This article originally appeared in the Courier-Tribune on June 7, 2020
I have lived in big cities most of my life. The constant traffic noise and streetlights are annoying. You never get to hear crickets or see stars.
When I was in my late 30s, I moved to a semi-rural community in North Carolina. I say semi-rural because it was on a private road and had no streetlights, but it was only a mile and a half to the nearest mall.
When we moved there, I immediately realized how little I missed big city noise. When I sat outside at night, the sounds of crickets, tree frogs and wind through the pines were so comforting. But the lack of streetlights was terrifying. I was sure that I heard Jason from Friday the 13th creeping around in the woods carrying 2 large axes and a machete.
As soon as my imagination kicked in, I couldn’t hear frogs or crickets or anything else over the commotion made by all of the hairs standing up on the back of my neck, arms and legs. I told my wife that I was going to leave the outside lights on because of monsters. She grew up on a farm and loved the fact that we didn’t have streetlights, but she humored me. After a few months, I was finally able to sleep with the lights off.
Country living is filled with critters, indoors and out. My first introduction to critters indoors that belong outdoors were two huge snakes that had coiled themselves around each other, they were mating. While I spent 5 minutes on hold with animal control, my wife Sue, amid loud screaming, managed to wrangle them outside. She knew they were black snakes and not poisonous. All I knew was that they were enormous snakes that could possibly kill my family. She laughed at me for calling animal control while wiping the sweat off her brow from having to do all the heavy lifting.
The second time a critter got in the house it was a bit harder to find. Somehow, a possum got into the space between the bathtub and the tub enclosure and made a home there. Until it died. The smell slowly filled the house, and it took a few days until we worked out where the stink was coming from. I removed the tub, but all I found was possum poop, nothing dead. It had crawled under the floorboards and bit the dust.
The next home we moved to in North Carolina was in rural Randolph County. The house had been abandoned for more than 10 years and had its share of resident critters. Our cat Lemmy didn’t think it had enough. He brought in mice, voles, rats, bunnies, birds, lizards and snakes.
Our other cat, Bones, invited a possum in to share some of her food; it followed her in through the cat door. We’ve also had a few possums loudly rummage around the porch in the middle of the night. Something about us clearly attracts possums.
Six years later, Lemmy still brings critters into the house, and they are almost always alive. He lets them go and they scurry around the house until we catch them. He thinks we need a lot of hunting practice. That was true six years ago, but we’re expert hunters now. He should find something else to train us in, like taking a bath more often — which might help keep the possums away.
Of all the critters he has trained us to hunt, mice are the hardest to catch. They are fast and can jump surprisingly high! Rats are the easiest because they are a lot slower. One constant is that once we’ve caught and killed his prey, Lemmy eats it, or at least he eats the head.
Living on a farm, I’ve also learned a thing or two about domestic farm animals. We raise an endangered breed of cattle called Pineywoods, and we were encouraged early on by other breeders to freeze and sell our bull Rocky’s semen. My response was “there’s a market for that?!”
So, we put Rocky in the squeeze chute, and asked a technician to take a sample. Cattle can get a bit nervous while being held in a squeeze chute and I had noticed previously that most of the herd would calm down a little if I scratched between their horns. I didn’t give much thought to scratching Rocky while he gave what the technician called “a big ol’ sample.”
The following day I went out to put minerals out for the herd. Rocky took one glance at me and promptly gave another “big ol″ sample” right there in the pasture. When I told Sue, she chuckled and said, “He’s always gonna relate you scratching him to what happened. You should probably watch your ass for a while!” Four years later, I’m still watching it.
Mike Hansen lives and works at Ozark Akerz regenerative farm near Coleridge with his wife, Missouri native Sue Meyer. The Smithsonian preserve endangered farm animal germplasm in case they go extinct, half of Rocky’s “big ole’ sample” is preserved there. If you'd like to learn more about the benefits of raising endangered breeds or to purchase breeding stock or a big ole sample holler at Mike on ozarkakerz.com.