Until today, when I read my dad’s column from 21st October 1978, I had no idea that badgers were such clean, house-proud animals. Apparently their setts have several similarities in design to the human house, and how they manage that and keep it spic and span is a lesson to many (particularly my own sons who could learn a thing or two about tidiness and hygiene).
Its home is the centre of a badger’s world and is made up of a number of underground interconnecting tunnels and chambers. Like a human house, it has separate quarters for sleeping, or for the sow to use when she gives birth, and a number of different entrances. Both the male and females regularly bring in fresh bedding, which consists leaves, grass, bracken and even bluebells, and they keep their feet clean by scraping their claws across a scratching post just outside the set.
Not too far from the home will be a spot or two where they go to the toilet, thus keeping the inside of their sett very clean.
They live in clans, with several badger families using the same one, which will often have been established over many generations. Setts can be extensive, and consist of the main sett, and a number of sub-setts nearby.
In the column I mentioned earlier, Dad talks about a debate he was having with some of his colleagues over lunch which concerned whether foxes and badgers were known to live side by side in the same burrow. It seems the opinion was split with some arguing that badgers and foxes made quite happy housemates, while others declared it would never happen because, where badgers were the Hyacinth Bouquets of the woodland world, foxes, on the other hand, were the Waynetta Slobs.
A fox will eat just about anything, dead or alive, rotting or fresh, and also has a very stinky scent gland at the root of its tail. If it is being hunted, it will try to disguise its distinctive B.O. by rolling in farmyard muck, and it has no qualms about dragging all that pongy poo and plother into its home.
I have to say, that even when I despair of the state of my children’s bedrooms, which can resemble student squats, I haven’t yet got to the point where I don’t want to live with them, and maybe the badger is tolerant like that. According to the Department of Agriculture, Environment and Rural Affairs (DAERA), foxes and rabbits will not only inhabit abandoned setts, but have also been known to live side by side with badgers. So if they say that, then it must be true and puts an end to the argument.
There is one thing about the fox, though, that really irritates me, and that is: Why do they have to poo in places popular with dog walkers?
To some dogs, fox poo is like a heavenly elixir sent down by the gods themselves. They gleefully gallop up to it, usually when the owner isn’t looking, and joyfully roll around in it until as much of their fur as possible is coated in its smelly sticky loveliness.
To the owner, however, a dog coated in fox poo is arguably the worst thing to experience on a walk. It is one of the most disgusting, nauseating stinks ever known to man, and trying to remove it is akin to trying to eradicate toxic waste from a nuclear bomb site. It just stays, wash after wash, and ordinary dog shampoo is no match for it.
I haven’t come across many novel or foolproof suggestions for getting rid of the rancid smell, but one suggestion that has cropped up more than once is to use tomato ketchup. I haven’t yet tried that myself, but would love to hear from anyone who has. I prefer to stick to special fox poo shampoo, although it still takes several applications to work effectively.
Once experienced, you never want to go through that kind of trauma ever again, and so when I’m walking dogs in rural areas, nowadays I turn my fox poo radar up to maximum. However, it is inevitable that at some point my guard will slip.
So if you spot me on a walk, and I am shouting “Nooooooooooooooooo…..” while sprinting towards a dog in a ‘Tom-Cruise-in-Mission-Impossible-Just-Before-The-Bomb-Goes-Off’ fashion, you will know why.
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