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Mouse-proof your house. December 29, 2013

Posted by ourfriendben in critters, homesteading, pets, wit and wisdom.
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Silence Dogood here. Hawk’s Haven, the cottage home our friend Ben and I share here in the precise middle of nowhere, Pennsylvania, is surrounded by farm fields. Farm fields mean field mice. A plentiful deer population means white-footed deer mice. And when it gets cold outside and the food supply starts to dwindle, their thoughts turn to a warm, cozy cottage home.

Mice—especially white-footed mice—may look cute, but there are two very good reasons to keep them out of your house. One is the horrible mess they make if they do get into something—shredded cloth, ripped-up packages, spilled food, massive amounts of droppings and the stench of mouse urine. The other is disease. White-footed deer mice are the actual carriers of the ticks that spread debilitating Lyme disease. In the Southwest, mice carry the often-fatal hantavirus. It’s easy to blame rats for the resurgence of plague in the U.S., but who’s to know? Maybe plague-carrying fleas have made the short jump to mice.

Needless to say, when you grow up in rural, mouse-friendly houses, as OFB and I both did, you learn some standard anti-mouse procedures early on. And here at Hawk’s Haven, we’ve developed others.

Yes, of course you can smear something sticky, like peanut butter or Brie, on mousetraps and set them where mice can get them but you and your pets and kids are unlikely to get snapped. If you use mousetraps, I suggest you dump the poor little carcasses in the shrubbery so your overwintering wildlife can get some extra protein. For my part, people who use glue traps can rot in them themselves in a hell of agony, terror, and slow death.

If you don’t have kids or pets, you can set out poison bait, as my father always did. Unfortunately, this process involves a step they never advertise on the packaging: The mice don’t die right away. Instead, they inevitably crawl into the woodwork or somewhere else where you’ll never find them, then die and proceed to rot and stink for months on end. It’s just amazing how strong a tiny little mouse carcass can smell. Eeewwww!!! And don’t ever let anything, pet or wildlife, eat a poisoned carcass, unless you want to inflict more death.

You can of course also try your hand with live traps, and good luck to you. Please check them often, or the mice will suffocate in terror. And please have a humane release plan that doesn’t involve dumping them on someone else’s land. Good luck with that!

I guess it’s obvious that we don’t use poison or traps here at Hawk’s Haven. We prefer a simple program of deterrence. Our first line of defence is our two indoor cats and beloved black German shepherd, Shiloh. It’s true that every now and again, one of the cats will catch a mouse. But far more often, their pursuit of the mice, launching themselves against the heating ducts or whatnot with Shiloh in hot and happy pursuit, is enough to make the mice rethink their strategy. Retreat suddenly looks like a great idea.

We’d recommend cats to anyone. But our longterm strategy is much simpler and more passive: exclusion. First, we try to make sure there are no openings, however small, into our home, such as a tiny space around a pipe. We’ve heard that mice can squeeze through an opening the size of a dime. Though this is hard to believe of our fat country mice, we take no chances, filling space where pipes and the like enter the house with steel wool, then duct-taping over it.

Next, we store mouse-friendly foods in mouse-proof containers. Cheeses, butter, produce and nuts live in our fridge until it’s time to eat them. Grains, pasta, beans, and cereals are in large glass or hard plastic click-top containers. Everything else that’s out is in cans, bottles, or glass jars. We keep our pet food in huge tins, and keep our black-oil sunflower seed and suet cakes for the outdoor birds in a tin as well. (Note: If, like us, you thought mice were vegetarians, you’ll be shocked to learn that they appear to love meat-rich cat-food pellets as much as any cat.)

We’re also mindful of things that wouldn’t strike us as edible, like soap and candles. Mice love ’em, so we keep them in secure, mouse-proof storage. Ditto for all natural fabrics. Mice are especially fond of wool—knitters, guard your yarn!—but cotton is fair game, as is paper, cardboard, you name it. Don’t risk it! Store your goods in those big plastic staorage bins you can get at any pharmacy or discount store or office supply store when they’re not hung up in your closet. And check your dresser drawers weekly.

Finally, if you do have pets, please dose them monthly with Frontline, Advantix, or some other flea- and tick-repellent. This will help you do an end-run around mice that might be carriers of disease via fleas or ticks, and save your pets as well as you.

‘Til next time,

Silence

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Eek! A mouse (x 2)! July 1, 2012

Posted by ourfriendben in critters, homesteading, pets, wit and wisdom.
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Silence Dogood here. I wasn’t particularly pleased to be awakened at 5 a.m. this morning by our beloved black German shepherd, Shiloh, requesting a bathroom break, since I’d been working on a project until midnight the previous night. Aaauuugghh!!! But the groggy aggravation paled before the sight that greeted me when I returned to the living room and saw that one of our cats, Layla, had caught a mouse. AAAUUGHHHHH!!!!

