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.
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…