15lb birds into the mud.

After a little while of Nukka trying valiantly to eat the hawk through the fencing I sent her inside and released all four birds to the world. The chickens bolted. The hawk hopped about three feet and sat there, stunned. Frankly, I would be pretty stunned too if I had been trampled by chickens!

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I tried to shoo the bird into flight and away but it was in too much shock to do that. It just ran onto my compost pile. And sat there. I had a grounded mud-covered chicken-killing hawk and three injured chickens loose in my lawn.

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Eventually a solution was had. A pair of jeans came out and went over my arms and hands. I grabbed it’s feet and hauled it’s ass outside of my yard. It was released outside of my fence and ran off. Later I contacted a raptor center and explained the situation. When I went to catch the bird to ship it off to a rehabber it flew off, very lopsided but it flew. No catching it once it was in the trees.

A rare shot of yours truly, hauling a hawk out of my lawn with blue jeans while in nothing but jammies. Something I do not recommend to anyone!

A rare shot of yours truly, hauling a hawk out of my lawn with blue jeans while in nothing but jammies, first thing in the morning. Something I do not recommend to anyone!

The aftermath was not so bad. The chickens had all done more damage to themselves than the hawk did to them. there were some bloody combs and a couple of nicks here and there but the biggest injuries are severely bruised and battered wings from them flailing about, trying to get away from the hawk, and beating them into the tractor walls. There may be some broken wing bones and some early processing for these birds. We’ll see.

And the egg layers? They’re all fine. They just hid under the rabbit hutch and stayed quiet until it was all over.

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I can only hope this hawk learned it’s lesson to GTFO of my yard. I am totally OK with wildlife that does NOT jump into my animal pens and does not try to kill my animals, or me for that matter! There are several of this type of hawk around and none of the others have attacked my birds. At least this one may never come back again! If it wasn’t injured physically at all, surely the shame of being beat up by chickens will make it want to go away and never return! A girl can dream, right?

I hope I never have to deal with a downed hawk again!

Huston, we have a problem!

This has not been our month. Not one bit! While some things go right some things just keep on going wrong. This time it’s the case of the disappearing bunnies. We need a regular ‘ol Sherlock Holmes for this one, although I would settle for a Nancy Drew at this point! Our litter of rabbits is just flat-out cursed.

We lost two of our baby rabbits to happenstance in the cage. One was crushed, another heatstroke. This left us with seven. Yet for the past two days that number has dwindled to five. The bunnies are in a locked cage. The walls are all solid wood or 1/2″ hardware cloth. All the gaps in the cage have been plugged or repaired so rabbit can’t get out. There are no tracks around that I can identify despite the mud. I can barely fit my fingertip through most of the gaps. There is no blood, no sign of distress, although I have found a small amount of fur near the cage but that could just be shedding. And yet for the past two nights, each night a baby rabbit has vanished from the cage. I have searched the lawn high and low for remains or any sign of them and nothing.

Interestingly, the chickens have also had some issues. One of them looks to be molting, feathers everywhere, decreased egg production. But is it really? And even though I close the chicken pen each night it’s a little bit open the next day, enough for the chickens to be loose in my lawn. The chickens have never tested the door before and I don’t think they can open it on their own. It’s a bit heavy. But something the size of a small dog could.

I suspect a fox or a raccoon but it could be a person. However, neither makes any sense. If it was a wild animal, why not attack the chickens instead? I do not close their coop door so anything could just walk right in. If it’s a person trying to “liberate” animals, why not take the rabbits in the garage or any of the chickens? Those aren’t under lock and key. I am getting paranoid and distressed. Where the heck are my rabbits going!?

We’re going to move the baby rabbits to the upper cage and start locking the garage and the gate on our fence, something we have never done before. We’re going to check again for gaps. If we have to we’ll put a camera out. I need all four of my cages to be functional to have baby rabbits in them and clearly right now they aren’t. I’m not honestly sure what to do.

Tomorrow is my demonstration on harvesting rabbits for the college class. I don’t think I will be recording it. Someday perhaps I will make a video on it of my own but tomorrow is not that day. I’m just too nervous! Here’s hoping it goes better than this litter of rabbits has been!