The Big Mouse Adventure

We’ve been dealing with a mouse problem.  I hate to say it, but we’ve had.  We had a mouse problems a few years ago.  Knut usually set out poison in the barn and unfinished basement, and it wasn’t a problem…until one day I was cleaning out the kids’ toy boxes and saw the mice had nested piles of the poison in the corners of each and every cubby basket.  I freaked out, as you can imagine. Then, even though I’ve never been a cat person, we got a bunch of the sweetest, most social barn cats from a friend of a friend to replace the poison.  We haven’t seen a mouse since.  Sure, we see evidence they leave behind in the unfinished parts of the basement, or outside, but for the most part, we can pretend they aren’t there.

Until this Spring.  I’ve seen the cats play with mice pretty much constantly outside lately.  I’ve seen 3 mice come out into the open in our house in the last 2 weeks.  Also, the back hall closet had some…movement.  We’d be sitting in the den, watching a movie, and we’d hear them squeaking, running around, etc.  It gives me shivers just to think about it.  I knew it needed a good clean out, but I was afraid if I cleaned it out I’d find…well, mice.  Live. Mice.  And I don’t like to find them.  I stand on tables around them…not go out of my way to find where they live.

So Knut got these super awesome traps, and we set them in the closet and then he’d check them twice a day, and for the last week or so, there was at least one mouse found there at each check.  That’s every 12 hours we were catching at least 1 mouse.  I figured we’d get rid of all of them, THEN I’d clean it out when the coast was clear.

I know I’m a scaredy cat.  I admit that openly.

But yesterday, Knut cleaned out the traps when he got up in the morning.  Then while we were eating breakfast, we heard both traps go off.  I was so grossed out at the consistency we were catching them, I said “That’s it!  That’s it!  We are cleaning it out TODAY!”  I was planning on doing it this weekend, but I couldn’t live with them in there anymore.  I was planning on doing some cooking for the rest of our busy week, and get a few projects done.  All of it was canceled.  The mice needed to be evicted.

So obviously, I paid one of my kids to do it.  David’s my big strong man of the house when Knut is planting the fields during spring work.  Then we broke house rules and brought a series of barn cats inside to supervise his work.  Only 1 of the 3 cats we chose to bring inside showed any interest in chasing the mice that we found.  The other 2 were overfed…and they have barely touched the food we give them lately.  There’s been a lot of mice in the barn too.  But I don’t live there.

It’s what we get living yards from the farm’s grain bins, I guess.  It’s just been a bad spring in that department.  We are down to only 5 cats right now too, and the mice problem is really more under control when we are between 8-10.  We think one of our cats, Midnight, might be pregnant right now, so…I hope so.  Believe me, I’ve asked the humane society for cats, multiple times, but they say cats aren’t for chasing mice, and they will only give out declawed, inside cats that sit around all day.  Those cats sound bored.  Our cats have all sorts of fun.  We feed them and take care of them.  They get a ton of affection from multiple people in our family.  They just have a job to do…and they love to do it.  We have a philosophy that animals are happiest when they are doing what they were bred to do.  Missy is happiest outside chasing predators.  She is constantly scanning the horizon for threats.  It fills her heart with joy.  You can see it all over her face.  Lena is a companion dog, and is happiest when toddlers are using her as a pillow, or playing fetch.  The chickens like to eat bugs and scratching the dirt.  So we don’t keep them in a room and feed them specially formulated food, and cut their beaks off because they can get bored and peck each other like commercial operations.  We let them all over the yard to dig for bugs, and eat all the ticks we seem to breed there.  They are so happy and don’t bug each other, and I really think it effects the quality of our eggs.  Our cats are hunters.  I cannot imagine them being happy not hunting.  It’s all about respecting the animal.

Mice have the job of dying.  I have no sympathy for them.  I know God created them too, but…I just can’t.  They’re food for cats.  That’s their purpose in my mind.

We’ve also learned that animals are essential to avoiding chemicals.  If we didn’t have free range chickens, we would spend hundreds of dollars a year spraying for ticks in the yard.  Before chickens, we picked 2 ticks off our kids a day.  Since we got chickens a few years ago, we see 1-2 a year.  If we didn’t have cats, we’d have to go back to putting poison everywhere and find it in the kids’ toy boxes again.  If we didn’t have Missy, the chickens couldn’t range and find ticks.  If we didn’t have Lena, we’d have to buy real floor pillows.

