Whether you are a backyard gardener in the city or a homesteader in the mountains, we all have a common enemy- mice and rats. All that we enjoy and the fruits of our labor are readily snatched away by these tiny monsters. Fortunately there are several remedies available.
Why Are There So Many?
Because we have given them everything they need! Bee hives are a warm place to stay in the winter, and they are a source of food (honey). Chicken coops offer water, shelter, bedding (straw, pine shavings, etc), and food (chicken feed/scratch). Quail spill feed from their pens for the rodents to consume. Gardens offer vegetables to gnaw on.
Not only are rodents repulsive to most individuals, they also pose a serious threat. Rodents chew on wires that cause fires. They defecate in chicken feed and is consumed by your birds. They carry diseases. Rats can kill chickens or chicks, or bite birds toes.
Pest control is imperative, and best done before populations rise to infestation levels.
Prevention Is The Best Method
Eliminating or reducing rodent food, water and shelter options (as much as possible) are great first steps.
Around the yard
Keep grass mowed. Remove any brush/log/scrap piles that would serve as a shelter. If you have an open compost bin, it needs to go. Transfer as much as you can into a tumbler bin, and spread out or otherwise dispose of the rest. (Our compost bin was the second biggest source of mice. It stays warm in the winter from decomposition and it provides food)
Don’t use straw bales around hives. Install mouse guards in the winter.
In my experience, this was the root of our rodent problem. Due to the galvanized founts, an open water source was provided. Even with our PVC feeders, I watched as mice would jump in and eat. The coop is made of pallets, and the space between the top and bottom slats allowed for easy traveling along the rodent highway. A bale of straw was in the coop for the chickens to use, and upon moving the bale a nest of baby mice was found. Feed bags are stored in the shed and have been found with holes chewed in them. Solutions: Change from open founts to nipple waterers. If you are losing feed to mice, rats, squirrels, or wild birds- take a look at these treadle feeders (which we use and love) – Click here to visit The Carpenter Shop. Add poultry safe traps (more on this below). Remove any unnecessary bedding or bales and keep coop clean. Store feed in bins, metal bins or trash cans with lids being ideal. Clean up any spilled food.
Not much can be done in the garden as far as mitigation. If you have a fence around the perimeter, it is worth a try to add hardware cloth along the bottom to keep rodents (especially rats) from walking in. This is another prime location for traps.
Going On The Defensive
Even after taking measures to remove water, food and shelter for rodents, chances are there will still be a healthy population abound. This is where traps come in. Don’t worry, there are humane traps available if you don’t want to kill them.
We have been heavily researching and experimenting in rodent control lately. We had a homemade bucket feeder that held nearly 50 pounds of feed, which had to be filled up every other day due to the apparent infestation. Once we realized we had a problem, we did our homework and purchased several traps and baits. Not all of them worked as well as others, and in the last 3 nights we have captured 44 mice and 6 rats!
We purchased several different styles of snap traps. Traditional Victor medal petal snaps, Tomcat wooden snaps, Victor Powerkill snap, Victor Quickset!, Tomcat rat wooden snap and Tomcat Rat Jaw Snap. The Victor metal pedal and Powerkill were the clear winners for mice (even catching one rat!). They had the fewest mistakes- either set off with no catch or still set with bait missing. The Tomcat wooden snaps did catch several mice, however they were the most notorious for being set off with no catch. The Quicksets were never sprung and always had bait missing. The Tomcat Rat Jaw trap did a great job with the rats.
We tested Easy Cheese, maple syrup, and smooth peanut butter. The winner was syrup and peanut butter. Mice are naturally seed eaters and have a sweet tooth, which both of these appeal to. Just make sure you use a very small amount, less than pea sized. It doesn’t take much and more is a hinderance. Remember to wear gloves even with new traps to keep the human scent off.
Keep in mind that mice don’t see well at night and being out in the open isn’t safe. As such they typically run along walls or solid objects. When placing the traps, be sure to set them with the trigger closest to the wall. Also, group them in pairs or several close together. When resetting the traps, always wear gloves. A quick swish in bleach water will help remove the scent of dead rodent and increase the traps effectiveness. If you have a spot that is catching mice, keep placing traps there until you don’t catch anymore. If you don’t catch mice the first night, give it another night or two and then move traps. Even moving them a foot can make a difference!
Colony or Multi-traps
Colony traps are humane traps that allow for multiple mice to enter the same trap. These are very convenient as they don’t need reset after each individual catch. If you are taking the humane approach, they will need checked regularly to prevent the mice from perishing inside.
