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In Praise Of Skunks

Small-animal pets, particularly cats and dogs, are a staple of most farms and acreages and properly so. A life unshared, even with animals, can be bleak.

For years I enjoyed the companionship of fine cats and dogs as they contributed immensely to the day-to-day pleasure of living, but as some like to say – “not no more.” When my last cat and dog passed on peacefully enough, I chose not to find replacements.

However, I have found alternatives. Skunks! Plain, ordinary, black and white Prairie skunks. In the strict sense of the word though, they are not “mine” at all. They are free to come and go as they please – and they do.

Skunks have many admirable qualities applicable to farm rodent control. They are superb mousers and any place open to them is pretty well guaranteed to be free of such infestation. They have astounding smell capabilities and their lumbering gait when travelling on the field or road belies their surprising dexterity and agility.

Owning pets is generally not about money, but cats and dogs, if properly cared for, consume a fair amount of dollars. Wild skunks on the other hand, clearly come out smelling considerably sweeter, so to speak. There are no vet fees, no spaying or neutering, no vaccination shots, no flea collars or worm pills. There are no heated watering bowls to fill or daily year-round food rations. When snow covers fields and yards, sheltering mice for the season, skunks are in burrows or under buildings for the duration of the winter.

I do feed them in autumn however, when they are fattening for hibernation – usually from September to the end of October – and then I don’t see them till the first warm days of spring. Again, I feed them for a few weeks until one day they no longer show up for my food, preferring to live off nature’s bounty. Skunks disperse for the summer, usually leaving a couple of females denned around the yard.

The key to good relationships with skunks is not to startle them. They are actually very reluctant to spray and will do so only under serious provocation, but since they mostly sleep during the day there is little danger of contact. That is the beauty of skunks for mouse control. While I sleep they are at work, and while I work they are asleep.

I do confess to having been “skunked” once but it was entirely my fault. It was almost dark and I had begun fall feeding in an old barn. As I was approaching the door, I decided to kick a foil plate that had been dragged outside, back into the building. The noise, combined with the fact that the plate nearly landed on the skunk was too much of a surprise. One spraying in about 15 years isn’t a bad average though.

Cats and dogs as pets? Absolutely. But if you want professional mousers that don’t want to live in the house, are inexpensive to “own” and quite peaceful, be kind to the next skunk that visits your farm. However, if you own fowl of any kind, don’t do it. A skunk’s appetite includes anything with feathers and believe me, they will find them no matter how secure the fowl’s housing. Also, skunks are one of the creatures listed as rabies carriers, so prudence is called for in any interaction.

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