Gophers are useful animals in the wild; they aerate the soil, eat insects and mix surface soil layers. But they are a nuisance on the farm. Whether they're damaging the roots of fruit trees or tunneling through hayfields, their economic impact can be enormous.
Gophers spend most of their time building extensive burrow systems, which are 4–12 inches underground and may contain over 500 tunnels. The gopher mound extends across the surface in the shape of a fan, with plugs or dents placed at the end of the pile. These mounds can range from 12 to 24 inches in diameter and 4 or more inches in height.
Trapping is an effective, nontoxic control method on small acreages. The most common type of gopher trap is the U-shaped, spring-type Macabee trap. Find the main runway of the tunnel by poking around in the fresh mounds. You know you have found the main runway when the probe sinks 4 to 12 inches into the ground. It is important to locate the main runway; gophers may not return to lateral tunnels for some time.
Dig an opening into the tunnel and place two traps. Attach a wire to each and anchor with a flag for relocation. Leave the hole open. The gopher will return when he senses his burrow has been disturbed. When he comes back to cover the hole, the gopher will trip the trap. The best time to trap is in the fall and spring when gophers are most active. Check traps often and reset when necessary. If you do not catch a gopher within a few days, move the trap to a different location.
You can also enlist barn owls in gopher control. Install barn owl boxes to encourage barn owls to make their home on the farm. While barn owls prey on gophers, their habit is to range far from their nesting boxes. So, this method is somewhat unreliable.
When a single gopher is rapidly damaging an entire farm or crop, it's time for quick fixes such as trapping or baiting.
Poison baits are also available for gopher control, but the small farmer must take precautions not to affect other animal populations. Gopher baits contain strychnine and are very effective. But they can also harm hawks, seed-eating birds, owls, bobcats, foxes and coyotes. When applying bait into a main runway tunnel, make sure not to spill any on the soil surface. Close up burrow holes after application. Apply three to five baits per cluster of fresh mounds. Bait in the spring when gopher food is in low supply.
There are several other methods for controlling gophers, including flood irrigating, exclusion, habitat modification and tunnel blasting. Trapping and baiting are the most common.
See the OSU Extension Catalog for more information on controlling gophers, voles, moles and squirrels.
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