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Three out of four Wood ticks prefer me to you – Agweek

Just as we were retreating from the school year and all the germs that came with it, it felt like we might just escape the plague of 2024. And most of us have been healthy.

But illness took my wife out of the game again for several days after Memorial Day, including a visit to the clinic for some tests. The tests revealed a small surprise.

I’m sure I’ll get at least four wood signs besides my wife’s, and yet she’s been the unlucky one so far this season. Her one tick shared a disease with her that made her joints ache and her appetite disappear and all her energy drained. Not the way you want to start summer and a busy gardening season.

She has been given the antibiotics she needs to fight off illness and is feeling much better again. I am so grateful. Still, I’m increasingly concerned about the ability of a small, annoying insect to harm health.

Of the approximately 63,000 wood ticks I’ve had this season, I’ve probably had half a dozen that lasted at least part of the day. Even some deer ticks, which seem to go straight for a bite instead of their pickier dog tick cousins. This time of year I almost always check myself for ticks.

I can honestly say that after years of growing up outside, I don’t think I’ve ever had as many ticks on me as on our new property. And until now I’ve never worried much about the little critters.

I would say it was the day we laid the irrigation pipe out of the well that as kids we really had to be prepared for all kinds of bugs. Carrying the pipe through the untamed grass at the waterhole to the main line meant that ticks were just one of many targeting us. We sprayed with OFF, knowing that without OFF the mosquitoes would take us deep into the forest.

Even with a little spray, we still had to spray some more as we worked to connect the line to the pump and again to the pivot. And at the water’s edge were those terrifyingly large brown spiders that launch themselves through the tall grass or float across the surface of the water. I’m sure none of them ever bit me, because if they had, I wouldn’t be writing this today.

It was my father who often suffered the worst, because he was the one who connected the pump motor to the fuse box. While he had a steady hand pulling the wiring tight, my brother or I tried to shoo the mosquitoes away from the small amount of skin visible around the collar of his shirt. Back under the trees the mosquitoes had us right where they wanted us. They had probably become accustomed to our annual pilgrimage to their watering hole. I imagine the smell of our spray was almost an attractant at one point.

Of course, I can’t forget the time the breaker box was filled with wasps. That required an additional trip back home for something more powerful before we could continue.

Once we were out of the woods, we were still not out of the woods. There the deer flies and horseflies were ready to take turns biting us. Just like King Kong waving at fighter planes from the Empire State Building, I would bang my hat about every few seconds to see how many I could shoot down. I’ve killed about zero flies that way.

It’s a wonder we haven’t all succumbed to some insect-borne virus. Maybe it was the steady stream of raw milk or the sweat sessions we had in the haystack that kept us so resilient. Those days are long gone.

(While writing this column, the author had to check on his chickens and managed to get three more wood ticks. Be safe out there.)

Michael Johnson

Michael Johnson is the news editor for Agweek. He lives in rural Deer Creek, Minnesota, where he starts a farm with his two children and wife.
You can reach Michael at [email protected] or 218-640-2312.

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