Well, once everything was out, and everything was vacuumed up, David decided he didn’t want to do anymore.  He was so overwhelmed with the mess.  The closet contents were spewed across 2 rooms in all of it’s mouse chewed/pooped glory.  I rubbed some essential oils that deter mice all over the floor and baseboards of the closet.  We took a trip (it ended up being 2 trips) to town to get plastic tubs to put everything in.  This closet under the stairs stores the bulk flour, wheat, rice, oatmeal, etc. for the family.  One half bag of flour was ruined, but the rest of the food was untouched because it was actually stored better.  They’re all in tubs now anyway.  Some of the Christmas boxes were chewed through, and several party things, and a hodgepodge of items were chewed through.  I threw away about a 1/3 of the closet’s content because the mice had ruined it in some fashion.  So today we have to take a trip to the dump.  (We don’t get trash pick up way out here.  We try to recycle as much as we can to avoid trips to the dump, but this stuff seriously needs to go.)  Everything got crazy clean before  it went back into storage, and I think I cleaned the rooms I was sorting through all this stuff in about 4 times after it was all gone.

The good news is that I had to get rid of so much stuff that my vacuum fits in there again.  So that’s a bonus.

And this morning?  The traps were full again.  So I guess the cats missed a few.  Actually, I think we’ll be catching them for awhile, but with an aggressively clean space, they’ll start running out of food options.  I hope.  I’m not ready for an inside cat yet.  Don’t tell Silje, but this event has nearly brought me there.  That’s how traumatizing it’s been.

Training Missy and Silje the Photographer

The other evening was just so beautiful that the whole family was out in the yard working.  Knut got his roses uncovered from their winter bedding of leaves, and convinced Elias to practice biking without his training wheels.  I was working with Missy’s electric fence collar, and working on expanding her territory, while keeping her away from the road.

Last fall, we finally caved and got her a GPS controlled electric collar, that so far has been working really well.  It’s not just that she crosses the road, it’s that she likes to nap on the road.  She just likes to chill there and bask in the sun, and feels it’s a great place to watch for cars.  Not cool, Missy.  Not cool at all.

We need her so badly for our other animals, and the animals we intend to get.  I don’t think we would have indulged for just a “pet.”  She is absolutely the best guard dog I have ever met.  She is so kind, but so alert and so smart and intuitive…besides the whole napping on the road thing.

My favorite was last fall, when Elias and Solveig were playing with the facet outside and making a big wet mess.  I told them to turn off the water, and they did.  5 minutes later it was back on.  I told them again to turn off the water.  It was too cold, and too messy for that day.  They turned it off.  Then Missy walked over and sat herself right in front of the facet to block the kids.  She was like “Nanny” from Peter Pan, saying, “Now run along kids.  We’re done here!  You heard your mother.”  She doesn’t snap at the kids, but I have seen her use her body to block an area, or even lean in towards them to make sure they stay put.

Actually, she did this with me during harvest last year, because she was nervous when I was going back to the grain bins to give Knut his supper.  It gets really loud over there when the grain dryer is running, and she thought it could be dangerous for me.  I had to tie her up to get back there.  It’s not exactly fair that I do all the training with her, but Knut is her favorite.  She hangs on his every word.  If I’m working with her, and Knut enters the yard, I’m invisible to her.  It’s all about Knut.  She loves him so.  (Knut thinks that because I have such a small stature, Missy thinks I’m one of the kids…which might be logical.)

Lena, on the other hand, doesn’t have anything to keep her close to the house.  She’s too scared to go 10 feet away from any of us.  Her running off has never been a problem!  The only thing Lena is good at is being a cozy reading pillow, and playing fetch.  Oh, she loves playing fetch so much!  Try playing fetch with Missy, and she’ll give you a look that says, “Well that was stupid.  Now you’re going to have to get it.  I’ll stand guard while you do.”

Missy is a working dog and likes to be treated as such.  We can now set her boundaries via GPS, and she gets a sound to let her know she’s hit her boundary.  15 yards later, the collar starts vibrating, and 10 yards after that, it will shock her.  These large “zones” of stimulation is great for a dog that runs as fast as her.  Seriously, seeing her run is a sight to see!

So far, she stops at the vibration, but now that she knows the boundary, the sound that we humans can’t hear is enough to turn her around.  There’s white flags that we’re supposed to put up to be a visual reminder of her boundaries, but I didn’t see the point when the yard was covered in snow.  That’s my next project.

Unfortunately, we also found out this collar doesn’t work when the temp outside is below 10 degrees.  So now that the weather is nice, we’re working hard to get her boundaries set in her brain.  We had a smaller territory set for her because I was having difficulty setting it with the large snow drifts and lack of access to some of the locations.  Now that it’s all set, we can do some more serious training with her to keep her off roads, while allowing her several acres to roam, which her breed requires.  Hope this works before next winter!!

