Thursday, 8 December 2011

Moles and Meadows


Each spring that come along the moles start digging and pushing up soil in their inimitable way. Nearly always on the best bit of lawn, following in the hedge bottom then branching out under the grass in the most unpredictable directions. In the fields they work the same pushing soil up into mowing grass which inevitable get into the mown sward to contaminate the silage heap.

A bit later in the season when tunnels have got well established, you can see where the ground goes very hard, where cattle funnel towards a gateway or vehicles doing the same compacting the soil, they will have dug a tunnel across that way and its too hard to dig another. Father always said this will be like a trunk route where all the moles in that field will pass through at some time or the other, making it the prime place to set your mole traps.You are able to re-set the trap in the same place until all are caught.

The game keepers used to catch them and
 skin them they made very fine fir waist
coats out of them

Are these little chaps only found on the UK ?
Please let me know if you have them in countries beyond our shores

They are about four and half inches long with very powerful front feet

These Little Creatures Burrow

These little creatures burrow, and dig endlessly all day,
In total darkness all their lives, don't have time to play,
Every here and there they push, mound of soil up top,
In the most annoying places, n' nout to make them stop.

Their coat is fine and silky, and it brushes either way,
Because in tiny tunnels, shunt backward with no delay,
In good rich soil finding earth worms, catch them unaware,
To feed his busy little body, with no one will he share.

His feet are as little spades, to dig a longer tunnel,
And with his back feet shove the soil, up a little funnel,
This is when you see soil move, pushed up from below,
A mole is what I'm looking for, just to say hello.


At one time we had a family of moles working there way across a low area of meadow ground, running into a substantial depth of peat. Every now and then we get a summer flood like we did last year, just after we had got all the silage bales away.

This one particular year we were in the middle of actually baling with the small conventional baler, and left the baler on the meadows. Over night there was a substantial down pour, and the ditches and the brook that they run into are well weeded up and it impedes the flow.

As you see from this pictue the ditch is well weeded up and the cattle tend to reach down into the channel for that tasty leaf of grass or plant just out of reach, but it is decieving an inch or so of clear water covers abot fifteen foot of peat. The crust of turf on the meadow bends with the weight of tractors and such like, then spring back up as you pass, and when the cattle come running up to you the whole area shakes like a jelly

So it did not take much for the meadow to flood, much to the annoyance of the moles. I went to retrieve the baler in about six inches of water, and to my amazement saw a couple of moles swimming for dear life in the wrong direction. Of coarse it was much too dangerous for me to follow them, as the area is dissected by deep drainage channels, the flood levelled the meadows off, so you could not see where they are.

This picture is taken from a bank on the edge of the peat, our meadows are in between the two woods, they have been mown mid July and aftermath is being grazed, the rough grass strips are the drainage channels which are weeded out each year in September by the river board for which we pay a drainage rate.

We have called cattle off those fields in flood from time to time, the older ones seem to sense where to go, but the followers, that years spring born calves soon find out how to swim, and swim towards the cows.
Our cows have all been born on the place and know not to get in the peaty ditches, learning as calves. Once one has been in the ditch, they never go in again, and remember that all their lives.
The calves can most often get out themselves, being agile and not too heavy, the evidence of which is a black tide mark up to a few inches from the top of the shoulders, although they must be counted twice a day and the ones that are stuck got out immediately.
It makes me wince when you see the firemen have been called out to get a cow out of a peaty ditch, a whole crew of men or perhaps two crews trying to get a fire hose under the belly of the animal. On the odd occasion when I have bought in a cow or in calf heifer, and they got stuck, I take an old cow chain and a length of rope and the fore end loader.

I put the chain round the cow's neck, attach the rope to it under the cows chin, and then fasten to the loader. Lift gently but firmly, and start moving back, the cow's neck looks long at this point, but don't worry it will hold the whole weight of her body. Once out they stand up in a daze, it gives you time to detach the chain and rope. The whole operation, one man and tractor, ten minutes at tops. Never lost one using this method, or pulled its neck out, but a horse I am told by the old men of the village would soon get a broken neck.
I was told that before the days of tractors the way was to take the old iron wheeled muck cart, the ones with five foot wooden wheels, back it up to the ditch and remove the horse from the shafts.

Lift the shafts skywards until the rear of the cart is in the grass. Rope or chain round the cows neck, or in them days round the horns, and threaded up over the front of the cart and tied to the shafts. I know there was always more men about back in them days, so about four men were able with a bit of luck pull the shafts down to the ground, and a man on each wheel wheeled the cart forward thus extracting the said cow,( not dead) cow.

When we first had a Fordson tractor and the next four tractor generations of tractor as well, they had no cabs and only later did we have one with a loader fitted. The removal of a cow from the peat went like this. Reverse up to the ditch, hitch onto the cow as described before, and feed the rope over the top of one rear tyre and tie it off down the far side. It is important to be dead in line for this, and someone with a hand on the rope easily guides it over the centre of the tread, and gently drive forwards.

 The whole reason for this lifting as opposed to dragging, is that a cow dragged will put her from legs out straight in front to pull against the rope and push her front legs under the turf bank into the soft peat and anchor there, that would be a good time to pull her neck out.
So lift and pull is the name of the game, this is made a lot easier with the modern four wheel drive loaders and tractors.
I think I could give tuition to the likes of the fire men, but as so often happens, their chief know best how to make it into a whole days work for eight or ten men and couple of appliances and maul the animal half to death, creating vet bills on top as well. You see the result of there work on the evening news or in the weekend papers, most of which could be avoided.

Not being critical, its just practical experience, its costly if you get it wrong, and as a farmer, if it hits you in the pocket, it is remembered for ever.

If there comes a little thaw,Still the air is chill and raw,Here and there a patch of snow,Dirtier than the ground below,Dribble down a marshy flood,Ankle deep you stick in mud,In the meadow while you sing,"This is spring".Christopher Pearce Cranch A Spring Growl


  1. We've got moles in Tennessee Fred, and they start their digging about now here too....right when we start getting some pretty sharp frosts in the morning. We don't worry too much about moles as they are a nuisance but don't do too much damage. We persecute groundhogs pretty hard though, because their holes are as big as stove pipes and can easily break a cow or horse's leg.

  2. Jason we don't have groundhogs over here in UK, had to look on google to see what you were talking about. They do look troublesome, hole digging and all that.
    We have rabbits, someone took some to Autsralia in the early days from UK and they exploded into millions.
    Think we can manage very well without groundhogs.

  3. We do have moles in the States but they are not as big as yours. They do not inflict the same damage upon the land as those in the UK. I came across your blog when I performed a search on moles. You see, my great great great great grandfather, Richard Knagg (born 1772 - died 1832), and his son,were champion mole catchers in Garstang, Lancaster (now Lancashire). Delightful reading, your blog. Thanks for the interesting and informative info.

  4. Thanks for your reply Joy,

    The mole catchers here used to skin them, and sell the skins to make mole skin waistcoats and the like, very up market back then.

    Have you done your family tree all the way back to Garstang 1772/1832.

    Have a look at this blog