Keeping Mice in Their Place…Outdoors

Told there was nothing to be done about the mouse problem on the farm, she found a creative and humane solution.

- Posted on Jun 10, 2013

An artist's whimsical rendering of a field mouse on a farm

I opened the door to my boyfriend’s 1948 International grain truck without a moment’s hesitation. “Okay!” he called. “When I get the chain connected to the other truck, you go forward slowly until the other engine gets going!”

“Got it!” I said. I was eager to show Johnny I knew my way around the farm. Just because I worked behind a cosmetics counter didn’t make me prissy!

My dad was an entomologist. I’d grown up around creepy, crawly things he studied. They were all part of God’s universe. Not as pretty as angels, but just as necessary. I could handle anything a farm threw at me.

Johnny attached the chain to another truck that had been sitting in his barn through the long North Dakota winter. With spring and planting season coming on, it was time to get her running.

I slid my legs under the steering wheel, wishing I’d worn jeans instead of shorts. The seat was covered with dust and bits of insulation. It probably hasn’t been cleaned since ’48, I thought. The cab smelled of mothballs. I could feel a headache coming on, like the kind I got after spraying perfume all day long at the store.

Johnny connected the chain, hopped in the cab behind me and gave me a thumbs-up. I started the engine and put the truck in gear. It eased forward, the chain tightening. I felt a tingling on my bare leg, like little feet running up my skin. Like a bug or a... Mouse! In my lap!

I slammed on the brakes and sprang out of the cab. “A mouse!” I screamed, my hands waving over my head. “It’s in the truck. Get it away from me!” I could still feel the critter’s feet on my skin!

“Sorry, there’s always mice on a farm,” Johnny said. “I put some mothballs in the truck, but nothing really works.”

“Oh,” I said, embarrassed. Maybe I was a little prissy after all. I glared at the truck. That little mouse had messed with the wrong girl! Clearly he didn’t mind the smell of mothballs, but maybe...

I pulled out some perfume samples from my purse and sprayed them inside the cab, under the seat and the dashboard, along the floorboards, everywhere. My dad had a favorite saying: “Build a better mousetrap and the world will beat a path to your door.” It was time to test out Dad’s theory.

There was a second of silence, followed by the sound of scampering feet. Ha! “They don’t want to sit in your truck when it smells like that,” I said. I couldn’t wait to tell Dad!

Johnny sniffed and made a face. “Neither do I.”

Perfume obviously wasn’t the best solution. Johnny didn’t like it, it was expensive, and the mice would come right back when it faded. I guess I hadn’t found Dad’s better mousetrap. “There’s nothing you can do about mice on a farm,” Johnny said. “Except get used to them.”

But over the next few weeks I couldn’t stop thinking about that mouse problem. Johnny was right. Mice were everywhere. I didn’t want to kill them. Maybe I wasn’t as fond of them as I was of Dad’s bugs, but they were one of God’s creepy crawlies just the same.

“Try experimenting with different things,” Dad said when I mentioned the incident over the phone. Dad was gravely ill and I knew he didn’t have much longer on this earth. “See what makes the best mouse repellent,” he challenged me.

The best mouse repellent, I thought as I hung up. But how?

Johnny got used to my fascination with repelling mice. We got married and moved to the country. I traded in my cosmetics counter for endless cornfields. I planted a huge garden and grew organic produce I sold to restaurants and at farmer’s markets.

On another patch I grew flowers and used the blooms to make potpourris and sachets, playing with scents. “Your potpourri smells wonderful,” a lady said at the market one weekend. “It drew me to your booth.”

“Thank you,” I said. Little did she know I was in pursuit of exactly the opposite—a scent that would drive something away: mice!

A lot of my profits went into my experiments. I bought all kinds of oils, peppermint and rose, cedar and balsam fir. I kept Dad posted on my progress. But I needed something to absorb the oil, to keep the aroma. Farmers wanted something that would last at least six months.

Pinecones were absorbent. A farmer could toss a pinecone into the cab of a truck and forget about it. I paid neighborhood kids to gather bags of pinecones and swabbed them with oil. Then I gave them to friends to test over the winter.

And they worked! The mice wanted nothing to do with them. Especially the pinecones soaked in balsam oil. There was just one problem. I’d used every pinecone for miles around. They just weren’t practical to use on a big scale. I knew the oil that worked best. I just needed something to hold the scent.

That spring, Dad died. Without his encouragement, I was all but ready to give up on my project. A massive summer hailstorm was icing on the cake. The cornfields, the garden—all of it was gone. Just like Dad. Just like my plans for a better mouse repellent.

Maybe Johnny was right. The only way to deal with mice on a farm was to get used to them.

I went outside where Johnny was picking up branches. All seemed hopeless. How would we recover? “We’ll get through this,” Johnny said. “This time next year we’ll have more crops than we know what to do with.”

It was true. Every spring brought rebirth, a new start. Farmers planting wheat. And soybeans. Cornfields as far as the eye could see...

Corn. The thought tickled my brain the same way that mouse’s feet had tickled my leg so long ago. How could I not have thought of it before? Ground up corncobs would hold the balsam scent for months!

I had the answer. It’d come to me at the very moment when it seemed there were no answers. When my life was at its bleakest. Not my idea. More like a connection, a stirring inside of me, an inspiration worthy of my father. Delivered on angel wings.

Today I sell my Fresh Cab mouse repellent pouches in all 50 states and Canada. People write to me with stories about mice and how happy they are to keep them outdoors where they belong. I read every one of them. Mice have become my favorite creepy crawly. (And my favorite kind of angel.)


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