Thursday, August 12, 2010

Hawks and gophers

Photo by J.R. Douglas, from

For the last few days, a red tailed hawk has been screaming as it soars over our pastures. I really didn’t think that a hawk could carry off a seventy pound lamb, but we have a few closer to fifty pounds, so I was worried. Turns out that the hawks eat squirrels, gophers, and mice - never something as a large as a lamb, not even a baby lamb. So I can listen to their screams with enjoyment. I can watch them soar over the pastures and know that they are using their extraordinary vision to spot chipmunks, squirrels and gophers, their favorite foods.

Anything that eats gophers is fine with me. We struggle with pocket gopher mounds in all our fields. Gophers especially like alfalfa roots, so our hayfields are a perfect habitat. Gophers dig holes and leave the dirt outside the hole on the surface of the ground. When we drive over the field in our haybine, the triangular cutting blades cut into anything they encounter – alfalfa plants, thistles, and piles of dirt left by the gophers. But the dirt dulls the blades, shortening their useful lifetime. After cutting dirt, Dave has to replace broken or dull cutting blades – a real waste of time.

Most farmers trap or poison their gophers because of the amount of damage one animal can do to a field and a haybine. We used to poison ours, but weren’t very successful at it. Now we hire a retired farmer to do the job. He sections our field in a four wheeler right after we finish baling hay. When he finds a gopher mound, he digs a hole in it and inserts a trap.

The township still pays a bounty for gophers. Trappers catch the animal and then have to save a piece to prove that they have trapped it. One year it will be right ears, another year, left front feet. The Pelican Township board meets at the Pelican Rapids Public Library. One day, I made coffee for a program in the meeting room. I opened the coffee can off the top shelf, and found it full of mummified gopher feet. Someone had been working hard and brought his gopher feet into the Town Board for the bounty. You can’t get rich trapping gophers, but you can earn the undying gratitude of a farmer or give fodder for nightmares to a group of people waiting for a cup of coffee.

One of the exciting things about planting prairie grasses instead of alfalfa is that pocket gophers don’t like grass roots as well as alfalfa roots, so maybe we’ll have fewer gophers. Another exciting aspect is that bull snakes like prairies and they like pocket gophers. If we plant some of our hay fields to prairie grasses, we may be able to control the pocket gophers with bull snakes waiting patiently on gopher mounds and red tailed hawks screaming overhead.


  1. "right ear or left foot"?? Hey Joan, somebody is pulling some ones leg here. Or is it a ear?

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  3. You're right Glen. My technique would allow an enterprizing trapper to stockpile ears and feet for other years.