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Moving to a new house or out into a rural area is exciting. For a lot of people, it is their dream to move very far out in the country and live simply without hassle.
When my husband Matt and I moved out to our property, it was overgrown cattle field on the side of a mountain. Briars, bramble, old downed brush, and garbage piles are all too often part of moving out into the sticks. This means that there is ample space for varmints and vermin to take up residence.
My family blessed me with more garbage piles then I care to remember, but here we are. Even if you move into a place that has just been unoccupied for a long time, you are going to face some pests. If there is an old house or barn or two, then the problem may be a lot worse.
There are a lot of solutions that are not just straight up poisons. I am even going to include some relocation strategies for those you that don’t want every solution to be lethal.
Poisons are dangerous in more ways than one. When Matt and I first moved on the mountain and just had a little outbuilding with some animal feed in it and a camper, we put out some rat poison. This was a real mistake. We realized this when the mice carried the poison around and stashed it in our rabbit’s food. Luckily Matt was observant enough to notice this before he fed the rabbits. The pellets are green but much brighter than the rabbit pellets. We gathered it all up and disposed of it only to have our dog find it. We did not realize what was going on because it had been so long. Ruby was fine, but she was hemorrhaging out her nose after light bleeding from her mouth that we thought was just teething. It didn’t take much treatment or cost much to get her back on track, but it was very scary, and if we had not acted fast enough we would have lost our girl. Mice and rats stash things, and there is no way for you to know how much and where it is. If you have pets and kids then there is a lot of incentive to not use traditional poisons.
Cats: Here come the survival kitties!
The best thing we did for pest management was getting some good mousers on duty. Unfortunately, in the beginning, we had a hard time keeping cats around because the varmint issue was such a problem that there were a lot of things like coyotes, raccoons, and opossums, and bobcats around. We also have a healthy population of Great Horned Owls. Fencing our property and letting the dogs run around helped a lot.
Our current cats are three years old now, and they are doing an excellent job. You don’t have to have the fanciest breed around. I encourage you to get a mixed breed mouser from a shelter or rescue if you can. Our area has an excellent community cat program that will give you cats that have been spayed or neutered and just need a good home. Sure they are not always pet quality due to being semi-feral, but they get the job done, and it saves them from euthanasia. We also have rescues where you can get kittens for less than the cost of spay neuter.
We got Ginny and Scout from a lady that raises Sphynx and Bengal cats. Her beautiful purebred Bengal cat Gretchen got loose, and a barn cat was there at the right time, so we got some wonderful half Bengal kittens out of the cross. They are very different cats in a lot of ways, but we have a mouse free home area, and they cost very little to keep around. The number of cats you need is going to vary based on how big a space you need to be mouse free.
Cats are hard on the bird population sometimes, so that is something to consider. Overall they are worth a lot more than they cost and they also have a lot of cuddle potential. Ours have about moused the place out so now I consider them semi-retired.
My Dad has a Norwegian Forest Cat. She is huge but not very good at mousing because he keeps cat food out all the time and she is a little lazy. Not all cats are fabulous at mousing, especially without incentive. Overfeeding=less mousing.
Rodents can be killed with sugary carbonated beverages.
I know this sounds bizarre, but I have successfully used soda to kill rats when I had to. I used to babysit a lot when I was 13-16 years old. One place I babysit had a rat that would get under the sink and make a lot of bad noise. It was clear the adults were not going to do anything about it.
My dad told me this trick. They can’t burp, so it kills them. I put out some cheap soda for a few nights, and the problem was gone, and I did not have to worry about my 6-year-old charge getting into anything that would harm them.
Reduce the garbage
Oh sometimes getting a good deal can come with baggage and all too often that is garbage. Matt and I have cleaned up so many garbage piles. It can be a very disturbing experience to do this. The ongoing joke was that we could build a death racer dune buggy with all the car parts we pulled out of a single pile. Well, we worked on it off and on for a few years because we got frustrated the first time. It is not helpful when you are related to and know that the person down the road was responsible for a large part of the problem.
Well now that area doesn’t have a garbage pile, and it is home to more than a hundred mushrooms logs and totems that we use to provide Shiitakes, Lions Mane, and Oyster for our table. You can truly turn a garbage pile into something wonderful while reducing the habitat for pests to hide and breed!
So what about those that live near garbage dumps or that have very messy neighbors?
