Baby Gopher

Late one afternoon in April, I ventured across the yard to toss a bowl full of vegetable scraps to the chickens. As I neared the chicken yard the hens began their usual routine of following me the length of the fence, with some running to stay in the lead for the best pickings. My normal routine was to throw half of the vegetable trimmings directly ahead of them, and then turn back to toss the rest to the older hens who waddled behind at a slower pace. After all my scraps were tossed, I watched them gobble up the discards as I stood at the fence. People say that chickens are dumb, but observing them over the years, I tend to disagree. I find them comical and entertaining, and if you’ve ever watched them catch a bug, you have seen some clever maneuvers.

As I turned to head back to the house, something caught my attention near my feet. A slight wiggling of grass made me step back in wonder. Looking closer, I found a strange mound of grayish, soft hair – something that appeared to be digging. With a stick I found on the ground nearby, I nudged the varmint to see what it was. After exposing the feet, I could see it was a trembling baby gopher, which appeared to have wet streaks on its back. It was a bit chilly outside, but with so much hair I didn’t expect the little critter to be cold.

Going into rescue mode, I quickly ran to the storage building for a pair of gloves and a plastic tub. As I picked up the wee baby girl, I found her to be quite docile, dry on the underside, with no signs of injury. Perhaps a raptor had gotten her and then dropped her. Once I determined there were no gopher mounds nearby that she might have ventured from, I put her in the plastic tub and decided to keep her overnight. Of course, back at the house, FD was not too keen on taking in a gopher. We had enough trouble with gophers around the place – like destroying many of our new tree transplants.

After bringing the little critter safely in the house, I began a little research, as I always do when I rehabilitate a new species.  According to instructions from a reputable website, I lined the tub with various types of greens from our yard and pasture. I put several scoops of good garden dirt in half of the box, elevating the dirt slightly on one end. Immediately the little gopher got to work on the greens. I noticed she liked to burrow under the greens. I spent a good bit of time observing her that evening. She was even a tidy gopher, setting up her urination area on the far corner of the shallow dirt. I took a video of her eating green stems like a little machine. I now understood how I had sometimes seen weeds and even saplings just disappear beneath the surface of ground as if something was pulling them under. It was likely a gopher chowing down, one stem at a time!

The next day was chilly and rainy, so I decided to wait a day to turn the little gopher loose. She seemed to be doing well in her temporary digs, so I picked fresh greens for her, which she happily gnawed at most of the day. That night more rain poured down, and thunder rolled. Lightning flashed through the night. I was glad I opted to have the baby gopher spend another night inside where she would have a good chance to survive, and wait for better weather to let her go.

Gophers have four large incisors, which continue to grow throughout the gopher’s life. They can close their lips behind them; this keeps the dirt out while they dig. Their stout body is built for digging. They have small ears and eyes, and their legs are short and powerful, and their broad feet have large claws.

 

Our little friend enjoyed her greens, especially the stems, but she did not care for the carrot.

The next morning, rain was still pouring down when I heard the dogs getting active at 5:30.  Being just about time to get up anyway, I turned on the bedside lamp and laid for a moment longer in the warmth of the bed. But something did not sound right. Oscar and Lollipop were jumping at the little pet gate. Normally, they are lazy until we get up. Then I thought I heard the sound of scratching behind the headboard of our bed. I jumped up in time to see something small hit the corner of the wall and then go darting behind FD’s gun safe. I knew at once the gopher had escaped and that was probably why the dogs were more active than usual so early in the morning! Not thinking, I took the first opportunity to catch the baby gopher as it came back towards me. But only a split second later, I wailed out in pain and dropped her yelling out, “SHE BIT ME!!”. I looked at my index finger which was spurting blood, and FD yelled to get a glove, as she went running back behind the safe. I got the glove I’d been using to handle her, but it was fairly useless as she bit through that, getting FD in two different fingers. Not one to give up on anything, FD finally managed to get a good grip where she couldn’t bite through the glove and quickly went to the back door, which I opened so he could maintain his grip. Out into the rain he went, releasing her into the cold, dark and blustery morning. But, at that point, neither one of us cared what kind of a sendoff she received. I now understood why some predator may have dumped her in the first place!

