Editor’s Note: Following the No-Till Farmer Video Review that featured he and his son’s kickoff presentation at the 30th National No-Tillage Conference, Kentucky no-tiller John Young shared this predicament that many of you have also found yourself in. We wanted to share it with you as well — from the founding family of no-till.
NO-TILL FARMING in Kentucky is a good way of life. We enjoy it immensely. However, there are always challenges to be faced, no matter where you live or how you make a living. Consider this example from a recent busy time at our family home.
One late spring evening just before no-till corn planting got underway, my wife, Beth, heard a scratching sound under our house. Since her ears (and eyes and nose) are more sensitive than mine, I should have paid more attention.
Beth pointed out the next day that there was a small hole scratched between the concrete footer and the metal entrance to our crawl space. We have farm cats who sometimes get into such a place, so a cat-sized hole was not a big surprise.
However, when we set up our game camera overnight to see which of our farm cats was the culprit, it turned out to be not a pet cat, but a polecat. A skunk, by any other name would smell as sweet, to paraphrase Shakespeare.
Now I don’t have anything against skunks. I just believe in the old motto, “A place for everything and everything in its place.” My main complaint is that our house is not the place for skunks. The space under the house is reserved for snakes, spiders and assorted crawly things. Therefore the name: crawl space.
The real question soon became, “What do you do with a skunk under the house?” As I was to learn, there are several alternatives.
1. Hire a professional. Are you kidding? Farmers do things by themselves. No self-respecting farmer would bring in an expert unless it involves computer chips and sensors. That left several other choices.
2. Leave it alone and hope the skunk will eventually go away. That’s not going to happen in our house. From past experiences with our farm’s grain handling and storage system, I’ve found unwanted animals like raccoons, possums and skunks return to the scene of their former homes (and crimes), just as surely as the swallows keep their date with San Juan Capistrano each spring in California.
3 .Crawl under the house and run the skunk out. That’s also not going to happen, at least with me. If you have ever smelled a skunk’s musky emissions, you will understand why I’d shrink from such a task. The skunk might eventually leave, but not before it had disabled me and the house for the foreseeable future.
4. Use a live trap, such as one with the trade name “Havahart,” to get the skunk safely into a contained area. Then the skunk can be taken far away and turned loose in its natural habitat. The real trick with this idea is to keep the skunk quiet and happy for the long trip, without setting off its mental alarm button.
5. Use the tried and true “sudden death” trap, which springs shut on the skunk, sending it to that “great crawl space in the sky” as soon as it tries to reach some bait on the other side of the trigger.
Instead, Here’s What I Did
Day 1: Being a generally gentle soul and an innovative no-tiller, I placed the Havahart live trap suggestively alongside the small crawl space hole and added some cat food for bait. That was the recommendation of our local skunk trapper, Boyce. Making things more difficult is the fact that our farm cats also love cat food, especially, when it’s in a Havahart trap.
No skunk was injured in this procedure, nor was one caught. Skunks are nocturnal, so we waited until the next day and examined the memory chip on our game camera. All through the night, many cats seemed interested, but the skunk just walked away from the trap. He returned in the wee hours of the morning to sleep off his nightly activities.
Day 2. I made two improvements. First, along with a friend I built a wire mesh enclosure to keep the farm cats far away from the trap. Second, I placed the Havahart live trap against the foundation of the house, irresistibly right over the skunk hole. Then we waited for the skunk to go inside and have the trap door shut behind him.
It didn’t happen. As the game camera once again showed, the skunk’s agility was more than ample to get around both the wire mesh and the trap. He was in and out of the crawl space as quick as a cat burglar in a jewelry store. His usual habit was to leave at 9 or 10 p.m. and return around 2 or 4 a.m.
Day 3. I placed some large rocks and loose concrete blocks all around the trap, so the skunk wouldn’t squeeze in and out around the sides. That way his only option would be to go into the trap, eat the cat food and be caught. As recorded by the game camera, he simply pushed the rocks slightly to one side, tipped over a concrete block and went on his merry way. Right on schedule, he came back in the early morning hours and worked his way under the house for his daytime rest and recuperation.
Day 4. I adjusted the concrete blocks and drove some steel rods all around the rocks so the skunk could not push them out of the way. This time, he simply dug under the Havahart trap and made his escape through the shallow tunnel, after eating the cat food that dropped into his freshly-dug burrow. After a few hours of pillaging the local grub population, he came back “home” the same way.
Day 5. I put down a large metal plate that would prevent my skunk friend from tunneling under the Havahart trap. Instead, he simply climbed over the trap through a small crack between the trap and the house’s foundation.