Two colony traps were used, Victor Tin Cat and Victor Multi Catch. The Tin Cat can hold up to 30 mice, and the Multi Catch up to 4. The Tin Cat comes with two options, one with a window lid and one with a solid metal lid. The Tin Cat is metal and the Multi Catch is plastic. Lastly, the Tin Cat has an optional peanut butter scented glue board that fits inside.
The Multi Catch did catch a few mice, but it was not my favorite trap. These were placed in the chicken coops, where obviously snap traps would not be an option. The chickens liked to peck them and flip them over, making them useless. A brick can be set on top to prevent this. The air holes were very small, which I assume made the bait inside (peanut butter) harder to smell, and makes it less humane. The housing was dark plastic. It had to be held up to the light (flashlight didn’t work) to see if anything was inside. Being plastic, mice could easily escape.
Of all the traps we used, I personally recommend the Victor Tin Cat. I purchased the traps with a window lid so I could do a quick peek without the need to open the trap. I also purchased the glue boards, however I was very disappointed in their performance. Due to the dust here the glue boards were quickly rendered useless. They do have a peanut butter scent which I believe helped. The only benefit to the glue trap is it kept the extra added bait from dirtying the inside of the trap, but bait is not needed with these traps. Thus far I have had as many as 8 mice in one Tin Cat trap. These were placed in the chicken coops and under the beehives.
Baiting the Multicatch trap
A quick search online will offer a wide range of suggested baits, from beef jerky to gumdrops. We tested wet dog food, bacon grease, Easy Cheese, Honey BBQ beef jerky, gumdrops, maple syrup, and smooth peanut butter. The meat based baits were completely ineffective. Gumdrops were not a favorite. The winners were Easy Cheese, syrup and peanut butter. These baits were placed on a Saltine cracker and put in the trap. All traps had at least 2 different baits, some all 3. More mice were trapped when a little peanut butter was smeared on the outside of the trap by the entrance. I believe this gave them encouragement to go in the trap for more.
When handling the trap, be sure to wear gloves to keep the human scent off the trap and protect yourself from disease. Place the trap with the openings closest to the wall in an area known for mouse traffic. Baiting is optional but increases the effectiveness. If a mouse dies in the trap, a dunk in bleach water should be done to remove the smell. As with the snap traps, if you have a spot that is catching mice, keep placing traps there until you don’t catch anymore. If you don’t catch mice the first night, give it another night or two and then move traps. Even moving them a foot can make a difference!
A simple yet highly effective multi-catch trap is a bucket trap. For fear of not explaining it clearly, here is an example. I have had very, very good success with this style in the past, especially in the winter.
We purchased a bait station but have not put it out just yet. Bait stations are plastic containers with locking/tamper proof lids designed to place poison in. The idea is that pets and children cannot access the poison. We purchased the bait station with the intent on placing snap traps inside and placing it in the chicken coop, so that the chickens are not caught in it.
Many studies have found that certain herbal blends are offensive to rodents and will repel them. Herbs also have many health benefits for your poultry.
We recently adopted 3 mousers and they are GREAT! I feel that we are fortunate, as our cats are quite friendly. Since they are social animals, we chose to start with 3. If one disappears, there won’t be a lonely cat left behind.
Our cats are always catching mice and rats in the nearby field. They have also caught a few wild birds, which I don’t particularly enjoy.
Generally speaking, female cats are better mousers than males. Males tend to roam, whereas the females have a natural instinct to care for their young (which makes them better hunters).
If you are looking for working cats, PLEASE check your shelter first. There are so many animals that need a home. Many shelters have a barn cat program, and often times these cats are free. They probably won’t be friendly, but they will catch mice. Also, if you obtain cats from somewhere other than a shelter, be sure to spay and neuter them! One or two cats quickly become 10, 20, 30…. Many clinics offer low cost options for working cats. Keep in mind that these cats still need to be fed and offered clean water, even if they are hunting. A fed cat will still hunt. Finally, be sure to vaccinate and worm your cats. There are many diseases like Feline Leukemia and rabies are fatal, and rodents aren’t the cleanest creatures. Mousers are not “just a barn cat”. They are a working member of your farm, and deserve to be treated properly.
We obviously have kept it no secret that we use lethal traps, which I understand is a debatable topic. Not everyone is comfortable with this method, so please choose whichever you are most comfortable with. My one request is that no one uses any poison. Poisons are an anticoagulant. Think Coumadin or Warfarin (Warfarin was originally produced and sold as rodent bait and was discovered to be medically beneficial a few years later). These poisons essentially make the rodent bleed out internally. The concern arises when the rodent eventually dies. It could die anywhere- in the walls of your house or attic (smelly!). In your yard. If your dog or chicken eats it, it could become sick. If the local bird of prey picks it up, it could be killed. Especially if these animals eat multiple poisoned rodents. Please, just don’t use them.