We have a bit of a problem on our farm. A porcupine problem–to be specific. With an overabundant population they’re devastating the trees of our forest and repeatedly coming into contact with our dogs. But what can you do about porcupine problems on your homestead or farm?
Problems with porcupine
When we moved out of town and onto the property last winter we fully expected that the dogs would occasionally encounter a porcupine. We’ve had some selective cutting done on the property to improve the health of the forest and the forester told us that we had an overabundant population of porcupine here. In fact–we have so many that they’re putting the health of our forest at risk. So we knew that there are lots of the prickly little beasts out here.
Still–we weren’t prepared for that first night that Ava came home with a handful of quills in her muzzle. I felt awful! I felt so bad that our dog was in pain, and ashamed that we let her run loose, allowing her to encounter a porcupine.
Of course that’s what the dogs want–roaming the farm, protecting the property–it’s how they’re happiest. And it’s what we have them for–you know-apart from their loving companionship.
Keith’s dog Ava was a beagle-jack russle terrier cross and about the size of jack russle (she had the terrier’s energy, and the beagle’s howling bark–it was a great combination, if you catch my drift), so she was small and we could easily handle her and remove the half-dozen offending quills.
Little Ava died this summer–killed by the local fox. We still miss her terribly. Read more about Ava here.
It wasn’t long after that when my girl Willow turned up on the front steps early one morning with a nose full of quills. Then the new puppy, Teyla (pronounced: “Tay-lah”) came in one night looking more like a pin-cushion than a dog, two weeks ago Willow came in again with a nose and mouth full of quills, and then last week both the dogs came in with quills.
We’ve spent more than $800 on quill-removal this summer.
About the porcupine
Have you ever seen a porcupine up close? They’re incredibly cute! We love wildlife–even porcupines.
These creatures are herbivorous with a diet that depends on the season–in the summer porcupines will eat shrubs, crops, wildflowers, clover, leaves and acorns, tender twigs, roots, seeds and buds; while in the winter they’ll eat needles and tree bark, and will dine on hemlock, birch, beech, aspen (which is known as “popple” or “poplar” here in Maine), elm, oak, pine, willow, spruce and fir.
Also referred to as the “quill-pig”, porcupines are actually a rodent–the 3rd largest of all the rodents–grow to be 18 to 23-inches long and can weigh up to 28-pounds. With 30,000 quills covering their back, sides, and tails, they can resemble a little armored ball moving slowly through the forest.
Contrary to popular belief, porcupines cannot “throw” their quills–the animal has to actually come into contact with the porcupine for this defensive measure to be effective. Nevertheless, it is an extremely effective defense, and very few animals have figured out the secret to eating porcupines. Those that have discovered that flipping the porcupine over to get at it’s tender belly include fishers, wolverines, bobcats, coyotes, wolves, bears, mountain lions, golden eagles, and the great horned owl.
As humanity continues to expand it’s population local wildlife populations continue to be affected, which means that ecosystems are thrown out of balance.
In our area in particular, many of the porcupine’s predators have been pushed out of this habitat. We no longer see wolverines, wolves, or mountain lions. Locals speculate whether or not the fisher and bobcat still reside in some of the more remote areas of the region, and black bears, coyotes, and the great horned owl are significantly reduced in numbers here.
All this results in the porcupine population becoming out of balance, as we are now seeing.
Warning: Graphic images below.
What can you do about porcupines?
Dogs are not the only animals at-risk of porcupine encounters on the farm or homestead. Horses, donkeys, cows, and more, can all come into contact with a quill-pig. I am by no means an expert–so when we began to have problems with porcupines here at Runamuk we turned to those whom we knew would have the answers. Below are a few suggestions based on our experiences this summer.
Talk to a forester, biologist, or game warden.
Find out more about the porcupine population in your area. Some states don’t have such an abundance as we have here in Maine, and in some states porcupines may be rare and even protected. If you live in an area with a healthy or overabundant population, it’s a good idea to walk the property with one of these “experts” to see how the porcupine population is affecting your property specifically.