Ingrid was running around about as wildly as Missy in the grass.  They were both excited to stretch their legs.  I feel bad I missed a few pictures of them checking each other out.  Ingrid loves dogs so much, and Missy is a good head taller than her.  Whenever I saw them kissing each other, though, I didn’t snap a picture but ran to catch Ingrid because Missy just has to walk past her to knock her down.

Anyway, as we were all busy, and Silje was looking a little lost, so I handed her my camera and told her to snap some pictures for me.  

“Really!?!”

My kids know not to touch my camera.  Silje has her own, but it’s not nearly as nice.  She was shocked and excited.  So she carefully went around the yard and snapped pictures for several minutes.  I got to see the world through her eyes.  What a treat for me!

Of course, the vast majority were of animals.  :)

The picture seen above was mine, but here are some of her gems out of the 50 or so pictures of hers I found:

  (She was especially proud of her chick pictures)

I see a photography class in her future.  Imagine the things I’ll learn when she starts researching everything to death, (like she always does) and then comes running and telling me all the exciting parts.   I might finally learn all the things my camera can do!

Animals and Cold

The Christmas decorations are slowly getting put away in their tubs for the year.  After this stretch of insanely cold weather, we’ve had a bit of reprieve, and resuming my walks has felt like coming up for air.  The animals are venturing out again, as well.

What to do with Missy was quite the discussion for awhile.  Lena, of course, was inside during the deep cold.  We moved all the cats together down to the barn during that time as well.  Missy?  Well, her electric fence collar battery doesn’t work in the deep cold, and I felt very strongly that she should be down in the barn with the cats, since she does not enjoy the indoors.  She likes to take naps on the road, so if the electric collar wouldn’t work, we’d have to keep her safe somehow.

What happened, though is she got so stressed out being cooped up in the barn that she started vomiting.    She couldn’t stand the idea that she couldn’t get out to see what was going on.  Is it silly that I can physically see her relax when she can see the horizon?  So then, after a few phone calls with other Great Pyrenees owners, we were convinced that the hard cold doesn’t bother this breed, as long as she has access to shelter, she can be outside.  We don’t need to force her into a building.  Even then, some owners said that given the option of being inside, or outside in -50 degrees, their dog chose to be outside.

This type of guardian dog is bred to be outdoors with the animals they are guarding.  They’re not little lap dogs.  She is a hard core working dog/mini polar bear, and it’s taking me awhile to get used to that.  I think it’s amazing, but it’s just so different from my city-animal mentality.

So we tied her up with a long cord near the doghouse, so she could get at least some shelter from the cold, and she couldn’t get to the road.  She was not a fan of being tied up as she’s used to roaming with her electric fence that doesn’t work below -10.  Still, she only retreated to the doghouse for shelter at night, and even then, not always.  She loved sitting on a little drift on the side of the driveway where she could see everything, even though the crazy-cold wind was blowing right at her.  She makes this city girl shake her head in amazement.  Her desire to be alert to all that is going on with our property, scanning the horizon consistently for any possible threat is her passion.

She has a stubbornness to be where she wants to be, and doesn’t like her decisions to be questioned.  I’m learning to trust her instincts… as long as those instincts don’t lead to napping on the road.

Even though the yard has a deep layer of snow, we’re deciding which laying chicks to order for delivery in another month or so, and Silje and I are browsing the seed catalogs already.  Our 9 chickens in their coop have been handling this winter pretty well, and just so barely started producing enough eggs that I no longer have to supplement with eggs from the store.  It’s hard to catch them before they freeze, but the weather was so nice today, that none of the eggs were cracked when I went to gather them.

Pineapples are in season right now at the grocery store, and I’m dehydrating a bunch.  The juicy scraps have been going to the coop for our poor, bored chickens who aren’t allowed outside to scratch in the snow.  I think we should put an ash pan in there tomorrow so they can take turns taking a dust bath.  Keeping them occupied to not pick on each other gets tough this time of year.  We only have 9 in there right now, though, which is less than half our capacity.  They’ve been doing pretty well with all the extra wiggle room.  I wish we had another 5 or so, so I wouldn’t have to ration our eggs so strictly.

This snow won’t last forever.  A few more months, at least, but not forever.

Wildlife

We’ve had this habit that we’ll miss this coming winter.  I cook in the kitchen, I can set Ingrid by the door, and open up it up so only the glass/screen door is between Ingrid and the little kittens.  When she is there, they come running over, and they stare at each other and take turns hitting the glass, and I get a chance to cook without a baby underfoot.  They can entertain each other for quite some time.