Mind you, normally mice try to find food and warmth in our home in the winter. Why one would have chosen to come in here during a scorching summer beats me, unless it naively assumed the house would be cooler than outside.

At any rate, it was the smallest mouse I’d ever seen. And it was still very much alive and outraged but (so far) unharmed, squeaking its outrage at Layla as she played with it. So I pulled on the heavy fireplace glove and grabbed it. Or, at least, I tried to grab it repeatedly, with a little help from an increasingly bemused Layla. (This technique has worked fine in the past, but because the fireproof glove is so thick and stiff, I was concerned that I’d crush the tiny mouse rather than scooping it up and immobilizing it.)

Finally, I had it in my grasp. I’d already—trained by years of this procedure with our former cat, Jessie—unlocked the front door. So I carted the mouse to the door and threw it back in the yard. Unlike Jessie, who would actually alert me to her catches with a distinctive cry and bring them to the front-door mat, then wait for me to don the glove and open the door so I could scoop up the mouse and toss it out, Layla looked appalled by the entire procedure. I attempted to shower her with praise—who wants mice in the house?!—but it was clear that she thought the whole thing was downright bizarre, if not an outrage.

By now, I was fully awake, and not pleased about it on a Sunday morning when I desperately needed to catch up on missed sleep. But oh, well. I settled in with the morning papers and a cup of tea and tried to make the best of it.

So you can imagine my horror when I walked into the living room an hour later and there was the same mouse in the floor! Creeping closer, I looked to see if it was still alive. And that’s when I saw that it was one of the tiny grey fur toy mice that our friend Ben (naturally, travelling during this crisis) had bought as a special treat for the cats. We hadn’t seen one of them in years. But somehow Layla had found it and set it in plain sight, in case I wanted another mouse. She certainly had the last laugh!

               ‘Til next time,

                            Silence

Eek! A mouse. August 20, 2010

Posted by ourfriendben in critters, homesteading, pets, Uncategorized, wit and wisdom.
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Silence Dogood here. It is a truth universally acknowledged that all cats, however cute and cuddly they may seem, are, in their heart of hearts, ruthless predators. And that all cat owners, however tenderhearted, had better acknowledge this up front for the sake of their ongoing cardiac fitness.

Indoor cats may content themselves with killing cat toys. Or they may turn to those evil alien invaders, aka bugs, and make it their duty to stop them before they take over. Outdoor cats’ choices are typically broader: shrews, moles, voles, songbirds, and chipmunks, as well as the aforementioned bugs and any fish they can nab in your water garden or stream. And if, like our unfortunate friends Carolyn and Gary, you’ve thoughtfully installed a cat door so your little precious can go in and out at will, you may be confronted with the very-much-alive-and-now-loose-in-the-house results of your cat’s hunting skills at regular intervals.

But today, my topic is mice. Specifically, mice in the house. it seems like every cat has a unique way of dealing with mice, and if, like us, you live in the country, you have plenty of chances to see all these variations in action. We’ve found livers and spleens on our door mat. We’ve seen mice killed but left whole in situ for our admiration. We’ve found decapitated mice, either the head or the rest, depending on the cat.

Our all-time favorite mouser was our huge, gorgeous Maine coon, Diamondridge Seamus Beaumaine. Seamus was a no-fuss, no-muss mouser. If he discovered a mouse, he’d scoop it up in one huge paw, toss it down the hatch, and that was that. Melts in your mouth, not in your hands.

Our most problematic mouser was our senior cat, Tawillow’s Jessie Beaumaine. Jessie knew that her duty was to rid the household of all mice. And she was very good at catching them. But unfortunately, once she’d caught one, she thought it was our responsibility to take it from there. She would roam through the house, a live, uninjured mouse in her mouth, making a distinctive noise that I think of as the “broken cat noise.” And this could go on. And on.

I finally worked out a system for dealing with Jessie: When I heard the broken cat noise—inevitably around 2 a.m.—I’d haul myself out of bed, put on the fireplace gloves, and unlock the front door. Jessie would obediently trot up and drop the mouse on the doormat. It was then my responsibility to scoop up the mouse in the glove before it could get away and toss it out the front door.

Now, nobody likes being awakened in the dead of night by the announcement that there’s a live mouse in your cat’s mouth and you’d better do something about it pronto. But really, the system worked pretty well. Until the night that I didn’t wake up to the siren call. (And of course, our friend Ben just had to be away that night.)  Jessie was outraged that her heroic efforts were being ignored. So she did what any self-respecting cat would do, which is to say, jumped up on our high bed with the mouse in her mouth to show me her accomplishment.

