Preventing Mouse Damage on the Homestead, baby mice, homesteading

When I was discussing options with my insurance agent, I asked if we could get MDI, and surprisingly, she had no idea what I was talking about.  Apparently, all the insurance companies cover are mundane things like tornadoes, fires, theft, and flood.  Not a word about the most devastating disaster of all: Mouse Damage.

These tiny rodents are not only destructive, fast multiplying, and smelly, but they have unarguably the best public relations campaign in the history of public relations campaigns.  From level-headed justice-minded Mickey Mouse to pitiful lost Fivel and his hat that’s too big for him in American Tale, to the singing mice in t-shirts helping Cinderella get ready for the ball, big screen mice are all small whiskered heroes.  From the first time, we hear “M is for Mouse” (unless you are Canadian where “M is for Moose”) we have a warm fuzzy feeling regarding the little stinkers.

So the first time one makes a wrong turn and scampers across your feet, your likely reaction will be something on the order of “AAAIIIIEEEEE! (In midair, followed by a whole-body shudder upon hitting the ground), but then “AWWWWW… it’s so CUTE!”, and you will not only NOT be aware of the impending menace, you will consider yourself fortunate to have had such a close encounter with a little jewel of Nature.

Several days later, scanning the pantry shelf for a nice can of chicken soup, you will see them—and you will think to yourself, “My, those mice are resourceful—leaving a trail of chewy mouse raisins to find their way back home, just like in Hansel and Gretel”.  It should only take a split second for your mind (the human mind being the marvel that it is) to discard the notion of mouse grocery stores selling mouse raisins for the express purpose of navigational convenience, and realize that what is actually all over your pantry shelves is MOUSE POOP.  This makes it an entirely different matter.

Right about then, still gagging from the idea of your food supply being used as a running rodent toilet, you will notice other subtle changes in the pantry.  Everything that can be gotten into will have been gotten into.  Cereal, pasta, bread, chips, anything not encased in metal or glass will have been tasted and tainted.

If the little darlings have been REALLY busy and REALLY hungry, you will no longer be able to find the chicken soup you originally came for since the label will have been peeled off and shredded.  I’ve found tiny teeth marks on the lid of the peanut butter (in it’s label-less jar).  We once had a tiny hole chewed though a full bottle of canola oil with nary a drop of oil on the shelf (don’t you know THOSE mice had really clean intestinal tracts), an entire batch of curing soap eaten through, and what made my son a lifelong Mouse Hater: a complete 10-pack of Yoo-Hoo-in-a-Box’s broken into and slurped down.

“Wow,” you are thinking, “this chick is a REALLY bad housekeeper!”

A true enough statement, but not completely relevant to this topic.

This scope of damage can be done in an insanely short period of time.  A single mouse can visit a feeding spot up to 200 times a night (it’s true, I found it on the internet) and they have incredibly high metabolisms.

“Well, that’s YOUR problem”, you say; “it’s clearly your fault for living in a 100+-year-old house that’s about as airtight as a fishing net.  MY house has things like windows that close properly and floors that actually meet the walls.”

Mice are tiny.  They are stealthy and they are apparently collapsible (like those tin cups you were issued in your Scout Mess Kit).  Your average-sized mouse has no problem fitting through the same square footage that the Lord’s Prayer takes up on a grain of rice.  If your home contains ANY spaces this size or larger from the Outside World to the Inside World, you will have mice.

“Alrighty then”, you say, confident smile on your face, “I’m a human.  Mice are rodents.  It would take the contents of 100 mouse heads just to equal the size of MY brain (give or take).  I will put any food packaged in non-chew-through containers in the fridge, the freezer or in hermetically sealed mouse-proof bins, thereby solving the problem.  If there’s no food for them to get, they will go away.”

If that were the case, this would be the end of the story, and according to my editor, I must submit a minimum of 1000 words, and we are just 300 words shy of that.

