Saturday, May 1, 2010

pocket gophers

As a result of short help and lousy luck with health over the past 3 years, our pocket gopher population on the farm has metastasized. Look below for an old blog post from 2004 for abundant details and photos about how serious pocket gophers are for hazels.

In the past we've relied on the specific gopher poison we sell, "Answer" (not set up on the web yet) - which is labeled for use on food crops, and works better than anything else we'd found, in terms of dollars/time/per gopher.

However- we now have animals of various kinds, and while secondary poisoning is supposed to be uncommon, we really really don't want to take the chance with a working dog we've spent hundreds of dollars and hundreds of hours on. And we have 3 dogs now.

There's also a chance of secondary poisoning for our cats (5 - 3 barn cats for horse shelter and greenhouses), and our guinea fowl/chickens, which we are hoping to actually make some tangible money with this year, besides their non-monetary contributions of tick and general bug control. If a carcass gets pulled up on the surface, and attracts flies- there will be maggots- and the poultry will eat them.

All of this is low probability; but too high for me to like it.

So- we found another path, and it's been working quite well.

Amish boys. The township here pays a $2 bounty for gophers- which is quite sensible given our terrain and soil; the erosion they can start is very serious.

As additional incentive- we pay our 2 experienced gopher trappers an extra $1/gopher; a 50% bump in their pay, basically. The township takes the 2 front feet as proof; and we take the tail.

Our boys are brothers, 10 and 14, and we usually drive them to and from their home (about 3 miles away) 3-4 days a week.

We just finished the first two weeks- total gophers = 44

This time of year this are big old gophers from last year; many lactating females, so effectively we're getting the broods too.

And these 44 came out of our most sensitive places- where they were or were about to really hurt hazels.

If you've ever trapped gophers- that's a whale of a lot. The boys and their family were seriously pleased with the $44 bucks. We've got lots more gophers. And some happy helpers.


Old Blog Post by Phil Rutter, 9/27/04 at 9:01:26 AM.

Gophers Again-

Pocket gophers- Geomys bursarius in the East, Thomomys sp. in the west; turn out to be extremely serious pests. This time of year; early Fall, is when the young of the year leave their home burrows, and invade new territory. You MUST get them out; one way or another.side gopher:

This kind of gopher; pocket gophers, not the cute little stripy kind (which can eat tons of hazel NUTS if you leave your grass too long all summer and the population builds up...)

gopher pockets:

Here you see the teeth, that they cut roots with (their main food) and also use to dig with; their tremendous claws, and the deep cheek pockets that give them their name.

In 2001, the extent of the damage to young hazels by pocket gophers finally became crystal clear to us.

Hazels from 1-2 years old are too small to be very interesting to gophers; they may eat one or two, but damage will be minimal.

From 3-5 year old hazels however ARE big enough (the root systems), so that a pocket gopher may settle down and EAT. All the roots. All. Then go on to the next hazel in the line, and eat (ie. kill) that one. Then the next. This is a disaster.


Each of these sticks was a 3 year old hazel.... this is all the gopher left.

Once the hazels are a little older, their root systems are SO big that in most cases the gophers will get either full, or bored, and move on before doing lethal damage to the plant; most will survive. (There are some indications that genetics plays a role here, with native North American genes making the hazels less tasty to gophers, and European hazels getting worse damage levels. Maybe, we think.)

So - it's become critical to exclude pocket gophers from our young plantings - and yours, too.

Fall is an important time to GET them, for two big reasons:

1) They do NOT hibernate like some other rodents, and will cheerfully eat roots all winter; under frozen soil and snow where you can't get to them. 2) The juvenile gophers of the year spread out, in mid fall, and invade new areas. This is the only time you'll ever see a pocket gopher above ground; once a year, the young will get up on the surface and run like mad- maybe a mile; maybe two; then burrow in. Possibly this is a mechanism to prevent inbreeding in a mammal that otherwise moves very little from its home territory.

So, in fall, you'll see new gopher invasions, where you haven't had them before- and, these new sites are almost entirely young, DUMB gophers, which are very easily trapped.

6 gophers:

The good news is; gophers CAN actually be controlled; unlike mice, which you could trap and remove by the hundreds, without making a dent in their population, gophers breed slowly, and trapping can actually keep them effectively out. But it's work getting there. Best way to do it is not allow them to get established in the first place.

A whole treatise on gopher control will take more than this web log to cover- main point here is; if you have gophers, GET them OUT of your hazels, right now. One gopher can easily kill 20-40 hazel plants per year; and not newly planted ones, mind you, but 3-5 year old plants, just ready to start bearing those nuts- a 5 year old hazel is vastly more valuable than a 1 year old; all that work; all that time. Hard to put a dollar value on, but we'll guess it's somewhere around $40/plant, IF you could find a similar replacement, which you can't. So; one gopher, at 40 X $40 = $1,600.

