You can’t escape death on a farm

 |  by  |  Cultivator

A friend of mine says there’s lots of death on a farm. And it’s true.

One of my chooks, who only minutes before had been enjoying her food with the other hens, is dead. A sudden screech, a few feathers drifting in the wind and she is gone, killed by a copperhead snake that slithers away in the grass.

Three types of snakes inhabit Tasmania — all of them venomous — and they’re particularly aggressive during summer’s breeding season. (Unfortunately, my friend’s dog was bitten by a copperhead last year,  but it died much more slowly than the chicken.)

The copperhead is a recent addition to my property, and I wonder if it’s replaced the big tiger snake I haven’t seen for a few years now.

I’d heard of tiger snake’s existence from my neighbours who often asked whether I’d met the snake that lived in the shrubs at the front of my house. At first, I thought they’d fabricated the story to test the ‘dumb city dweller’ who had been foolish enough to buy several acres without ever having lived in the country before.

One day, however, as I was riding a bicycle down my long driveway, I met the tiger snake sunning itself on the tarmac. It studied me as I quickly pulled on the hand brakes and stopped, frozen to the spot. Should I run? Should I throw my bike at it? In the end I did neither but waited for the snake to make the first move. It assessed me for a minute before slithering away and after being confronted by this venomous reptile, I was left in no doubt as to who had been in control of the situation.

The snakes follow the mice and rats on my farm and will squeeze through the holes made by rodents and follow them inside a house. Luckily, the only snake I’ve met on my porch was a baby tiger snake, and it slithered under the decking before I could catch it.

Lots of rats die on farms too, and my dogs usually take care of any that come inside. The rodents put up a good fight, though, and become ninja rats when cornered. They jump, contort and backflip over the dogs and try to bite their faces. The dogs are just as agile and manoeuvre around the rats, grabbing them before they are bitten and deftly sidestepping their ninja attacks.

The rats don’t die quickly. It is not a pretty sight, but they make bad house guests and can’t stay. Perhaps if they didn’t eat all the food and leave their droppings in my kitchen we would all get along.

There is a lot of death among the insects and the plants too. Aphids, snails and grasshoppers destroy plants while the birds and the spiders dispatch the insects. Ducks find snails a tasty treat, and one year I tossed so many out of the garden that they stopped consuming them.

Aphids are eaten by ants who carry them away to their underground caverns. Spiders take care of the big blowflies. Dung beatles die frequently, drowning in the tubs of water left for the sheep. I rescue the pretty beatles if I find them in time. They are a sorrowful sight, their legs waving around futilely as they lie upside down and unable to swim out of the water.

Yes, death is everywhere but you notice it more on a farm.



About the author

Sue Bell is an entertainment writer and author of Backpacked: A mostly true story, Beat Street and When Dreamworks came to Stanley.

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