Last year we built a lovely shed to store kitchen cabinets we got for free from my parents. There was a tight timetable and we had to get the cabinets under roof very quickly, which meant the shed wasn’t quite finished in time for moving day. However, there was one detail – about a day’s worth of work – that we really should have done prior to moving day. It would have saved us a lot of frustration later on. We should have rodent-proofed it.

Consequently, the shed became a splendid palace for at least a dozen mice and one packrat. And my parents’ cabinets became their playground. Or rather, their poop-ground.

Incidentally, for most of my monthly trips to the property this past year, it was Man Versus Wild. Not only were there mice and packrats in the shed, there was a persnickity packrat in the potty house and a woodpecker managed to invade the Pumphouse. I didn’t get much done around the property except evicting the local wildlife, repairing the damage they did, and attempting to prevent future invasions.

The potty house and pumphouse were relatively easy to deal with, but the shed, packed full of cabinets, was a terrible front. Normally I am a catch-and-release kind of guy… if the wildlife invades my home it’s my fault for creating such an inviting place and not taking steps to exclude uninvited guests. Doing what God made you to do isn’t necessarily a reason to die. But the mice in the shed had to go. Not only were they making a total mess of our cabinets and shed, but they are also vectors of hantavirus and therefore potentially very dangerous. So out came the snap traps.

Just before Christmas, wifey and I together finally defeated the rodent menace and reclaimed the shed and its contents! Of the dozen mice and packrat, I only managed to remove the packrat and one mouse alive; the others were killed in traps. The live critters were released many miles away.

The shed is now rodent-proofed and rodent-free!

In the process we learned a lot about rodent-proofing and removal. The process is pretty simple but things have to be done in the proper order. First, rodent-proof the building. Second, trap the rodents by killing or removing them. Third, clean up the mess.

Rodent-proofing

  • If you want to build a storage building, rodent proof it before you put anything inside.
  • Great rodent-proofing materials include coarse steel wool, sheet metal, hardware cloth, aluminum window screen, and wood at least a half inch thick. I’ve seen a packrat chew its way into solid wood to make an existing opening wider, though.
  • Mice will fit through any opening the diameter of a pencil. If you use hardware cloth make sure the openings are smaller than pencil-size.
  • Mice and rats are accomplished climbers so don’t neglect the roof. Our shed has a corrugated steel roof; mice would crawl through the gaps between the steel and the wood structural members, so I had to plug them with steel wool and caulk.
  • Pay attention to what is around the outside of the building. Eliminate sheltering brush, low branches, or tall grass that provides cover for rodents. Also prune trees back away from the roof or walls. Don’t stack lumber, firewood, or other potential harborage next to the building; keep it off the ground and at least ten feet away. The basic idea is pretty simple: don’t give rodents places to hide.

Rodent removal

  • If you have a rodent-infested building, educate yourself about the rodents you have and the types of diseases you risk contracting before you begin work!
  • While packrats don’t carry hantavirus or plague, they do harbor the infamous kissing bug. Make sure their nests are completely destroyed or else the kissing bugs, now with no rodent blood to eat, will come after the next best thing: you. The bite of the kissing bug is often painless but can trigger a severe allergic reaction. If you are highly sensitized you can go into shock and die, much as someone allergic to bee stings when stung by a bee. (Rodent removal is fun, isn’t it?)
  • Don’t start trapping or removing rodents until after you rodent-proof. Otherwise you create a revolving door for the rodent population. You could increase your risk of coming into contact with a diseased rodent.
  • Snap traps work great. In our case we made monthly trips to check on the property, so live traps would result in starved mice. Better to just kill them quickly.
  • Live traps, especially the multiple-catch kind, work very well if you can inspect them regularly and are careful to release the rodents far away (several miles). Some claim that even then the rodent will return, but we haven’t had that experience.
  • Do not use poison bait! Mice and rats are prey to many species of wildlife, including many endangered ones. Predators tend to pick off sick or wounded prey, and if they eat poisoned prey, the predators get poisoned and also die. That’s bad enough, but since you’re killing off the predator population, in the end you wind up with even more rodents! Snap traps and live traps work too well to warrant the use of poisons.

Cleaning up

  • If there’s a chance that you’re dealing with fresh mouse excrement, don’t disturb it. Follow the procedures available from the CDC to minimize risks related to hantavirus. Mice may also have fleas which in turn may have plague, so don’t try to handle the cuddly little guys or otherwise present yourself as an alternative host.
  • Once you’ve cleaned up, if you’re concerned about rodents returning somehow try to organize things to minimize rodent habitat. I’ve found that this actually works to deter rodents in non-rodent-proofed structures like our potty house. When we leave the property, I disassemble the seat and arrange everything such that there are no spaces that would seem sheltered to a rodent. Rodents can easily enter and leave the potty house, but they don’t stay or move in because there’s no inviting place to build a nest.
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