It’s been a great run of warm, dry weather, from spring all the way up until now. Though not so great for grass and hay growing, it’s made for an easy summer and fall for outdoor chores. One chore that I’d procrastinated on that really needed doing was to scrape in front of my pasture hay troughs. There was several years’ accumulation of straw, hay, and manure; to the point where the sheep were starting to have to lean down to reach the hay in the troughs, rather than reach up. I really should have done this chore in August when it was bone dry, but somehow it slipped in priority.

Until now, when I realized, if I let another winter go by, the accumulation would overwhelm the troughs. So I decided to squeeze it in on one of the last dry days last weekend. But, it took longer than expected, so I ended up working on it two more weeknights after work in the dark, by headlamp. After it rained. It was a mud skating rink, which made the chore more slow-going, since the tractor couldn’t get much traction.  It made much more of a mess than I wanted. But, I got it done, at least reasonably well. This weekend, I laid down a lot of straw, to start the accumulation process all over again, of giving the sheep clean footing. They’ll mash it into the mud, I’ll add more. Hopefully next August I’ll be more diligent about getting it scraped on time!


This is no Nancy Drew story. But where else other than a farm can you start a blog post with a title like that? Prepare for an explicit story of biology gone awry, though, this time, no gross pictures!


We have been having such a battle with rats and mice this year! They have gotten into almost every one of our vehicles; and have figured out how to tunnel around our barn,and find spaces near the pole-building posts where there are gaps in the concrete that allow entry. We have been combating them with filling in the holes with rocks big enough that they can’t move them; and trapping, trapping, trapping. A little bit of poison, too. But I always worry about poison, both because we have pets, and we have so many raptors around. Hopefully soon we’ll get ahead of them again.

So, it was timely that our local Cattlemen’s Association hosted a rodent/pest expert at the March meeting. Dave Pehling, who many locals will know from the WSU Extension Office in Everett, is a veritable expert on rodent control. I thought I knew a lot about rodents; but I learned a lot of new things from his talk! Below are some random notes. He was such a fountain of information, I had trouble writing fast enough to keep up. I believe he could easily teach a 1/2 day class on this topic, an hour didn’t seem like nearly long enough. So, if you live nearby, and are ever looking for an engaging speaker on a heebie-jeebie, but important topic, keep him in mind!

· The best control of rodents is to remove food sources, but obviously this is sometimes impossible on a farm, e.g. where you have chicken feed out all the time for your birds, who need to be able to eat free-choice.

· Rats: at age of 3 months, they are fertile & ready to breed. They can have 1-12 litters per year (!)

· Norway rats are gray under tail, tail is shorter than the length of the body

· Roof rats are the other type we have here, becoming more common

· House mouse is the most common here

· Deer mouse has a bi-colored tail, they are the ones that carry Hantavirus (not any of the others). The photo he showed had a very wedge-shaped head, different from the cuter, classical face of the house mouse.

· Norway rats are good tunnelers; their poop has rounded ends, whereas roof rats have more pointed-end poop

· Norway rats will eat dog poop, so you have to keep it cleaned up if you want to eliminate them

· For mice, set traps every 5-10 feet, for rats, ever 15-20’. The home range of mice is typically 20’, rats 100’. Read: if you put traps on one side of a long building, you may be missing rodents that live on the other end!

· One idea is to affix bait to a trap with hot glue, so it’s hard/impossible for them to get it off. You can also screw traps to the sides of roof rafters, etc to catch them running on their overhead paths.

· Set the traps perpendicular to the direction of the apparent runway of the rodents- this is a bit counterintuitive. It works well to put several traps in a row, offset at random intervals. Then, when they are running, they won’t be able to adjust their cadence well enough to avoid tripping all of the traps- one will get them.

· Concerns over pets getting bait: one idea for a safe homemade bait station is to fashion a 4” x 18” long PVC pipe. Drill a hole in the center, use this to fish a wire through, which holds the bait in the center of the tube. Wrap the wire around the outside of the tube a few times to secure it. Then the rodents can easily go in the tube and dine, but even if your dog picks up the tube, he won’t be able to get the bait out of the inside.