Unfortunately, the effort of jumping that high and holding onto the mouse simultaneously proved too much: Jessie dropped the mouse, which proceeded to flee across my bare arm. As noted, I was sleeping at the time. As a result, I’m down to two of my original nine lives, and the neighbors probably assumed from my screams that the Texas Chainsaw Massacre was being reenacted here at Hawk’s Haven.

Our current bunch of cats strike me as losers in the mouse-catching category. The present feline matriarch, Tawillow’s Athena Beaumaine, will disdainfully watch mouse-hunting but declines to participate. And our siblings, Linus and Layla, are so inept they give cats a bad name. However, something has been catching mice around here and leaving them for the unsuspecting yours truly to encounter.

One reason I’m unsuspecting is that mice out here in the country usually have plenty to eat outdoors until winter, so we don’t typically see them inside until snow and ice have decimated their usual food sources and sent them running for food and warmth. But this year, the drought has been so bad all summer and part of the spring that their food supply may have literally dried up.

The other reason I’m unsuspecting is that a dead mouse—at least, a dead mouse in this latest incarnation—looks remarkably like any of the numerous dog toys strewn across the floor, especially when it’s not really light out yet and your synapses don’t even start firing until 10 a.m. Both times I’ve discovered one, I’ve bent over to pick it up, thinking it was yet another wad of string pulled from a rope toy by our black German shepherd, Shiloh, aka The Toyminator.

Let me just note that coming within an inch of touching a dead mouse with your bare hand is not a good way to start the day. And these were not just any dead mice. They looked like they’d been stretched on the rack, then rolled through a press: sort of the mouse equivalent of a candy bar. What the bleep?!

As Sherlock Holmes observed, when you’ve eliminated the impossible, whatever remains, however improbable, must be the truth. In this case, I think our latest mouser is a dog, especially given the proximity of each “mouse bar” to a pile of dog toys.

Well, whatever works. But I’m telling you, Shiloh, if the day dawns when I actually do touch one of those flattened carcasses, you’d better watch out for your own carcass. After all, I’m down to my last two lives.

                 ‘Til next time,

                                 Silence

Rats!!! (and mice) November 7, 2009

Posted by ourfriendben in chickens, critters, gardening, homesteading, pets, wit and wisdom.
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Readers, please cover your eyes if you can’t imagine a mouse in your house or greenhouse, or a (shudder) rat in your garage, attic, or chicken coop. Relief is only a (mouse) click away! (Sorry, I can never resist a pun.)

Our friend Ben’s family home was out in the country, and while there were no working farms around us, there was plenty of open space, including our 3 1/4-acre property. Every fall, the onset of cold weather signalled the field mice that it was time to leave their rapidly cooling nests and head into our Colonial home for the winter. Mercifully, there were never all that many, but we typically had at least one (or three) every winter.

Most of the time, my parents kept a snap-trap (the classic mousetrap) baited and set under the kitchen sink. As far as I know, my mother refused ever to look under the sink for any reason, but my father occasionally remembered to check the trap, especially if the horrendous stench of putrefying mouse provided a subtle reminder.

The experience of discovering and disposing of dead, decaying mice apparently was a bit much even for Father, though, and eventually he had the bright idea to put out mouse poison under the sink instead. Bad, bad idea!!! A poisoned mouse doesn’t just drop on the spot, clutching its stomach and giving deathbed orations like a Shakespearian actor. Instead, it will crawl quietly back into its hole in the wall to die. Into its, furthermore, completely inacessible hole in the wall, where it will stink to high heaven for a very, very long time, in a manner completely unrelated to its size. Our friend Ben has never forgotten that very distinctive smell, and sometimes I think I will carry the memory of it in my nostrils ’til I die. Certainly, it’s not a smell I ever want to encounter again in this life.

Unfortunately from the rodent-population point of view, Hawk’s Haven, the cottage home our friend Ben and Silence Dogood share in the precise middle of nowhere, PA, is surrounded by working farm fields. This is very rich territory for mice and voles of all types and stripes, and the farmers’ corncribs and barns are open invitations to rats as well. To make matters worse, our quaint country cottage is an old, rather rickety and ramshackle clapboard affair, with plenty of entry points for a determined mouse. (We’ve never had a rat in the house—knock on wood!—but a friend has told us such horror stories of rats invading his even more rural home that it’s enough to give us nightmares.) Just as in my childhood home, every fall when the frost is on the pumpkin, the mice decide that it’s time to head indoors. And it doesn’t take much for them to get in—mice can enter a home through a dime-size opening, and even rats only need a space the size of a half-dollar.