I wish I had a better answer for this one but the truth is that living near messy places is going to make it harder to keep your place free of pests. Asking others to clean up their mess is just going to cause a lot of trouble.
Of course, if there is an ordinance or law where you live against some messes and dumping, that changes things. If someone is causing an actual pollution issue, then that may also be handled differently by the proper authorities.
When ordinances do exist they are often just complaint driven so if you report someone close to you then there is a decent chance they will figure out who called unless you live in a really densely populated area.
If you live near a county dump or waste collection area then you are just going to have to be vigilant about using multiple methods of pest control. For those that are looking for property to build on or just an inexpensive home, it is worth looking into what types of properties surround you. We have Google Earth now so it is a lot easier for the average person to get an idea of what is around a spot before they invest.
Avoid full carpeting
Carpets get dirty so fast. I never realized just how dirty until I had to help someone clean old carpet with one of those rental steam units. It was so disgusting it made me swear to never use carpet except scatter rugs that can be cleaned or thrown away easily. This is the way to go. There are so many great floor options. If you move to an older house, peek under the carpet and see what is beneath. Sometimes people covered up gorgeous hardwood floors with shag carpet or linoleum so you just have to tear it up and refinish the hardwood and you have something that is beautiful and easy to clean. No fleas and other bugs taking up residence.
This is great for dusting dog and animal areas. You can also use it on your hair if you find that you or your kids have mites or lice. Just put some DE in a disposable shower cap and put over the person’s head and massage a little. Leave it on for 10 minutes at least. Sometimes this is all you need, and it is not going to cause an allergic reaction. You just don’t want to breathe it in because it may cause you to sneeze or have an itchy nose and it is grainy if you get it in your eye.
Here is our post on Best Uses of Diatomaceous Earth and Which Brands to Buy
This is great for spraying in the cracks of your floorboards so that you can kill and prevent spiders. It can last for up to 10 years when applied appropriately and costs very little. You don’t want to breathe or consume it but it but once applied and allowed to dry it is very safe and it also prevents other common household insects and bugs.
My dogs love to chase things that they know are intrusive to their space or harmful to the other animals they guard and love.
Leroy Brown is a squirrel dog, and the Great Pyrenees think they are!
One thing that the Pyrenees have eliminated are skunks. Unfortunately, this has led to our dog Ruby Pearl holding the record for times sprayed by a skunk.
A big skunk population is a real problem. Besides the smell factor, they carry rabies and will kill just for the fun of it. A skunk got into our baby rabbits and killed all of them even though they didn’t eat them. They will eat what they want and kill all. People were feeding them before we moved in and that caused the population to be very high. Oppposums are another major problem that will get your little chickens.
I am all for killing any poisonous snake you come upon. Black snakes are another issue. Please leave Black snakes alone if you can or relocate them somewhere else. Sure snakes have a certain scare factor, but some of them keep the poisonous ones away or kill them when young. It is a lot better to have a healthy Black Snake population than a population of poisonous ones. I remember the first Copperhead we saw my husband actually was busy and just picked it up and killed it with his bare hands. Just snapped it. We laughed about it later on, and that was that, but it scared me to death. My husband killed a poisonous snake with his bare hands.
Chickens keep down snakes and provide you with meat and eggs. Chickens will also prevent spiders and other nasty insects from taking up under your kid’s toys, rocks, gardens, and lawn furniture. One reason we decided to get chickens again was how many Black Widow spiders we started seeing under everything. Now we have chickens and have seen a big reduction in the amount we have thankfully. We have a mixed flock of heritage breed hens and one rooster, and it is working out good so far. We should start getting eggs this Winter when the days start getting longer.
For some good info on getting started with chickens, Backdoor Survival has the following posts! Even if you move a bottomless cage around and don’t just free range your chickens, you can still enough a lot of pest control benefits. They do a better job when left to roam during the day, but I realize not everyone can do that for a variety of reasons!
I am going, to be honest, and tell you that while Guinea Fowl are popular for ticks and pests, they are very loud and not at all appropriate for those with a lot of neighbors close by. If you have space and don’t mind the noise, then go for it.
Guineas are excellent at making a huge amount of loud noise when any predator is around. I have not butchered or eaten a Guinea but I have been told they taste a lot like pheasant and I heard that some restaurants that claim to serve pheasant use Guinea. It will be worth tasting one if you have a large enough flock and excess males. At small livestock auctions they usually bring a reasonable price, so selling excess is not that hard.