If you contact your local game warden about your porcupine population and determine that you do in fact have a problem, you can ask him or her at the same time about the laws regarding hunting or trapping porcupine. Here in Maine–as it turns out–there is no closed season and no bag-limit on porcupine; you can find more details about Maine hunting regulations here.
Have a good local veterinarian
Many veterinarian services offer after-hours emergency vet-care. It’s a good idea to keep their number handy and know their policies regarding emergency vet service. For example–our local veterinarian requires that pets be a current patient to receive emergency care; all the more reason to make sure your pets have been seen by the vet and are up-to-date on their shots. If your vet does not offer emergency care, find out where the nearest emergency animal hospital is and add their number to your address book.
Do NOT try to relocate wild animals
It’s a popular misconception that troublesome critters can simply be trapped and relocated. This may be the simplest course of action for the homesteader or farmer, but it can be disastrous for the animal. Relocation can be stressful–putting the creature at risk for disease or predation. The relocated animals have no prior knowledge of this new home, which is a huge disadvantage in finding food and shelter. What’s more, they lack the knowledge of existing animal hierarchies and may even spread disease. For more details about relocating wildlife check out this article from the Florida Fish & Wildlife Conservation Commission.
Learn to tolerate wildlife
Humanity relies on the biodiversity of our planet for our own sustainability. Whether we appreciate it or not, we can set off a whole chain of events when we attempt to alter nature and Her natural patterns. Every creature plays an important role on our planet and that’s why it’s important to learn tolerance for wildlife and–even if we may not appreciate a particular creature–accept that it is an important part of life on Earth just the same. And so I accept too that occasionally one of the dogs are going to come home stuck with porcupine quills, it is a part of life in rural Maine.
Hook your dogs at night
Willow really loathes being hooked or leashed at all, but with so many porcupines causing so much trouble for us this year, we’ve taken to hooking the dogs at night. It may not eliminate the problem altogether, but since porcupines are primarily nocturnal creatures, hooking the dogs will significantly reduce quilling incidents and save us from making such frequent trips to the veterinarian’s office.
We know that we have far too many porcupine for our ecosystem to sustain here at Runamuk, and since there is no closed season for hunting porcupine Keith borrowed a .22 rifle from his father. So far his porcupine hunts have been instigated by the dogs’ porcupine encounters and he’s killed 3, but with this most recent incident he has begun to take a more pro-active stance on porcupine hunting.
Note: Keith suggests that if you’re going to attempt to skin a porcupine, ensure that you have a pair of thick gloves to prevent getting stuck with the quills in the process.
I had to look it up online for the answer–and most results said to roast it in the oven with root vegetables like potatoes and carrots. So I did. And that was the chewiest meat I’ve ever tasted. Keith wouldn’t even eat it because it still looked too much like a porcupine, and because–having been raised on meat from the grocery store–we’re still adjusting to butchering our own. There’s an element of self-doubt that comes with acquiring these new skills, you’re wondering if you did it right, worrying about what could happen if you did it wrong. But the kids exclaimed with gusto that it was “the best porcupine they’d ever tasted!”
The second one I stewed as you would an old hen or a gamey rooster, and that was delicious. The flavor and texture of the meat was something of a cross between roast beef and rabbit, with that distinctive gamey flavor. I seasoned it with rosemary, sage, salt and pepper–a bay leaf would have been good too.
I was so proud of that stew! Made almost entirely with ingredients grown on this farm–carrots, potatoes, onions, garlic–and, of course, the porcupine. The only ingredients not from the farm were the vegetable stock I boiled the porcupine in (to save time I used some I’d purchased at the grocery store), and the celery, which I have yet to master growing.
Practicing good stewardship
So that’s what we’re doing about our porcupine troubles here at Runamuk. We have a pretty high tolerance for animal-interactions anyway, since we’re so passionate about nature and wildlife. Yet maintaining proper biodiversity of all the species in this habitat is our responsibility as stewards of this land, so until such time as the porcupine population is reduced to a level that the forest can maintain, we will continue to hunt them. And because we are loathe to squander the animal’s life–we will eat them, feeding our family so that we may continue our work here–reclaiming this old farm.
Have you had trouble with porcupine? Got tips about cooking them? Feel free to share in the comments section below!