There are some beautiful things about living on a farm. Like peaceful, pastoral scenes every day:
And amazing sunsets nearly every night:
And little hidden gems all over the place waiting to be discovered:
There are also some messy, gross, and downright disgusting things that come with farming.
Like sheep poop pellets …
And goose poop compacted into schloppy mud …
And chicken poop piled in huge manure heaps.
My husband Charles has told me that living on a farm raises one’s gross-out factor by a lot. And dealing with animals that you are raising for food builds up a certain hardiness, shall we say. A certain realism about the nature of the fallen world we live in. Animals are not sanitized. Animals can be rather brutish. Animals eat each other. And, animals taste good and give nourishment to us.
There’s something really good and natural about getting so close to the food you eat. There is also a lot less romanticism to it than the pastoral pictures let on.
(If you are any sort of squeamish, now might be a good time to stop reading. You have been forewarned.)
For example …
Did you know that pigs are omnivores? They need feed and they love people-food scraps, but they will also dispatch animals. As long as it’s stiff and no longer warm, they will eat it.
Did you know that chickens are omnivores?
Yes, they eat bugs and such, but did you know they also eat meat? Any kind of meat, really. Charles has commented that if a chicken were bigger than us, it would eat us. Which is true. Dead or alive, they’re not picky. If they can catch it or peck it, they’ll guzzle it down. (I’ve already had one farm-orientation gross-out experience related to this, but that’s a story for another day.)
Well. In the past few months, we have had a mouse problem. They have been lurking around the barn, chewing into feed bags, skulking around corners and skittering along the walls whenever you turn a light on. They are smelly, germy, voracious, and hard to catch. Charles calls them cockroaches with fur and better PR. I’m quickly learning to agree.
He recently built a really effective trap, which has cut down on the “loose” population running around. But whenever I walked into the chicken stall, I could smell mouse. And whenever we picked up a nesting box, several of them scurried out.
Charles, grizzly and hardened farmer-man that he is, goes after them with a shovel, his boot, or even his bare hands. He whacks and smashes like a dog after prey whenever he sees one. He has good aim, too.
And … guess where the dead mice go?
(I told you they were omnivores.)
Sadly, chickens aren’t quite fast enough to catch the little buggers when they’re alive and running. So, we have to do the catching for them.
A couple weeks ago, Charles and I shoveled out the main chicken stall. Neglected for several years, it was piled about two feet deep with old shavings and chicken poop. We hauled out the roosting ladders, nesting boxes, feeder, and waterer. We started hacking with shovels at the loose top layer and the packed layers below.
And we discovered … MOUSETOPIA.
As the top layer of shavings was disturbed, the little roaches-with-fur (gives you a whole different mental image than Mickey, doesn’t it?) came scuttling out between our shovels, feet, and legs. We found three or four main nests (including one full of “pinkies”), all connected by a network of tunnels dug into the densely-packed shavings-and-poop.
This was not a job for the faint of heart. Just sayin.’
Having smelled them and seen them and learned to despise them for weeks, I learned very quickly to react to the sight of a moving mouse with a shovel or a boot. They get stunned and then you put them out of their misery permanently. And feed them to the waiting chickens. Who gobble them down happily.
The chickens had a feast. We stopped counting after we’d killed 50 mice.
We shoveled everything out: several cart-loads full that went to the compost (where the chickens are still scratching through to their hearts’ content). We put down a nice new layer of cedar shavings. We replaced the roosting ladder, nesting boxes, feeder, and waterer. And then we let the chickens back into their happy, cozy, no-longer-mousey home.
And we haven’t seen a mouse in there since.
Victory is ours!
More gut-wrenching, hair-raising (as well as beautiful and inspiring) tales of farm life to come. Subscribe and enjoy!