Saturday, 13 October 2012 17:00

Rodent Wars

off grid, living off grid, self sufficient, homestead, sustainableThis blog could be a little squeamish for some. It involves the constant battle of all kinds of little animals when you build in their territory. Pack rats, squirrels, ground squirrels, chipmunks, and mice in our case. They do the most damage. Then we have to watch out for weasels, hawks, and coyotes that seem to have a taste for free range chicken.

When Laurie and I first started looking for property in this area we were just driving around one day when we saw a guy coming out of his driveway on a backhoe. I stopped the truck and flagged him down when he came out onto the road. I introduced ourselves to him and asked him if he would mind answering a few questions about the area. We talked for a while and then he said “if I was going to give you guys just one piece of advice this would be it – you think these little creatures are cute and they are, but they are also very destructive”. He then went on to warn us that he had suffered over $3,000 in damage his first year in his new home. Mostly from squirrels that got into his garage and house attic. Most of the damage was in the garage. Torn up insulation and wiring. He had to remove the sheetrock on the walls and ceilings to make the repairs. Some electronic equipment was also damaged. An expensive lesson for all. I appreciated his advice.

After we bought our property the first building we put up was the barn. I had a lot of extras added like 6” of insulation in the ceiling along with a Simple Saver insulation cover which is a reinforced white vinyl used in ceilings to hold the insulation up into the rafters. Usually you just have 1½” white vinyl faced insulation in the ceiling but we wanted to be able to heat the building in the winter.

We had a trailer on the property at the time. I still remember that night. Driving 250 miles just to see our new barn. We pulled in just in time to get the keys from our builder as he was hauling the last cleanup load to the dump. Everything was shiny and new. Later I would put the concrete floor and the horse stalls in myself but for now it was beautiful, my first barn!

After spending the night in our trailer parked outside, we got up, had breakfast and went out to look at our new barn some more before we went to work on other things. I went inside and was horrified to see the insulation and simple saver cover at both ends of the peaked ceilings torn to shreds. At each wall plate, 16’ off the ground where the roof meets the walls there were four holes about 6” – 8”m long – on BOTH sides of the barn. Our Polaris Ranger RV was parked inside. Some of the wiring was chewed and there were some kind of animal pellets everywhere. We found the same evidence in the outhouse and the woodshed about 100’ away. All the toilet paper in the outhouse was shredded and little pellets all over the floor and seat.

It turns out we had a packrat, our first night in our new barn. I had never seen one animal do so much damage. I went to town and got a packet of One Bite and went to work setting bait. I climbed up the ladder 16’ to place some bait next to one of the holes in the insulation. I just got to the top and was setting the bait in place when the stupid packrat stuck his head out of the hole just inches from my face. I almost went backward off the ladder he gave me such a start. Laurie was watching me and had to laugh at what occurred because it was funny but she did admit she was glad I didn’t fall.

That animal was pretty cute. It looked like a little Chinchilla but it had to go. It took the bait and the bait did its job. Two days later we got Mrs. Packrat as well. It bothered me to go after something as cute as these animals but they just had to go. It took a whole day to repair the damage not to mention the 50 miles round trip for materials.

Since then we have declared war on all kinds of small mammals and rodents. We have had further damage from ground squirrels, chipmunks, and mice. If they approach the barn, house, or garden they have to go. I don’t hesitate any more. We actually had a ground squirrel undermine a cut and fill bank of dirt in front of the barn. Over 100’ long and 4’ back from the edge, that whole section of bank collapsed and sank about 6”. These cute little animals can do a serious amount of damage.

We don’t do it lightly or with any pleasure and it is so unpopular with many people we just don’t bring it up in conversation but if you are going to build in an undeveloped area you need to know what you are getting into and that is why I’m willing to share the less attractive side of living the way we do.

Ed and Laurie Essex live off grid in the Okanogan Highlands of Washington State where they operate their website  and Off Grid Works.

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