For days, FD and I remarked at how sore our fingers were from the deep penetration of the baby gopher’s teeth. We were thankful that the bites were clean and we suffered no ill. We also realized a few days later that our driveway sensor was not working, and discovered the adapter cord hanging near the floor had been cleanly cut by some critter with very sharp teeth! I wonder who that might have been? We had some good laughs thinking about how naive we had been. I underestimated the resiliency and instinct of this little gopher, and later read that the female only stays with her pups for a few weeks and then sends them out of the burrow, where they set out on their own, completely equipped for survival.

Meanwhile, Mr. T, Oscar and Lollipop had been in training for this moment for months… and yet they failed to capture the gopher. We have a “Cat Fishin” rod and reel cat toy that has a small deer-hair mouse lure attached that they adore chasing. You would think they would have been ready for the real deal when it came along. But then, just maybe they were smart enough to know better!

© 2018 Day by Day the Farm Girl Way…


47 thoughts on “Baby Gopher

    1. Thanks, Lisa! She was cute and so sweet while in the tub. I suppose that little dirt mound and maybe some jumping abilities was what allowed her to free herself. This is a lesson to get a better pair of gloves. Who knew a baby had such teeth?? Ha ha!

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        1. I never did see anything of the baby gopher later that morning. FD put her just outside the back porch so she could have gone off in any direction. We have a lot of hawks and owls around here, so I hope she found cover right away.

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  1. My gosh, it’s a good thing the dogs didn’t catch the gopher! But how cute to see them playing with that fishing pole toy. I have those toys for my cats but they show very little interest for some reason.

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    1. Ha ha! Cats are so funny. My niece, Sarah, actually got us buying cat toys for the chin and they love them. This Cat Fishin’ toy always sells out fast on Amazon so it must be good. Lollipop and Oscar are ate up with it. Oscar comes to me several times each day, then goes to the toy and looks at it and then me… it’s obvious he’s a communicator!

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  2. I’m glad that little critter was so healthy! You can get rabies from gopher bites if they are sick with it. As for what they can chew down and eat… I remember quite well watching my fig tree doing a jig in the garden back in California. The trunk on that tree had a 10 inch circumference. I turned on the water to the garden and watched it fall right over! When I went to investigate the entire root structure was non existent!!! It/they had eaten the whole thing up to the soil line. :\ So, as you might glean, I am not fond of gophers. That said, I love your heart and kindness towards all creatures. Even the gophers. ❤

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    1. Hi Lynda. After we got bit I researched diseases and there are a few, but rabies is not common in their species though it is possible. I had no idea they killed trees that large! Our loss here has just been young saplings, usually in their first year of growth. I also noted, while researching them, that they actually can be good for the soil with their tunneling, however, most rural people do not like the mounds – including me. They’re hard on mower blades mostly. Generally they run their course where some years we see a lot of them, then other years not a one. As with nature, their presence in an area is cyclical.

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  3. It’s good to hear neither of you had bad consequences from your bites. I’ve been reading a biography of Thoreau and learned that his brother cut his finger with a razor while stropping some leather and died of tetanus a few days later at the age of 26.

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    1. Wow! That’s terrible. I believe I’ve read where tetanus is a terrible death also. I end up getting the tetanus booster every few years since I can’t seem to remember when I last had one, and there’s always some kind of injury here. I probably won’t be inclined to save any gophers again. That’s two on my list now – wild hogs and gophers. But in the end, I’m thankful for all experiences where I learn something!

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  4. I’m glad your furry trio didn’t “take the bait” and get bit! Can you imagine what her sharp teeth could have done to them? Yikes!! Glad your fingers healed up; whew!!

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    1. Oh I’m sure I would have heard some yipping and yowls of pain had she gotten the chin kids! She was fast and kept to the walls (I think their sight is very poor) so maybe the chin just watched in amazement. It was early for all of us. I can’t say I’ve seen FD move that fast that early EVER!! ha ha!

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    1. I could not blame the dogs, Paulette. This was a clean sever. Dogs would have left chew marks. I wondered why there was no “electrocution” but FD said it had to have just gotten lucky with a sharp, clean bite. That’s 120V!!

