11.27.2013 A Bad Week for Varmints

When you grow up in the burbs, pest infestations are normally rare and not very threatening.  Got roaches?  Mice in the cupboard?  If a shoe and traps don’t work, grab a can of Raid or call the exterminator.

When you live on a farm, pest infestations take on an entirely new meaning.  Groundhogs are destroying the foundations of my hay barn.  Rats and mice have got tunnels all through the main barn and any unsecured seed, grain or feed is quickly scavenged.  Something periodically, usually in the fall, comes after my chickens with a vengeance.

Now when you care for animals, when you get up every morning before dawn to feed them.  When your hands crack with cold, banging ice out of the waterers, when you work in the heat, the cold, the pouring rain, the sleet, the snow to keep your animals alive and then have them taken away from you – have them violently stolen from you and eaten before they can fulfill their purpose. . .

Pest control gets very personal and, I admit, takes on an air of righteous anger and creative determination.  And you don’t stop until you’re fairly sure you’ve eradicated the problem.

Now, fall is a busy time of year when it comes to varmints.  It’s cold.  Animals everywhere, domesticated and not, are conserving energy any way they can.  Since the days of plenty are gone in the regular food chain, all critters are looking for easy calories.  A farm is like a grocery store to these guys.  Rats, mice and other rodents can get fat on a stockpiled sack of feed and stay warm through the whole winter in the depths of the hay stack.  Coons, skunks, possums, coyotes, foxes, hunting dogs, and bob cats think of chicken coops as drive-thru restaurants.  And no one in the country is immune.

About a week ago, I was sitting on my porch early one morning and heard two shots ring out nearby.  I didn’t give it much thought.  It’s hunting season after all.  A short while later a foul stench wafted over my farm.  A quick call to my neighbor confirmed my suspicions.  He had just bagged a skunk – one suspected of killing a rooster the night before.  I am hopeful it was the same skunk that has been tormenting my dog Moose for the last month.

A short while later, Moose (still fragrant despite many peroxide baths) nabbed a rat in the barn.  It was very eerie to watch the very casual way my overwashed fluff ball went about the kill. This wasn’t life in the food chain.  This was murder, plain and simple.  Moose has been hunting that rat for months and when she finally got it, nothing, not even me, was going to interfere with her until that rat was well and truly dead.  I don’t care what Ceasar Milan says.  Dogs hold grudges.  The corollary to this is rats who taunt dogs will get what they deserve eventually.

The very next day we trapped one of the ground hogs that have been spending the summer digging an unauthorized basement under the hay barn.  A few days after that, we nabbed a second groundhog.

So far, the farmers were winning.  In a matter of four days, we were rid of the four creatures that have vexed us for so long.

Then came the killing spree in the chicken run of which I wrote a few days ago, and that placed the varmints firmly in the lead.  But it also made us more determined, especially the dog.  I think Moose took the loss of the babies personally.

The very next night, the Moose patrol came crashing at the front door to get my husband.  He humored her and donned his boots for their usual evening rounds.  But it was anything but the usual rounds.  Moose had discovered a coon nosing around inside the chicken run.  Fortunately for us, the dog did her job before the coon could do his. Moose’s first coon.  We’re very proud.

Since then, it’s been quiet.  The traps go ignored by the slinkers and lurkers.  The chickens sleep peacefully, their dreams of ripe tomatoes and baked beans go uninterrupted.   There are no skittering sounds in the barn.  However, security remains high and the dog, the husband and I are still greeting all intruders/visitors with suspicion.  Best to call before you come visit.


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