On The Wild Side - Skunks, Rabies and Barn Life

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When March rolls around that old song ?Dead Skunk in the Middle of the Road? seems to play quite often. Depending on when the last cycle of skunk rabies hit our area, the number of skunks in the road ranges from low to high.

At our barn one year, three skunks decided to move in. These were perfectly normal skunks, not acting at all strangely or I would have been concerned about rabies. They each choose a nice corner area to set up housekeeping and would trundle in and out at will. No threats to spray, just doing their skunk duties and coming home to hang out when their work day was done.

I admit it - I kind of admire skunks. I don't want one for a pet (I took care of many pet skunks when we lived in Michigan ? quite cute for a year or two, then just fat and grumpy). They don't generally hassle anyone, their coloring is striking and they have unique patterns with their stripes.

Still, I did not want to take the chance of having a horse, sheep or dog sprayed. So our skunks were live trapped and released down at the far end of our big pasture. Luckily none of them hiked all the way back to the barn.

So why did skunks check out our barn to begin with' My husband blamed the ducks. He felt that the eggs attracted the skunks. I have seen skunks eating eggs so I guess that is possible. I blamed the food left out all day for the barn cats. I caught skunks eating that too.

While a spraying would have been less than pleasant, and I would have hated to make up enough of the ?skunk-off? recipe to bathe a horse, spraying would not be serious unless your horse got sprayed in the eyes. Then a thorough flushing, possibly followed by ointment or artificial tears for a few days, might be in order. Rabies is another threat altogether.

A few years before the benign skunk invasion, a cycle of raccoon rabies was sweeping our area of upstate NY. Twice we found raccoons acting very bizarrely in our barn aisle. Both were dispatched and verified to be rabid.

Luckily all of our animals ? barn cats, dogs, horses and sheep ? were current on their rabies vaccinations. And yes, I had to provide the certificates for the Health Department official who showed up to verify that. Without current rabies, our farm would have been under quarantine, with the unvaccinated animals under strict guidelines for care.

The common opossum is another interesting wild animal that you really don't want hanging around your barn due to the possibility of spreading equine protozoal myelitis. Opossums aren?t generally associated with rabies, but many carry EPM. If their fecal material got on forage your horses are eating ? hay or grass ? your horse could contract EPM. I like them but I admit one of our horses got presumptive EPM a year or two after an opossum hung out in our hayloft off and on one winter. Luckily we haven't seen any since then. ?Click here to see Dr. Eldredge?s article on EPM.

Deer are generally very good about sharing pasture with your horses but they can bring deer ticks and share Lyme?s Disease and other tick borne illnesses.

So, I encourage you to vaccinate your horses and all barn critters, plus discourage wildlife around your barn. don't leave food down for your barn cats. Feed them meals. They will adjust though it may take a week or so. If you have ducks, chickens or other poultry, pick up eggs daily. don't leave feed pans down for them at night either. Avoid leaving out hay or grain for deer in the winter.

Enjoy the wildlife out on the trails but put out a ?no vacancy? sign on your barn!