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  5. Sounds like you need special carving gloves. They’re available in woodcraft stores to wear while hand carving wood to prevent taking chunks out of your hands and fingers (I think they’re steel mesh). I will remember never to pick up a gopher but probably won’t have to worry about it, the “yard” is all concrete..

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    1. Ha ha! Concrete would keep those little devils at bay, but that’s not an option here. I’ll have to look for those types of gloves. I’m sure they’d come in handy for handling all sorts of varmints!

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  6. I hear welding gloves are very good for such tasks! What a funny story. She sounded well and truly able to cope on her own. Glad the wounds didn’t get infected or anything.

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    1. I sure thought I was giving her a good chance at survival, but it was apparent she was just fine on her own. Nature really equips some babies to get out there and get after it!! I’ll know better next time about little gophers!

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    1. I see the “Cat Fishin” toy is available on Amazon again, but it tends to sell out quickly. I’m not sure it would be a good toy for your bigger fellas! Ha ha! It wouldn’t last long!

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    1. Hello, Audrey. I can understand why folks trap gophers. They sure make a wreck of our pastures each year, and I’ve lost a good many young tree plantings to those little devils. But, we haven’t done anything to them, since I have seen Ms. Foxy dig for them. They are a good food source for some mammals and raptors.

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  7. I’d bet anything your gopher was the cord-cutter. Both the squirrel and the prairie dog I raised were strangely attracted to cords: especially the prairie dog. You think baby-proofing a home is work? You should read the articles about prairie dog-proofing a house. Some of them are hilarious, and cords of all kinds get special attention.

    I’m glad you keep that tetanus shot current, too, even if you tend to do it when something specific happens. I always get mine at the same pharmacy. Every now and then I’ll think, “When did I get that last shot?” and call them up and ask. They say ten years is the recommended length between immunizations, but I never go that long. I usually get one every eight years or so. Now, I just wish they’d come up with something to protect against vibrio. I worry about that one, since even a broken cuticle or a small scratch can be enough for the bacteria to get in and start causing trouble. It’s most common in salt or brackish water, though — not a problem for you, and certainly not as much of a problem as baby gophers!

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    1. We’ve raised squirrels and never had a cord issue… but then they didn’t roam the house either. The only time they were out of a cage was during feeding time. And, FD built a huge squirrel complex that sits on the back porch, so as soon as they let us know they are ready for more action, they are outdoors in the complex. I just had no idea that gophers were so well prepared to survive as babies. I also didn’t know they could jump out of a storage tub! I’m always learning…

      Doing the types of work that we do, it’s just good common sense to keep current on tetanus shots. I’ve often wondered how many of those I’ve had in my lifetime. As kids it seems we were always getting cut on some fencing, nails, stray metal or old tools. I suppose it was ingrained at a young age that a tetanus shot was an easy way to prevent a rather horrible situation mom referred to as “lock jaw”. I had a vision of how I might look with my jaws locked along with other body parts frozen in contorted poses. Crazy what goes through a kid’s head!

      I had to look up vibrio. It sure could be a threat to coastal folks, and so many ways to acquire it. Here, I don’t tend to worry much about the dangers out there, but it’s always a concern to think West Nile Virus, Zika, and Rocky Mountain Spotted Fever, are serious threats, not to mention snake bites. I am generally covered with insect bites, and nearly every day I work in the woods I find a tick or five attached, despite using safe repellents. I refuse to put DEET on my body. Most of the time I make enough of a ruckus in woods as I work that I give snakes a chance to slither away. I have heard that there has been a shortage of anti-venom this year. I think I’m more concerned about snakes than insects… but it’s just because I’d rather get bit by something small than something big with fangs! Ha ha!

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      1. Just last Tuesday, I was talking with some people who’ve been out seed collecting in various ditches and prairies, and they reported that the ticks have suddenly become more than an occasional problem. They also mentioned that a local biologist told them that DEET is not an effective repellant for ticks. He advised permethrin, which is what I use. I buy it in a spray bottle, and spray my clothing. It lasts through a few washings, and it’s cheaper to do it that way (and more effective) than by purchasing permethrin treated clothing.

