Varmints

About twenty years ago, I was a city girl, having grown up in the suburbs of Detroit and then living in urban areas for most of my adult life. As a child, I remember dreaming of owning acreage, while of course never understanding what such a life might entail. My dreams were filled with beautiful rolling hillsides covered with mature trees and wildflowers and a pond where fish leaped into the air. Eventually that dream became somewhat a reality — although our fish do not leap and the wildflowers are generally eaten by the sheep. As much as I love the reality of life on a farm, I have come to realize that, like most things, this lovely life has its difficult moments. One of them is having to deal with what, as a dreamy-eyed city child, I used to call “varmints.”

The definition of the term (according to Google) is “a troublesome wild animal,” which pretty much covers the entire sphere of animals that approach our farm from the wild. We see foxes, coyotes, opossums, raccoons, snakes of various types, rabbits, chipmunks, and turtles. Any of these animals can be troublesome, depending on circumstances, but none more so than the raccoons that eventually try to make their home in one of our barns. As far as I’m concerned, raccoons are only sweet-looking bandits when they are on someone else’s farm; once they’re here, they are varmints!

Last summer I focused on trapping all of the raccoons that had invaded our barns — and overall, I relocated eight raccoons. In the process, I became a pretty good trapper, learning exactly how to set the trap for the quickest catch, the many types of bait that will attract raccoons but not our barn cats, and how to prevent the raccoon from clawing or biting my fingers as I lifted the cage into the truck. I also learned how far away to release them to ensure that they didn’t return, and where might make the best second home without a chance for them to hitchhike back to our farm. By midsummer all of the raccoons had been moved nearer the Cedar River and our farm was once again fairly varmint-free. Unfortunately, it didn’t last!

This spring I began to see signs that we once again had a raccoon problem: self-feeding cat food containers were emptied and thrown around the barn in frustration, grain bins were scratched on the outside as a critter tried to gain access, and there was occasional raccoon scat around the window that our barn cats use as an entryway into the otherwise closed-up barn. I once again got out the live trap and began attempts to catch the interloper.

Within a couple of days, the trap was inhabited. When I entered the barn, an apparently miserable young raccoon peered up at me from within the trap, surrounded by urine and feces mixed with the corn I had used as bait. I will admit that I felt sorry for the little fellow. He was obviously aware that he had made a huge mistake, and he huddled in terror against the back edge of the trap. He was not so traumatized, however, that he loaded easily into my truck. As soon as I reached for the handle at the top of the trap, he became a hissing, spitting, churning ball of claws, teeth, and fur, causing me to jump back to avoid the attack. I steeled myself against the onslaught and got the trap into my truck. The eventual release went without incident, since the raccoon wanted no more to do with me than I with him — and he could see freedom!

I reset the trap, which sat idly in the barn for several weeks. Then yesterday morning, not only was the trap sprung (yet empty) but the cat self-feeder in the loft was once again torn apart and thrown across the barn. The resident cats were quick to let me know that an intruder had come during the night. Whenever there is a raccoon around, they stay out of sight until I refill their dry food. They may fear that they’d have to fight the raccoon for the food, and evidently they’d rather do so in my presence and under my protection. Little do they know that I am not a raccoon fighter!

I again set our live trap for the newest raccoon and left for the night. This morning I made my way up to the barn to see whether I had caught another varmint. Unfortunately, the raccoon had eaten all the bait and had sprung the trap, but again he wasn’t inside. Since our own trap is quite old and somewhat slow to snap shut, we resorted to using the newer trap of a friend at the end of last year. This afternoon I decided it was time to purchase a new trap of our own so that we’d have a chance against the most recent wily adversary. The new trap not only springs shut quickly, but it also has an easy-to-set door and a hair trigger. Even better, it has two doors instead of one (which allows me to use one or both), and I can pick up the trap handle without fear of teeth and claws. After using the old trap for more than twenty years, I figured it was time for a technological improvement.

Who knows whether I will catch this new varmint, but at least now I have the latest and greatest weapon against him. Let the battle begin!

New Fleece Update: Skirting of our ram fleeces is finished and they will be released to our email notification list on Thursday, June 16th, most likely in the late afternoon (between 4 and 5 p.m. CDT). I will also be offering a handful of ewe fleeces at a discounted rate at that time! Stay tuned!

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