· Legally, you must only use bait within 100’ of a building, and it must always be secured, so that wildlife etc. can’t get to it.

· Basic metal scouring pads work well for plugging holes- rodents don’t like to chew through metal

· If you have to make a barrier around a building, you can bury a “curtain wall”- an “L” shaped piece of metal that angles away from the building, so if they dig down below the wall, all they find is metal. Use sheet metal, not aluminum, as they can sometimes get through aluminum.

· Types of poison, these are the current three least hazardous:

o Warfarin- this is the anticoagulant one. The modern versions are persistent, so if your dog eats it, he may need vitamin K treatment for a full month to recover. It often takes 5-10 days to start exhibiting symptoms after ingesting.

o Bromethalin- a nerve poison (but don’t confuse this w/ the other “B-names” which sound similar). There is no antidote for this one, e.g. for pets, only supportive treatment, so be especially careful with this one.

o Cholecalciferol- excess of vitamin D3, this one is ok to use in organic environments. “Agrid3” brand.

o Second generation poisons are technically only legal for AG use- thus is why they are common on the shelves at farm supply stores; but theoretically, you can’t just use them in a residential/home situation, only for farms

Onto moles, which are not rodents, but a related control topic…

· Moles we have here: Pacific, Townsend’s, and the shrew.

· A single mole can make 200-400 mole hills/mounds.

· Voles are the culprits that eat root crops, they are vegetarians. We often call these little brown, stubby-nosed fatties “field mice”. Moles are insectivores and eat mostly bugs & worms, so are not to blame for killing plants/crops (other than the potential disruption they cause from digging and burying grass w/ mounds).

· Usually one mole has a territory of 0.5 – 6 acres. They guard their territory from other moles. They move around, “rotating” their own crops. So this is why people so often believe in wives’ tales on how to get rid of them. They try something ridiculous, and the mole seems to have gone away, so they assume it worked. But, really, he probably had just moved onto his next section all on his own!

· You can almost always find a mole tunnel following a fenceline- they like that area because it never gets trampled/collapsed by livestock or vehicle traffic. So, if you probe there, usually you will find a tunnel.

· If you collapse their mounds, they’ll just keep making new ones. But rather, if you gently rake the mound flat, preserving the tunnel below, the mole will eventually stop making so many new mounds.

· Trapping is the only effective method of eliminating moles. It is very difficult to get them to eat a poison. In our state, body-gripping traps are illegal to use (perfectly legal to sell, however); though the law is not really enforced anywhere.

· If you were to theoretically set a trap: probe near a mound to figure out where the tunnel runs. Dig a “skylight” in the top of the tunnel and wait a day or two, if it’s an active run, they’ll plug the skylight again. They you know they are using that run, and you can set a trap in it.

Strange brown carpet that's "alive"!A while back, I started noticing this dust layer beginning to accumulate around my grain bags in the barn. I walked by it for days, half-consciously noticing it; then becoming more conscious that the pile seemed to be sort of… expanding. I made a mental note to look at some under the microscope. I was worried that it could be some kind of mold dust. I happened to stick my hand into the middle of one of the grain bags, and felt heat in the middle: not good.

Finally, I remembered to investigate. I scooped up a bit of this fuzzy tan stuff in my hand to take a closer peek. It looked like it was moving, but I thought surely this was just a trick of my eyes. I slipped some onto a microscope slide, topped it with a coverslip, and brought it into the house. I flopped into my office chair, flipped on the scope light, and took a gander. And, holy bejeezus, what I saw just about make me fall outta my chair! Hundreds, literally layers upon layers of mites- yes, those hideous, prehistoric, hairs-sticking-out-of-corpulent-body-and-too-many-legs critters; all crawling over each other, and other debris, in a zombie jumble. The whole mass was in a mosh pit of motion, trying to spill off the slide. So, my eyes hadn’t lied: this wasn’t dust or mold, this was a freaking living carpet of grain mites on my barn floor! Gaaah!


