Saturday, June 14, 2008

Possum Production

In many ways, possums are cursed animals. Not only do they have small brains, they are not very fast, and are easily killed by coyotes, farm dogs, fox and owls.

The possum's competitive edge is in the reproduction arena, and here it is a true champion. A typical female possum will have two litters a year, each with as many as 18 young. The gestation period for a possum is just 13 days -- the shortest gestation period of any mammal in North America.

Possums are the primary transmitter of equine protozoal myeloencephalitis (EPM), the most commonly diagnosed neurological disease in horses. Common horse symptoms include incoordination, with one side usually more pronounced than the other; muscle loss; and weakness. Some horses may die, but even those that aren't severely affected may not be able to run or ride as well as they once did.

About 50 percent of all horses, regardless of breed, show exposure to S. neurona, the parasite which causes EPM, and which has been traced only to the opossum. Only a small number of these infected animals, perhaps one percent, actually get sick, but about 30-40 percent of those that do get sick don't respond well to existing treatments.

The bottom line: any farm that has horses should be glad to see you and your terriers, as you can rid the pasture of groundhogs and their holes which can break a horse's legs, and you can also get rid of possums in the barn and surrounds that might transmit a serious equine disease.


an American in Copenhagen said...

That is so true. The barn I used to ride at (in the US) used to let just about anyone come out and shoot, trap, chase, whatever pretty much any small creature living on their property because just about all of them are bad news for horses. HOWEVER, be careful to notify the barn EVERY time you come out because they will not appreciate your terriers killing fluffy the barn cat (even if she's never cought a mouse in her life) or chasing their horses in the field. At my barn they were more than happy to lock up the cats and bring in the horses so just be sure to call ahead.

Anonymous said...

I agree on notifying the barn every time you will be coming out. Here in Chester County, PA, most of the horse people are hysterical about strange dogs bothering their horses -- yet they really do want the visitors to handle the varmits, and in my case, take the manure away.

Since I'm there to haul away the manure, I keep a tie-out line in the truck and anytime we're at a horse farm, no matter how often we have been there, Pepper is clipped to the truck. The line is long enough that she can hunt for varmits in the manure pit (or just bask in the warmth), but regardless of whatever "interesting" thing happens at the horse farm, the owner is assured that she's not going to go anywhere near the horses -- which is their primary concern (second is how much the mushroom companies are charging to pick up their manure, which is why they really, really want me at their farm!) ;-)

Even if your dog is never on tie-out anywhere else, it's worth doing so at a horse farm for manure-collecting -- the horse folks are very appreciative, you can pick out exactly what you need from the manure pit to meet the needs of your particular plants (very fresh to well-rotted) and the quality for your plants will be much better than anything you can buy in a bag elsewhere. Plus, it will make your dog's day to rout a mouse nest or find an odd bit of hoof clipping to chew on for the rest of the day! ;-)