Are gophers Contaminating your soil and hay?

Jun 06, 2024

Effective Strategies to Minimize Gopher Damage in Fields 

By Jean-Paul McDonald

Soil contamination in hay fields can be a hidden problem, often unnoticed until it affects livestock feed quality. This issue primarily stems from pocket gopher activity, which can be particularly troublesome in areas like Manitoba where these pests are common. 

Pocket gophers, often mistakenly called moles, are notorious for their burrowing habits. They create extensive underground networks, which result in large mounds of soil on the surface. These mounds can significantly disrupt hay production by damaging equipment and reducing the overall yield of fields. 

The forage from these fields contains natural ash from minerals like calcium and magnesium, typically around 8 percent in alfalfa and 6 percent in grasses. However, the soil from gopher mounds adds unwanted external ash.  

In some cases, this contamination can increase ash content in feed to as high as 18 percent, which means a substantial amount of dirt ends up in livestock feed. 

To combat this issue, farmers employ several strategies. One effective method is rotating hay fields with annual crops, which can discourage gophers from settling in one location.

Additionally, regular leveling of mounds, particularly in early spring, can help maintain a smoother field and protect the new growth buds of plants like alfalfa. 

When using equipment to level these mounds, it's crucial to set the blades at least ¾ of an inch above the ground.  

This prevents damage to the plant crowns and ensures that only the mounds are affected. Producers must be cautious with the timing of these operations to avoid harming new growth, which could delay the regrowth process in the spring. 

Besides mechanical methods, managing pocket gophers can also involve trapping, using rodenticides, and other crop management practices. Combining these techniques provides a more comprehensive approach to controlling gopher populations and reducing their impact on hay quality. 

Through understanding and addressing the issues caused by pocket gophers, farmers can ensure cleaner forage production and improve the overall health and productivity of their livestock. These practices enhance hay quality and contribute to more sustainable farming operations. 

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