Tuesday, April 29, 2014

Life and Death on the Homestead

Every human has a sliding scale of mercy when it comes to what we are willing to kill and what we are not.  Most humans will kill ants in and around their food.  House flies also die with great regularity in people's homes. Some people refuse to kill meat to eat, but will eat soy products, meaning they are indirectly responsible for thousands of rabbits and birds dying when harvest comes around and the big combines take to the fields, cutting down everything in their path. 

It seems that death is impossible to avoid.  Even plants have been shown to react when they are pulled out of the ground.

I cannot, as yet, shoot squirrels or anything larger, because their mammalian family hierarchy and tendency to frolic and play touches me, so I will relocate them instead of killing them whenever possible.  Squirrels also have the distinction of learning where I do not want them to go.  When I fill in a squirrel hole on our property, the squirrels do not come back.  So I let them have the lower 1/5 of our property, and patrol the rest to gently turn them away. So far its working, but I make no promises as to the future.  But I will, in general relocate before I kill, if I can.  I even catch house flies and turn them back outside, when possible.

I hated killing mice until they became a serious issue around the coops, and then I did so with a very grim efficiency, using a humane electrical trap that killed instantly. With country property comes a greater necessity to (and therefore exposure to) killing vermin.  I don't like it, but some creatures cannot be easily trapped and relocated. And if you have to kill, I think you owe it to whatever you're killing to dispatch it as humanely as possible.

This morning I shot a gopher in the chicken coop.  I went out and noticed the large hole and a small head popping in and out of it, and knew immediately what it was.  Gophers are vermin, carrying fleas, worms, mites, and disease with them, so allowing them near our live food source was not an option, both for the hens health as well as ours.  I stepped inside, loaded Big Ag's .22 with hollow-point rounds, and took it back outside to the coop, standing silently over the hole until the gopher appeared again.  And then I shot.

 The one I shot did not look like this.

It was a clean, quick kill, and I'm pretty sure there was not more than a second that elapsed between the gopher closing his eyes in this world and opening them up in Gopher Valhalla, or wherever gophers go in the afterlife.  I'd love to tell you that I felt regret, or sadness, but as I've done it more and more, I feel those things less.  

I did have the satisfaction of doing it in a way that was quick and humane, but to me there was no question that it had to be done. You cannot relocate a gopher or even trap them humanely.  It's impossible.

Even so, I'm kind of amazed that this city-born and bred girl is able to do something like this.  In the city parks where I grew up, a gopher would have been a curiosity, a creature we would have sat on the grass and observed, talking about how cute he was.  To go from that to being willing to stand over a gopher hole with a shotgun is coming a long way.  I'm not sure if its spiritual progress or not, however. But when your food sources are in danger, you do what you have to do, whether it's black ants in the sugar or a gopher in the chicken coop.

Life and death go hand in hand with growing or even just storing food, and I'm proud that even if I cannot avoid causing death, I can at least bring it to pass in a swift fashion.  Sometimes that's the best you can do, and it has to be enough.


  1. This is something I think about a lot. How easily I can kill a spider or an ant miserably with hairspray, but would agonize over killing anything cute. But your gopher kill sounds pretty badass! I would imagine it's easier when an act of protection toward your chickens.

    1. It was, to me, an act of protection, but in general I'm in favor of just making it impossible for predators to get in so you don't have to shoot them in the first place! But since the gopher went underground, there wasn't much I could do to prevent him getting in. Ya, I suppose what we kill versus what we spare is not rational at all, but you can't always argue with your feelings.