I have been so remiss on blogging lately! Last weekend we went camping and razor clamming. The weather was beautiful and warm, it could have been June rather than mid-December. I’ll include photos from the beach, since my topic has no photos.

Here is a short tidbit on another seminar I enjoyed at the recent Focus on Farming. This one was given by Kathryn Quanbeck, Program Manager for Niche Meat Processor Assistance Network (NMPAN). She covered the broad topic of slaughter options- custom-exempt versus state-inspected (which we don’t have) versus USDA-inspected. Her talk was very good, bringing some of the frank realities to the table.


I don’t bother picking up the sheep placentas in the pasture, because the sheep move on in their graze every couple of days, so the afterbirth doesn’t pose much of a biohazard to them. Bronte the LGD eats a lot of them, but eventually she gets full. She tends to opt-out of eating her proper dinner almost the entire two weeks of lambing, because she’s eaten so many placentas! Sometimes she finds them while they are still exiting the ewe, and she gives them a gentle tug to hurry them along. Smile with tongue outOne of the many humorous and gross things that happens on a farm that makes a farmer just shrug. Placentas are very nutritious, after all.

I had the sheep in a few areas in the orchard near the house, where I didn’t put a dog in with them, so those placentas got left behind too. I figure some scavenger bird will find them and benefit from them, or else, they’ll fertilize the soil.

Sure enough, here is a pair of turkey vultures doing cleanup duty. I rarely see them land anywhere other than trees. I was able to sneak up and get a reasonably close shot of them on the grass (unfortunately beyond several sets of fencing, so they are somewhat obscured) before they busted up when they saw me. I sat down and got a few more shots while they lingered. They circled and circled, apparently reluctant to leave behind those delicious placentas- I’m sure those were a good find!

I never realized what these guys were until our neighbor got a close-up shot of one sitting in a tree, where you could clearly see his red, featherless (and rather unappealing-looking!) head. When I saw them in flight, I always assumed they were some variety of eagle. They are bigger than a hawk, but not quite as big as the bald eagles we see so often here. The patterning on the bottoms of their wings is very distinctive, however, if they are flying low enough to see it. Thankfully, vultures are indeed more of a scavenger, and less of a concern for predation.

We have multiple bald eagles that return to this valley each spring to nest and stay for the summer. I get uneasy when I see them fly over the lamb crop, but so far (knock on wood) I haven’t lost any lambs to them. A friend of mine who lives upriver on the North Fork Stillaguamish has a lot of trouble with eagles getting her lambs. For us, Bronte is a pretty good deterrent. Kirk has seen her come leaping up out of a sound sleep to chase off a bird that was zoning-in on the sheep. The eagle had to put ‘er in reverse pretty fast in midair to avoid that six-foot-tall, grizzly-bear-dawg standing up on her hind legs!

This dude (or gal?) was sitting on a fence post in dense fog the other morning, hopefully also just focusing on placentas, not eyeballing my live lambs! Annoyed

This goes under the people-always-ask-me hashtag #howdoyoudoit? How do you get home from a stressful, drama-coworker, overtime-ridden day at work, a Seattle-area traffic commute, then go out and do farm chores before eating dinner at 8pm (or later)?

I admit, on rainy, cold days, often I hesitate to go out. When I come home wearing my frail office Khakis and a semi-dress jacket, I shiver at the bitter winter cold (bitter, for us, my East Coast friends, is sub-forty…). I’m reluctant to embrace my farmy chores. But of course it’s mandatory, no avoiding it, animals need to be fed, no-matter-what. So, I suit-up in sweatpants, a hoodie, a flannel jacket; and my Muck Boots, toasty off the boot drier. And, out I go.

And then, there is this. Silence; clean air, and this nighttime view of almost nothingness. The whole world shrinks a thousand fold. It’s like submerging undersea from a metropolis land view, passing through a veil.


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