Black and white Guinea Fowl seem to be the most common, but they come in several other colors like white and blue-gray. There is something to be said for getting birds that blend in a bit. The white coloring is very easy for aerial predators to see.
Sure fences don’t keep out small animals all the time, but they do create a barrier that makes it a bit harder to get to you. A good fence also means you can keep in some dogs so they can help keep varmints and pests run off. Fences cost money, but they save you a lot too regarding losses over the long term.
Here are a few posts we did on fencing and property security to help you get started.
Non Lethal Means
Live traps are inexpensive and excellent for trapping small wildlife so you can relocate them to another area. One has to be very careful when doing this because animals can lash out. Keep those fingers away and don’t let kids near that don’t know any better than to be too curious.
Some people take animals to abandoned properties and public woods. I am not going to get into what is okay and what is not because it simply varies where you are at. In some places, you may just want to contact animal control and ask what the appropriate thing to do is. There are even squirrel rescue groups where I live so there might be a very good place to take them that you don’t know about yet.
Live traps are commonly used to relocate some of the larger pests.
These are very pesky and they carry rabies. I know that some people have successfully turned them into pets however this is only allowed in some areas and completely illegal in a lot of others. Those kept as pets are normally raised on a bottle from a young age. My great-grandfather had a pet raccoon and realized just how smart and Wiley they are when he went to wrap his pipes for the winter. After he was done his pet raccoon came behind him and unwrapped every one of them! They have little hands like people so they can do a lot more fine tasks than other wildlife.
Wild raccoons can carry rabies, and they are very much on guard and ready to lash out when you get them in a cage or corner. Be careful when relocating them and wear thick leather gloves when releasing the catch on the live trap. If one is acting strangely or sickly immediately contact animal control in case it has rabies. It is not worth the risk of dealing with it yourself. If you have to shoot one that is rabid and trying to attack you still should call and have the body disposed of properly. Rabies treatment for people is painful, expensive, and takes an extended course of shots to complete.
I love groundhogs but they can sure cause a lot of trouble in your garden, and they like to create burrows and tunnels. At the moment there are several of them living under my Dad’s house. We haven’t done anything yet because since they just burrow, we are not worried about them chewing through pipes and wires that are well above the ground. There is no garden down there, so we have some time, but groundhogs reproduce fairly fast so at some point we will have to do something.
Live traps and relocation are how people often handle groundhogs if they don’t want to just shoot them. Having dogs running around helps prevent them from establishing colonies.
If you use live traps, use them right and check at least once a day.
Live traps allow you to take them somewhere else but please don’t forget to check your traps daily. A groundhog can perish quickly. Put some water in the trap to help prevent them from becoming dehydrated.
Mice and Rats: Traps, glue, or relocation?
While people do trap these in live traps and release them, I have to say I don’t really care for the practice because unless you take them very far away they will probably just come back. The other issue is that you go release them down the road they become whoever lives nearby’s problem.
Traditional spring traps mean baiting, setting them, and then having to take out and dispose of the carcass or throw the whole trap away. If you forget them, they are smelly and gross.
Glue traps are terrible. Sorry to those of you that are fans but an animal getting trapped in glue and starving is awful. Having to kill them after they get stuck is a lot of unpleasantness. Letting something starve in a trap is cruel even if it is a mouse or rat.
While traps may have to be part of your plan, in the beginning, you need to take other measures to truly control the problem like getting cats or cleaning up areas they like to hide in.
Addressing regional pests and vermin
While I covered some of the more common vermin and pests, I realize there are many more that didn’t make the list. Scorpions, lizards, alligators, etc. could all be considered pests or vermin to a lot of people. If you are moving to a vastly different area than where you have lived before, it is a good idea to do a little research and see what type of pests or wildlife you may have to deal with in your daily life.
Pest and vermin control takes time.
You don’t just get rid of pests and vermin in a short period on a large property. True pest management and control takes time and more than one method. There are many factors to consider. Over time you may not have to use more than one or two methods to keep your pest situation under control. Matt and I have been on this mountain for ten years, and our pest situation has improved to the point where we just lose the occasional goose or chicken to a predator.
What do you do to control pests on your property? Do those of you that live in more urban areas have any suggestions?
Samantha Biggers can be reached at [email protected]
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