The kittens are getting bigger, and steal into the garage any time they can.  Add to them the 5 adult cats, and there’s beginning to be a few underfoot.  When we got them, we made the house’s old summer kitchen into a cat house where they could hunt for mice near the house.  After a few weeks of seeing at least one of them at all times munching on mice guts (ew!) they seem to have found and eaten all of the mice near the house and have started to get curious about other things.  This hasn’t been a big problem, but Knut gets annoyed at them from time to time being underfoot.  They’ve started venturing out to the grain bins to hunt, which is good because there’s mice galore for them out there.

We’ve also decided to move 3 of the adult cats from the summer kitchen to the barn to live.  Silje set up a little bed for them, and their food and water dishes.  She said they were so excited to be down there, they couldn’t even stay in her arms long.  We’ll have them clean that place out next, and have less cats roaming around the house.  This is so much better than 2 years ago when I found where mice had nested little pellets of poison in the kids’ toy boxes in the house.  With our grain bins near the house, we attract mice from miles around, and previously always controlled them with poison, as traps were never enough.  When the mice brought the poison in the house, though…I hit the roof in frustration.  That’s when the cat discussion started, and at this point, I don’t regret it at all.

They are quite social, which I like.  Knut and I are not cat people…at all.  For me, I’ve never met a cat that liked me before, and all of these besides 1 likes me, so I’m feeling pretty good.  They all live outside or in the out buildings, but they come running for some attention when we go outside.  That bugs Knut.  It delights each of the kids, and they each have their favorites.  We just need one to wiggle into his heart.

Silje and I have also started plotting out our big vegetable garden move for next year.  Knut wanted us to plot out the French style beds, that will suit our desire to try out companion gardening next year.  In fact, I’ve been talking about the idea of planting in patches as weed control for years, but it wasn’t until I got a book on companion gardening that Knut realized it was actually a decent method.

We’ve been talking about doing this for awhile, and we don’t have much time left before the snow begins to fly.  This autumn, the plan is for Silje and I to plot it out with sticks and string, and Knut will fill up those areas with compost for the winter.  This coming spring, Knut will till up the beds, and we’ll have to fence them off somehow from the chickens.  We’re planning 6 beds right now: 5 vegetable beds and 1 just cutting-flower bed, though Knut is trying to convince me to do 5 vegetable beds and 3 cutting flower bed.  I think he just really hates mowing.

Right now the plan is for the beds to be 4 feet wide, 10 feet long, and 3 feet in between each bed as a walkway.  In the future, we may get “hoops” (which are like mini greenhouse-like contraptions) to extend our growing season into the colder months, which is another benefit of this style of gardening.

I’ve been pleasantly surprised with our addition of Missy and the cats to our yard this year, that all the animals get along so nicely.  With our 9 chickens, a handful of them are laying and we’ve been gathering 4 eggs a day finally.  Our capacity is really around 20 chickens, and that produces more than enough for our family, and enough to sell to pay for the feed, making our eggs virtually free.

We decided to wait to add more chickens until after the New Year.  These 2 birds above were Silje’s show chickens this last year at the county fair, and she got a red ribbon because they were not fully mature by fair time.  So this next year we’ll have to buy our chicks in the winter and raise them in the old basement until it’s warm enough for them to go outside.  We won’t have a lot of room for that, but we’ll get enough to round out our flock to the right number.  When I look back this year, to how many chickens we’ve lost to predators, it’s crazy.  We lost our flock that was in the teens all in one fateful night, and then we bought 20 new chicks and started growing them, and that number went down to 7 due to predator attacks.  So we’ve lost close to 30 chickens.  Then a friend gave us 2 of her hens that she had as overflow, which brought us back up to 9.

Do you know how many chickens we’ve lost to predators since we got Missy, our Great Pyrenees?

Zero.

That’s a lovely number to write.  I could write pages and pages on all the cool things that dog does.  I told Knut that had we been the ones to name her, we would have named her “Nanny” from Peter Pan, because she keeps a close eye on all things outside: chickens, cats, kids.

I once told Elias and Solveig to stay away from the faucet outside because it was too cold to play in the water.  After I told them the second time, Missy just walked over and blocked their path to the faucet, and she stayed there until they came inside.  She doesn’t nip or bite anything.  She just uses her hugeness to block paths she thinks are wrong, and she does it so instinctively, it’s crazy.

Then there’s all the noises at the grain bins that are typical for harvest.  The grain dryer was running hard, and was noisy.  I’d walk back there sometimes to bring Knut his lunch, but Missy didn’t like me walking into that area as she felt it was too dangerous for me, so she kept trying to herd me back to the house by gently standing in front of me and leaning in the direction she thought I should go.  I kept having to go around her.  

She doesn’t bug the cats at all, either.  They’ll come up and try to swat her nose.  She just sits down cooly as if to say, “did I just feel a breeze?”  I love it.