Colorado couple uses a safe, humane method to kill groundhogs and other burrowing mammals
March 3, 2017
To schedule with Prairie Dog Exterminators, Inc., call Carol Badding at (970) 216-0952, Mike Badding at (970) 985-5925, or e-mail them at email@example.com
Long-time ranchers Mike and Carol Badding of Cedaredge, Colo., who raise champion Boer goats on 38 acres, know what it's like to have prairie dog holes in the pasture. Both grew up target-practicing on the varmints, and learned it's not a very effective way to keep populations down. In March, 2016, the couple bought a specialized gassing machine, along with a business, and named it Prairie Dog Terminators, LLC. Since then, they have been steadily expanding their new venture, eliminating prairie dogs as far away as Montrose and Ridgeway.
The business has allowed the Baddings to work together while setting their own hours. Transporting the gassing machine has been no problem since it is easy to maintain and load. But most importantly, the carbon monoxide it produces has provided a quick and humane way to kill unwanted pests.
"Nature usually keeps prairie dog populations at bay," said Paul Dill of Cedaredge, builder of the machines. "They drown during flood irrigation seasons or get wiped out by the plague, which is transmitted by fleas." During droughts, however, populations tend to explode.
"A friend of ours had a bad infestation. He described to me the machine a previous exterminator had used to kill them." Working out of his shop, Dill came up with his own, original machine from that idea. He and wife Tracy sold the business after four years because they were too busy with other things.
Dill doesn't like to use pesticides on prairie dogs because the poison "stays in the meat. It spreads to the predators that eat it, including cats, dogs, fox, badgers, and black-footed ferrets."
To prevent harm to them, he chose carbon monoxide, which doesn't leave residuals. "I built six machines before coming up with the one we sold to Mike and Carol," Dill said, "tearing them apart and trying again until I got it right."
That first attempt looked like "a huge, modified air compressor," Tracy Dill said, "and it was too heavy for me to move."
Through a series of hoses and wands, the gassing machine forces pressurized carbon monoxide, flowing at 50 pounds per square feet, from its two tanks into holes left by anything that burrows. The gas travels downward and floods the chambers, putting the rodents to sleep.
Burrowing mammals such as prairie dogs, ground hogs, ground squirrels, and gophers might look cute, but for farmers and ranchers they're a real nuisance. Large sections of crops get wiped out as they devour seeds, roots and bulbs. "They can render your acreage useless by destroying the ground," Mike Badding said. "One cow or calf that snaps a leg might cost the rancher between $1,500 and $2,000."
Prairie dogs multiply at an astonishing rate, too. "Each hole has one male and about four females. The females have four to six pups each in the spring. That equals anywhere from 21 to 30 dogs in one hole alone."
Mitchell Coleman, an assistant environmental scientist with OK, Inc., said, "All rodents reproduce like crazy. The young reach maturity quickly and start having their own young before too long. They can be quite a large management challenge because there are so many of them."
The youngsters either take over vacated burrows or dig a new one. Since those underground tunnels aren't usually connected, the Baddings gas each opening individually. Depending on the size of the job, they charge either $55 an hour or $4 a hole, plus mileage. It takes 5 to 7 minutes per hole, and both the varmints and the fleas that live on them are killed.
It's important to stay on top of burrowing mammals. If "villages" get too congested, the plague, which spreads through fleas, usually moves in. Former Delta Hospital Board member, John Breitnauer, said, "The plague can wipe out entire colonies, and it spreads through the air and by touch. If you ever see a bunch of prairie dogs lying dead on the ground, stay away. They're carriers." Humans can die from that plague, as well.
Yet another advantage to the carbon monoxide machine is, the bodies remain underground. It's considered a fumigant, defined as a type of pesticide used commercially or publicly. Mike had to get a license to administer pesticides through the Department of Agriculture.
"I am certified for all outdoor vertebrae, from beaver to squirrels to skunks," he said. He is also able to trap and remove whatever is causing a problem, like bats in the attic or raccoons that pry into garbage cans.
The Baddings have had so much success with Prairie Dog Exterminators, LLC that they've purchased a second machine. As they gear up for their first scheduled jobs of 2017, Carol said, "We'd like to expand even farther, towards Naturita, Nucla, Gunnison, and beyond."
Right now, it's high time to get started. With warmer weather spreading across the Western slope, "Those little heads are already poking up out of the ground." ❖
— White lives on the Western slope of Colorado. Her email is firstname.lastname@example.org.