Day 6. I rolled out some old chicken wire and placed it over the crawl space hole immediately adjacent to the Havahart trap so it would be impossible for him to use his most recent escape route. The game camera showed that he tripped the switch on the trap from the outside by reaching through the chicken wire and pushing it down with his paw. Then he climbed up the trap door and made his escape, returning later for another restful day’s sleep. All caught by the camera.
Day 7. I added a few heavy tractor weights to my growing creation. The reasoning was that these heavy weights would make it impossible for him to move the concrete blocks, the rocks, the metal stakes, the metal plate, the shovels and the chicken wire.
When the time came for the skunk’s nightly excursion, he extended his burrow another couple of feet and escaped once again. Apparently, all the cat food in the world would not tempt him inside the Havahart trap.
Day 8. I placed still more rocks on the chicken wire, added more rocks around the perimeter of the hole, placed some metal shovels in all the known cracks and generally made an impregnable fortress that was meant to catch the skunk come hell or high water. Unfortunately, the skunk found another small passageway through my maze and made his nightly rounds, once again on the prowl for tasty worms and other midnight snacks. As always, he returned to the crawl space for the day.
Day 9. I finally had enough of the Havahart live trap. I borrowed a “sudden death trap” from a friend and placed it over a small escape hole. I’m not sure of the actual name for that trap, we call it the “Have-a-Brain” trap. I added flat mesh netting over the trap to keep out the cats, as I didn’t want to kill our always-hungry farm cats. Every one of them is dumb enough to trip it, but too cute to die in such a disgraceful way.
Unfortunately, the skunk managed to pry his way to the side of the trap and again make his nightly rounds unharmed. The trap didn’t trip and the skunk seemed unfazed, at least according to the game camera’s images. Getting back in was no more of a challenge than getting out.
Day 10. I remanufactured the mesh into the shape of a box and placed it tightly over the trap. No cats allowed in and no skunks allowed out was the goal. I fastened the trap to the concrete blocks of our foundation with metal rods.
I also bought four bags of Sacrete. Digging down 12 inches, I was determined to reduce the size of the hole to only a skunk-sized opening. My friend David and I mixed up the Sacrete and formed a perfect opening for the skunk which led into the trap’s center trigger. I left only enough room for the skunk to get away from the house’s foundation and find himself in the trap.
The camera that night showed the skunk making his escape, again to the side of the trap through an opening that seemed much too small for any skunk. Finding a weak spot in the mesh box, he pushed through and went on his way. However, when he came back, he made the mistake of going into his hole using the trap’s tempting circular opening. As quick as a wink, he was sent away to a better place.
Around 1:15 a.m., Beth woke me up and told me we had caught a skunk. Once awake, I could smell the odor. Our not-so-friendly skunk had taken his final revenge on us and our home, by leaving us with a gift that our family really didn’t want. It took us 2 days to get rid of the smell inside the house.
While the skunk’s smell is gone, he will be remembered for weeks. Thus the title at the top of this story.
How Does This Appy to No-Tilling?
All of this story is true and I didn’t make up any of the events for this highly personal “10-day skunk diary.” So, what did I learn and how does this apply to no tilling? Here are some lessons:
First, a skunk, which has a very small head and I suppose a brain to match, can give fits to a human supposedly higher up the intelligence ladder.
Second, even the smallest task can become frustrating if it is handled incorrectly. Sometimes making a mountainous problem out of a molehill-sized project is simply a lack of poor planning. Using the Havahart live trap instead of the other “Have-a-Brain” trap, just underscores what my friend, Lee, says, “No good deed goes unpunished.”
Third, perseverance is better than quitting. If I had quit, I’d still have a skunk under the house and probably the everlasting smell to go with it. Now, at least, while I still have some of the smell, there is no more skunk.
In Matthew 24:13, you find, “But he that shall endure to the end, the same shall be saved.” (I’m pretty sure the Bible didn’t originally address skunk trapping, but if being saved from a skunk is what you need, it still applies.)
Finally, nobody, anywhere is immune to the daily problems of life. We all get unexpected worries and concerns many times a day, in the spring at planting time, during the summer, at fall harvest and in the winter. Being able to laugh at our mistakes or our unwanted dilemmas, is better than bitterness, depression or discouragement.
Circumstances don’t determine what we are, but instead reveal what we are. In Proverbs 17:22, we read, “A cheerful heart does good like a medicine, but a broken spirit dries up the bones.”
One final point. Bad things — like skunks under the house — always look better in the rear-view mirror.