In the past, we’ve resorted to snap traps, but not only does it make us feel terrible to see the poor dead mouse in the trap, I have to say that frankly, we’re afraid of the traps. Neither Silence nor our friend Ben is what you’d call coordinated, and we’re far more likely to get caught in the trap ourselves while trying to set it. We also tried those plug-in thingies that supposedly emit some kind of noise that we can’t hear but rodents can. Uh-huh. And when, years ago, neighboring farm rats discovered the food bonanza at our little chicken coop, we did set out a poisoned bait station (which worked like a charm) after sending our hens on a spa vacation, then very sadly disposed of the rat bodies. To this day, we keep a poisoned bait box in an inaccessible (to the chickens) part of our chicken yard, but thank God, rats are smart and have very long communal memories, and we’ve never seen another one. (We’ve also learned to only set out as much food as our chickens can eat in a day.)

Our ultimate solution has been cats. We’ve found cats to be a marvelous deterrent to rodents of all kinds both inside and outside the house. Of course, some cats are better mousers than others, and all have distinctive techniques. There was Seamus Beaumaine, our enormous Maine coon male, the no-fuss, no-muss mouser. He’d catch any mouse that ventured indoors, toss it in the air, and swallow it whole. Then there was our Jessie, who worked out a collaborative arrangement with Silence, who loves the cute little native white-footed deer mice. Jessie would catch mice but never kill them. Instead, she’d trot around with an unharmed mouse in her mouth, making a very distinctive “I have a mouse!” noise. When Silence heard this, she’d get out of bed, turn on the living room lights, unlock the front door, and put on the heavy fireplace gloves. Jessie would bring the mouse to the front door and drop it on the doormat, at which point Silence would grab it with the gloves and toss it out the door. We still miss our Jess.

Our current indoor lineup of Athena, Linus and Layla are pretty much untried, mouse-wise. We think that’s because outdoor cats Simon and Dixie are doing such a good job that no mice can make it into the house. But based on past experience, we don’t think that two cats are quite enough to patrol our 2/3-acre property. In fact, we decided that the ideal number is eight outdoor cats to keep mice, rats, voles, squirrels, chipmunks, and rabbits at bay. Thanks to drop-offs by insensitive idiots, we’ve had eight (and more) here in the past. And at eight, our property is absolutely vermin-free.

By now, you may be wondering if there’s a solution that will keep your own place mouse- and/or rat-free that’s a little easier than importing an army of cats. We don’t like snap traps, poison inside the house is a definite no way, we’d as soon be dead as use those torturing, appalling glue traps, and live traps simply pass the problem on to someone else or to native rodent populations, and are illegal in several states for that reason. What to do?

Well, our friend Ben read about what looked like a simple and effective solution this morning on MSN. Maybe someone really has finally invented a better mousetrap! It’s called the Rat Zapper, but it works on mice as well. And as the name implies, it electrocutes its victims. Heading over to the Rat Zapper website (http://www.ratzapper.com/), our friend Ben saw that they carried two models, the Rat Zapper Classic and the new Infrared Rat Zapper Ultra, both of which look a bit like miniature covered bridges. You bait the battery-powered boxes, the mouse or rat wanders in for a bite, and zap! Once a rodent is killed by the trap, a red light on the trap comes on to alert you to empty it, which you do by simply upending it over the (we’re hoping, outdoor) trash can, then placing the trap back and rebaiting it to await its next victim. There are several accessories for your traps, including an outdoor cover to protect the batteries should you wish to use a trap outdoors. And the zap effect is supposed to be very quick and humane, as opposed to snap-traps, poison, glue traps, and (presumably) cats.

We’re not in the market for a mouse or rat trap at the moment, so God willing, we’ll never have to put a Rat Zapper to the test ourselves. But if we ever experience an invasion the cats can’t keep under control, you can bet we’ll be checking it out.

What else can you do? Shove lots of steel wool into the openings around pipes and into any holes in the exterior of your home to block rodent access. Block the mouths of pipes such as clothes dryer exhaust pipes where they emerge outdoors with screening, secured with the clamps that are used for plumbing pipes. Keep all your food, pet food, and birdseed in rodent-proof  metal, glass, or sturdy plastic containers if it’s not already canned or refrigerated. Don’t leave uneaten pet food sitting out overnight, either outside or inside. Cover the opening into your chimney with hardware cloth. And, of course, get cats!

How do you keep mice (or worse) out of your home?