Mice will find food.  Between the crumbs that fall on your floor, to the cat food in the cat dish (a cruel joke for the cat), there is still plenty of food to be had, especially if you are the caretakers of any fledgling people.  If there are children in your house, you are the proud owners of one big ol’ Super Mouse Buffet.

Once they have their food needs met, it’s time for a little nap. Or maybe a little procreation.  Or on a good day, both.  Mice will nest anywhere, but their preferred places seem to be inside a favorite pair of shoes in your closet, smack in the middle of a new roll of paper towels in the cabinet, or nestled snugly in a fluffy bed of the cloth that coats your electrical wires in between your walls.

Yes, having tiny brains even for their tiny heads, mice will not hesitate to take part in dangerous activities that will both kill them, and cause extreme stress for you and your pocketbook: eating through cords both telephonic and electric, burrowing into the innards of a microwave oven, or doing a graceful swan dive into your drinking water cistern.  The loss of one of their own is sad but not catastrophic, since mice are capable of truly epic reproduction.  A female mouse is mature enough to have babies at the tender age of 8 weeks and can produce up to 40 babies per year.  So if you start with one pregnant mouse in your kitchen, and given that 50% of her offspring will be females also, at the end of one year you will have….. ummm…… a lot of mice.

Luckily, you will not have to fight the onslaught of this Lilliputian horde alone.

Mice attract snakes.

One year as we were battling the mice, we noticed their numbers waning and we became smug.  Looking for something in a rarely-opened bottom cabinet, Ward found the real reason for our diminishing mouse population: a three-foot-long rat snake.  The snake was highly offended by the invasion of his personal space and left through the tiny hole he’d come in through, never to be seen again.  Our mouse population blossomed.

The enclosed porch that is now my workroom at one point was home to my guinea pigs and cockatiels.  When we converted it, we removed the cabinets against the wall and found an elaborate maze of trails that had been chewed into the particleboard floor.  Disgusted (Ward) and cursing (me), we swept up all the dusty refuse and bleached the whole place.  Shortly thereafter I had a little shortness of breath.  Looking up diseases on the internet (always dangerous), I found something called hantavirus.  Hantavirus is a disease that’s transmitted by mice to humans, and is sometimes fatal.  You get hantavirus by inhaling dried mouse poop (like the dust in the air when you are SWEEPING IT INTO A DUSTPAN), and breathing problems are one of the symptoms.  Now panicked and more than a little miffed that my gravestone might read “Done in by mouse poop”, I called my family doctor, who looked up hantavirus and told me that there was nothing to do pro-actively, and that I’d just have to wait out the “14 days from time of contact” for further symptoms to appear, since there’s no CURE per se, they just put you in the hospital when you are really sick, and treat the symptoms till you get better, or die. I developed no other symptoms, but it sure didn’t add anything to my already low opinion of mice and I wanted them all dead.

But how to kill the little devils?

Aren’t cats supposed to be the ultimate mouse-eradication device?  Depends on the cat.  A cat will hunt for one reason only.  Pleasure.  Cats do not hunt to find something to eat, and when you see a cat happily crunching on the head of something small and defenseless, it’s more of a victory dance than hunger relief.  I have one cat who was born to a life of luxury and lived completely indoors for his first few years who can take out 2 mice in a feed bag at once, and another who is wild as a March hare and I’ve never seen him kill anything, ever, in the 10 years he’s been living here.  I know of people who have put cats in their barns to kill mice and not fed them ‘so they’d hunt for food’.  The cats either took off for a better place to live or died of starvation.

I have found that my toy poodles are excellent mousers.  Smelling of foo-foo spray, bows in their hair, toenails aglitter with polish, they are curly-headed demons when they think a mouse is around.  Considering their size, I think it’s therapeutic for them to pick on something that’s actually smaller than they are.