Holy Cats! Really?? Yeah, if you're counting.

Get the gophers out. Most farm neighborhoods with gophers have bounties on them; and kids and sometimes adults who make money trapping them out. Find your local gopher control folks (call the county agent if nothing else occurs to you), and get them out of your hazels, right now; before the ground freezes.



  1. Your readers also may be interested in the products found at CrittergetterOnline.Com which have been proven (both through customer feedback and testing performed by the University of Nebraska) to be 90% effective for gopher control. The Crittergetter uses an abatement technique that folks have employed successfully for decades.
    Link to University of Nebraska report:

  2. The note from "Crittergetter" has to be an ad, at least partially automated. They must have a search engine set up to find all new references on the web to gophers/pocket gophers.

    We won't normally post ads here. This one, however, is not obnoxious, and is possibly helpful - so; good job, Crittergetter. :-)

    A couple of points though.

    1) We've tried the car exhaust methods, but for our situation, the results are not good enough. One reason- our terrain is hilly, and just getting a car/truck around everywhere is non-trivial. Two- we just have too many gophers. 44 in one week? And I'm quite sure there are at least 200/400 more alive and working on our 160 acres. Time necessary to deploy the gas pipe, and wait for it to gas the tunnel systems, is just too long. Three; our tunnel systems are huge, deep, and permanent; far below tillage levels. About half the time, the gopher at this gassed site is not killed; they can escape/evade the gas.

    Another factor to keep in mind- our experience here is ONLY with Geomys talpoides.

    In fact in North America, there are 9 species of Geomys; AND 9 species of Thomomys- and over 100 described subspecies.

    Is my gopher going to behave exactly like yours? Quite possibly not.

    You may well find the "Crittergetter" approach works just fine for you- but for our 160 acres of hilly deep silt loam in Minnesota- it's not adequate.

    I read the report linked to from the U of Neb (I really believe in doing my homework- and I'd love to learn something new.)

    Alas; I found a glaring error which makes me look at the whole thing a bit askance.

    They've got oodles of charts and graphs and illustrations- but they simply dismissed one control approach without any testing or experience.

    That would be shooting- which they simply say is "Not practical."

    On the contrary; it's extremely effective, and is sometimes actually your fastest cheapest method of control. To dismiss it like that means a) they never tried it; b) they never talked to an old farmer who's done it.

    You have to do it right- um- duh. Walking around on the surface looking for gophers to shoot is indeed a total waste of time.

    Waiting at an open, or opened, hole, however, can work great.

    But again- you have to do that right, too.

    We're intending (dangerous word) to get out a Badgersett Research Bulletin on gopher control; and we'll give all the details there.

  3. Greetings Philip,
    Thanks for allowing my post to be, ahh... posted! And, I apologize for the pseudo advertisement. You’re right about the “partially automated” search engine comment, at least in part. I search the blogs by keyword, in this case “gopher control”, in an attempt to “get the word out” in places where what I have to offer could be most used and appreciated; active discussions regarding gopher and other burrowing critter problems. I honestly attempt to say what I have to say as simply and directly as possible so as to not sound spammy, I AM really trying to help, and over the course of the past 3 years, the Crittergetter has been helpful for a lot of people.

    I agree with you regarding your acreage. Unless you have a great deal of time and a 4-wheel drive, the Crittergetter may not be your ideal option. For you, a deep tooth ripper and a lot of tractor time would probably be your best bet, although, this would be a temporary cure (eventual re-infestation is most likely imminent) and would not eliminate any deep burrowers.

    Regarding the shooting technique and the U of N report, I couldn’t agree with you more. Shooting these littlie varmints is quite effective and delivers a “confirmed kill” (and a bit of satisfaction as well). In fact, if you scan to the bottom of my home page (, you will find a pixilated photo of me with a rifle doing just that! The Crittergetter came about when I eventually ran out of time and needed to “bring the business” to the gopher rather than wait for it to poke its furry little head out of its burrow.

    The Crittergetter will not work for everyone. Folks such as you with a large amount of land typically will not have the time to move the hose around as much as is required. Nor will the Crittergetter work for folks in tight knit suburbs where threading a hose creates something that resembles a maze of kinks and bends. The Crittergetter is geared toward people, who have semi-accessible to accessible space, burrowing critters, and would rather be (or need to be) proactive rather than reactive in their burrowing pest control.

    Again, thanks for the inclusion, I greatly appreciate it and hope I can be of help to some of your readers

  4. really useful stuff; all around. Thanks.