        The only caution about permethrin is that it’s dangerous for pets: but only while it’s wet. Once the clothes are dry, there’s no problem. So, when Dixie Rose still was here, I sprayed things outdoors, and let them dry completely before bringing them inside.

        I confess that chiggers and mosquitoes annoy me, but ticks creep me out. I just don’t like those things, and I was glad to get the alert about their increased presence.

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        1. I suppose like anything, once you’re exposed to something enough, the “creep me out” feeling passes. I used to feel that way about ticks, spiders and snakes. I would freak out if one attached to my skin. I now find ticks annoying mostly because that bite can itch for weeks after. Chiggers are bad this year too. Since it’s been so dry here, mosquitoes haven’t been a problem. While I was in Germany I was bit by mosquitoes a LOT, and because their species is much smaller than ours, I never could see the little buggars or feel them as they’d alight on my skin.

          It’s amazing how much we are mislead by advertising or word of mouth that isn’t correct. We had a state biologist out here a couple of years ago who told us what non-native plants to eradicate from the property that had no wildlife value, yet by observing various mammal and bird species, I could argue his opinion. As for repellents, I still swear by Pet Fresh, from Homs (http://www.homs.com/products/petfresh%E2%84%A2_petfresh%E2%84%A2-for-dogs-16-oz-trigger-spray.html) which I use on myself. So far it’s kept most insects from biting me, but I do have to reapply when I sweat a lot, which is a problem because I can’t seemed to think about reapplying once I’ve started my work! It does not seem to affect ticks much though.

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  8. Oh gee my comment flew away and I am so mad. Loved this post. I reckon the gopher escapade was a hard lesson learned and one that you bought and paid for.

    Lori, I am sorry to have missed your posts. I had not been getting notices and could not detect what was wrong with my blog. I had been ill for sometime and had no idea what was making me sicker and sicker. About two weeks ago I was in hospital for 3 days but when I got home I was more cleared headed after a medication change and given meds for a severe UTI.

    I am going to try to read up on some of the posts that I have missed. I’m glad you are FD are ok.

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    1. Aw, do not worry about posts you’ve missed, Yvonne. I haven’t been writing so much this year – I have a lot of catching up to do in that department. But I am concerned that you’ve been down. I had a friend some years back who had some kind of intestinal bug that went undiagnosed for more than a year. It seriously took its toll on her – and her personality completely changed. Finally, a specialist discovered the problem, and in no time flat my friend was “back” and feeling so much better. I’m glad you are back on track. So did someone (your son maybe?) care for your dogs while you were gone? With all of the work you are responsible for, I’m sure the demand to keep up with so much took its toll on you too. I’m happy you are doing much better. Take care of yourself. 🙂

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    1. Good heavens! They must be cousins!! Ha ha! I think there are all sorts of common critters around the world. They both delight us and drive us mad at times. We have many species that are considered rodentia, sporting those sharp incisors! I’ve been bitten now by a gopher and a squirrel (I now understand thumbs and fingers look similar to pecan nuts!) and I can say the bit is quite quick and clean (as in not jagged). I’ll be purchasing some gloves to have on hand in case I must handle any more of these critters!

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    1. I learned a lot here but mostly that these toothy little critters are ready for survival as soon as they leave their birth home. I shouldn’t have thought “poor baby” at all with this species! Ha ha! Live and learn is correct!

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  9. This statement, “I spent a good bit of time observing her that evening,” summarizes in part what I am learning at your site, Lori– I mean, I’m trying to do more of that, and your interest in all forms of life and your ability to focus intently and patiently is a kind of inspiration for me. Also, there are some surprises in your days, and now in your late nights/early mornings (!), which make reading here even more fun.

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    1. Thank you for your always kind comments, Albert. You sure have that “surprise” part right! Most of what I observe here is by complete surprise. I generally just do my work, and a see or hear something and that’s it… I’m off for an adventure, or at the very least I’m running off to fetch the camera.

      Daisy deer came into my life when I needed to learn to slow down. My focus shifted, and it truly opened my eyes to much that nature offers. It is about being observant. And in this day and age, I find the ways of nature like tapping into our instinct, and being alert and watchful, and especially living in the moment, to be of great help in knowing how to live well.

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