One non-violent deterrent is stuffing any opening a mouse could fit through with steel wool, since they won’t chew on it (so ‘they’ say).  The problem with this is that you can never hope to find all those openings, and when you do, you should just FIX THEM.

Another natural deterrent is to soak cotton balls in peppermint oil and scatter them on your pantry shelves.  The mice love this one since it’s so tiresome just eating cereals and chips and so forth.  If you leave little notepads and pens also, they will write you thank you notes for being thoughtful enough to supply them with dessert.

There are lots of anti-mouse devices out there, and most of them flat don’t work.  The phrase ‘Don’t try to build a better mousetrap’ is right—the original is still the best. Let’s look at some of the others.

Many people reach for the D-Con-type poisons and they WILL kill mice.  Also, small dogs and children who eat it and cats or chickens who eat mice who’ve eaten it.  I’ve been in Emergency Animal care for too many years to recommend any way to use the stuff that’s remotely safe.

Those sticky boards they sell are just a laugh.  Oh, sure you load the thing with peanut butter in the center and the mice WILL get stuck.  For a minute.  Then they are off, tummies full of peanut butter and just the loss of a little hair to pay for it.  Pretty sweet.  Occasionally you will find a mouse in between eating the peanut butter and yanking himself off of the board, but what do you do THEN?  Stomp on it?  Gingerly put it in a plastic bag and wait for it to suffocate?  Drown it?  The whole thing is pretty unappealing. And again, if you have pets, most likely THEY like peanut butter too.  I have a vivid memory of my daughter’s cat running through the house on his hind legs, sticky board attached to his entire tummy and front legs, clearly not amused and laying full blame for his embarrassment on yours truly.

There are things called Tin Cats that are little metal lock-ups with one-way doors.  The mice go in, but can’t come out.  Once again, what the heck do you do with a metal box full of mice?

No, the clear choice is still the spring-loaded mousetrap.  An inexpensive investment on your part, a quick kill for the mouse.  The only two problems with the basic mousetrap are that sometimes you have to come dangerously close to touching a dead mouse to empty it (yes I use them over and over again, they’re not THAT cheap), and if you are not possessed with lightning quick reflexes, there’s the chance that you will get pinched setting the traps.  I get pinched setting the traps.

Enter what is the only Better Mousetrap I’ve ever seen, the Victor Quickset, made by Victor- manufacturers of the original spring-loaded mousetraps.  The Quickset looks like one of those big plastic clips you buy to hold your chips bag closed, so to set it, your fingers are out of the line of fire, and to empty it, your hand is on the opposite side of the trap from the carcass.  And they are made of plastic, so there’s less residual goo.  Both the original Victor mousetraps and the newfangled Quicksets can be found at your local feed/hardware/building supply store, or Amazon.

Armed with a case of Quicksets, snarling toy poodle at my side (OK, napping in my lap), wearing my horned Viking helmet (just because I like to wear it), I am ready to do battle with the Scourge of the Homestead: My Enemy Mouse.




  1. That’s both interesting and funny story here.
    I have experience with fighting rodents myself and all I can tell, that a simple spring trap is a timeless classic. I’m not a fan of using chemicals in my household, but sometimes a bit of this and a bit of that will be right enough to enhance your spring trap masterplan and deal with those little guys once and for all.

  2. A very funny and well written article! I quite enjoyed it. Well done 🙂 I also love the idea of these new chip bag style mousetraps. I would also like to recommend the guy on Mousetrap Mondays on Youtube (buys /makes and tests mousetraps). He’s showcased two traps in particular which are amazing, one of which he developed. Both are mounted to a 5 gallon bucket (which can be filled with water to make it a kill trap… sad as it sounds) with a ramp; One entices the mice onto a perfectly balanced board that flips / dunks them into the bucket, while the other uses a rotational paddle board instead to do the same. He shows all his traps in action, and the amazing thing about these traps is they automatically reset every time, able to catch many mice (or perhaps a rat or two with the first design) in a single night.

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