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Ticks, sharks and other things that bite 

Life on the Farm 


If you go outdoors and get off the beaten path, or into the salt water, you might be bitten. 


We’re talking just about ticks and sharks. We have both in the Carolinas, but how we deal with them depends on the hype. 


First, can we just agree that if we are bitten by either of these critters it is because we chose to put ourselves in harm‘s way? After all, the ocean is where sharks live and if you get into their water (that’s right, it doesn’t belong to us) you are taking a risk. 


Likewise, ticks do live, among other places, in the grass of wooded areas and around lakes and ponds. Go there, get ticks. 


Or, as was the case this week, go there with your dogs and get ticks from your dogs. 


We have a bumper crop of ticks this year in the Carolinas. Until this week, we had found only one tick on the farm for several years after we began raising guinea fowl, a bird the size of a chicken that devours ticks faster than people queued up at the Scoop for ice cream. 


But some environmental changes occurred. The weather, for one, is hotter and drier this summer. Another is that our guinea fowl population went from about 50 birds free ranging across most of the farm to a handful. 


Yesterday morning I was up before sunrise getting dressed. When I started to put on my socks I noticed a black speck on the instep of my foot. A closer look revealed a dog tick, which I quickly and easily removed because it had not dipped its spiny wick into my bloodstream. Maybe it tried and found the taste not to its liking. 


But when I brushed my hair, I spotted another dark spot where one didn’t belong. Sure enough, a second tick, also unattached. 


Both were dispatched in the most effective and satisfying way possible—by fire. You simply hold the little bugger—tightly—with a pair of tweezers and set fire to it with a match or lighter. There is a very satisfying “pop” sound and, like ice cream on a hot summer day, it’s gone. 


After sending them back to whence they came, I mentally retraced my steps of the previous day. Since I’ve never picked up a tick when working in the blueberry or hay fields, that was eliminated. But then I remembered two off-the-beaten path adventures. 


First, one of my granddaughters who was getting a lesson is driving our four-wheeled off-road farm vehicle sideswiped some tree limbs, with most of the leaves and branches falling in the lap of her grandfather. But I eliminated the ride on the wild side, because ticks don’t usually hang out on pine needles. 


Then I remembered that we had taken two of our four dogs on a hike around the farm and stopped at the neighborhood pond to discuss some fishing. One of those dogs, our yellow lab named “Harley,” bounded through the tall grass and weeds and plunged into the cool, refreshing pond water. 


In the evening, the granddaughters had all four dogs in the family room playing couch-chair-human surfing. And that, my friends, is where the ticks transfer occurred. From weeds to dogs to humans. 


Ticks live in wooded, weedy and grassy areas the way sharks live in the ocean. Because they can’t jump or fly, ticks hang out hoping a host—that would be you, me, dogs, deer, mice—will come along for them to latch onto and feast on their blood. 


Of course, once you have found a tick on your body you imagine for days that they are crawling all over you. This results in frequent bathing and performing tick checks, both satisfying. 


Larry McDermott, a retired journalist, owns a 40-acre organic farm in Rutherfordton, where he grows blueberries, keeps bees and raises horses, dairy goats, chickens and turkeys. Email: hardscrabblehollow@gmail.com or see farm happenings at www.facebook.com/hardscrabblehollowfarmllc  

Larry McDermott