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Life on the family farm under an open heaven: An unwanted family

Tom Heck Published on 11 September 2014
Family of skunks

This last summer, we had a family move in here unexpectedly. They never asked us if they could come and live here or not. They just set up their home out by my silos. One day, Joshua was mowing the grass out there, and he spotted four of them.

They were as surprised to see him as he was to see them. He immediately came running to the house to tell the rest of us about them. I quickly grabbed my gun and went running out there, but by the time I got there they had disappeared. Needless to say, I was disappointed. I had hoped I could shoot them and get rid of them.

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What sort of a family was this that I wanted to shoot them on sight, you ask? A family of skunks. I started to look around and quickly found a freshly dug hole going down between my silo and the corner of my silo room.

It was obvious this new family of skunks had set up housekeeping there. The kids asked me, “What do we do now?” I replied, “We have to get them out of here; it isn’t safe for us or our cattle to have them around.”

What makes skunks so dangerous on a dairy farm, you ask? Rabies. Skunks love milk, so they will hang around dairy cows that are outside at night and try to nurse on them. Often times, in doing that, they will bite the cow lightly – and that is all it takes to transmit the rabies virus.

The cow that gets rabies will die a very horrible death after several months. Since farmers work with cows, it’s easy for farmers to catch the virus. All it takes is a little saliva from an infected cow getting into a little nick or scratch on a farmer’s hand, and he will have it too.

If this happens to a farmer, he has to get a lot of very painful shots from a doctor so he doesn’t die. I know personally of a farm couple that had this happen to them years ago. Cheryl said, “The shots were terrible and you never want to go through that.” She also told me one other interesting fact that shocked me. “Skunks will not die from rabies; they’re the only animal that it doesn’t kill.”

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So, knowing all this, I had no tolerance for a family of skunks around my barn. The question the kids asked was, “How do we get rid of them?” I said, “I don’t want to set a trap now since we are going at putting up a new crop of hay.

Let’s keep our eyes open, hopefully in the coming days we can see them outside here and shoot them.” It sounded like a good plan, but it never worked that way. Yes, we did see them outside a number of times, but by the time we got the gun they were gone.

Well, we got our hay put up, and I knew we had to try a different approach. I decided to set a large cage trap for them just a few feet in front of their hole. So, the kids and I set it using some broken ice cream cones and cookies as bait. Then we prayed asking the Lord to bless it and help us catch the skunks.

Needless to say, when we went to bed that night we were all excited to see what our trap would have in it the next morning. And were we ever surprised when we got out there the next morning and saw what we had. We had our big cat, Mr. Stripey, caught in the trap with his tail straight up and all his hair standing on end. He was spatting and putting out a ferocious growl.

A large skunk was just a few feet away from him with its tail up in the air aiming right for him. Mr. Stripey, being in the cage trap, couldn’t get away from the skunk, and he was terrified. I don’t blame him. The skunk was scared of the cat that was between him and his hole.

The skunk knew he had to get into his hole for safety, which meant he had to pass within 18 inches of a growling Mr. Stripey. I felt sorry for our cat; I thought for sure he was going to get sprayed by the skunk at extremely close range.

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Once again, I got my gun and ran with it. I wanted to do all I could to spare Mr. Stripey from a terrible experience. When I got back, I was surprised to find out the skunk had gotten its courage up, walked by our cat and went down in its hole without spraying him.

I was relieved that our cat didn’t get sprayed but was disappointed that I still hadn’t gotten rid of any of the skunks. I opened up the trap, and Mr. Stripey set a world’s speed record for getting out of there. I never saw a cat go so fast in my life.

Well, I was back to square one; I had a whole family of skunks living under my silo room floor, and I still hadn’t gotten rid of a single one. I decided to reset my cage trap, only this time I moved it about 10 feet away from the skunks’ hole.

I figured if I caught another cat, the skunk wouldn’t be as apt to spray it if it was that far away. One thing I must say is that Mr. Stripey never set a foot close to that area again. He had learned his lesson.

We did our daily work around the farm, and that night just before bed we took a flashlight out and checked our trap. Were we in for another big surprise! No, it wasn’t a cat this time. Instead, we had two skunks caught in the trap and a third one hanging around the outside of it, which I quickly shot.

A couple days later, we caught the fourth skunk in the trap. Were we ever thankful and blessed to have the unwanted family of skunks gone.

There are things in our lives sometimes that aren’t good for us, but we put up with them thinking that they won’t hurt us. And they may not hurt us, but they may hurt somebody else.

We need to get rid of those things. By doing so, you and those around you will be blessed much more. We are all glad the skunks are all gone – that includes our cattle and especially Mr. Stripey. PD

Tom Heck, his wife Joanne, and their two children, Catherine and Joshua, own and operate a 35-cow, 159-acre dairy farm in northwestern Wisconsin. Contact Tom by email or view Tom’s past articles on his website.

Photo from Thinkstock.

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