Notes from Windward: #70


Skunk Tales

November 17:


     At Windward, we're farmers, not hunters. If the wild creatures leave us alone, we're happy to return the compliment. Unfortunately, just because we're not interested in hunting creatures out there, the reciprocal isn't true in that there are critters out there who are quite interested in going after the animals and crops we grow.

     A key example is the damage done to our gardens, trees and waterlines by ground squirrels. During the annual dry season, Windward is an irresistable attraction to forest creatures desperate to quench their thirst. While we wouldn't begrudge them a drink now and then, unfortunately it doesn't stop there as the ground squirrels quickly turn to digging in the garden for things to eat.

     A friend lost half his potato crop this summer to the hungry rodents who tunneled down en masse to feast on his tubers. That's not a big problem this year in that there are plenty of commercial potatos available‒no one need go hungry‒but if times were hard and those potatoes were truly needed, it would have been a much more serious problem. Better to learn to deal with such problems now instead of later.

     Living on the edge of the Cascadian wilderness, we're always going to have wild animals passing through as they make their seasonal trips between the alpine slopes of Mt. Adams and the relatively mild banks of the Columbia River. In exchange for the privilege of living so close to nature, we're content to pay what we think of as a "nature tax." So long as the predation stays below ten percent of what we produce, we just take it in stride and undertake to produce a bit more‒never hurts to have a bit of a cushion anyway.

     What triggers an abrupt change in that "live-and-let-live" attitude is the intrusion of predator who kill animals they don't even intend to eat. Coyotes will often do that as a way to teach their kits how to kill, which is somewhat understandable, but skunks are just plain mean.

     Last week, we were quite upset to find four dead hens in one of the ChickPlex breeding pens, and a fifth hen alive, but mortally wounded. The predator had eated two of the four heads, which is a pretty sure sign of a skunk kill. We tend to look the other way when a squirrel makes off with an egg, but this required action. Once a skunk has learned that we have caged hens, it will keep returning night after night until all the hens are dead.

     So, eager to protect the remaining hens, I dialed up Loudon Wainwright III on my iPod, and went looking for the live trap.

the live trap set in the middle of the ChickPlex


     Steven set the trap in the middle of the main aisle in ChickPlex and baited it with an egg. It only took one night to catch our killer‒then it was time for the skunk's swimming lesson.

drowning the skunk


     Most live traps are wire cages open on the sides. We're careful not to use wire traps when we're going for a skunk since they're more than capable of spraying their stink right through the wires at anyone who's irritating them. Down in the bottom of the plastic-sided live trap they can't see anything to spray, and if treated gently, will usually not spray.

     After a five minute immersion, I emptyed the trap in order to take a pic of the villian. I soon realized that I should have just left the body to chill down before emptying the trap. Soon after he was laid out on the ground, the skunk's muscles started to lock down and his must sac emptied itself into the gravel. No harm done, but the landing is going to smell like dead skunk for the next couple of weeks.

     All in all, that's a small price to pay to keep our hens safe.

one newly drowned skunk


Notes From Windward - Index - Vol. 70