Two nights ago, just before dark, I discovered a big pile of loose dirt on the back side of the duck cage. Just next to the cage was a hole that led under and into the floor of the pen. Obviously, the chicken wire lining I had installed did not stop this critter. What worried me the most was the way the ducks acted. They did not want to go in. Even though supper (including Cheerios treats) awaited them in their small shelter, the web-footed birds avoided it like the duck-plague. Something had been in their home and terrorized them.
What horrible animal had dug the hole, and what could I do about it? Logic and past animal adventures told me I was dealing with a rat. Heart pounding, I crawled into the small house and shined the flashlight into all the corners to make sure nothing lurked inside. Then, I filled in the hole from the outside and covered it with a piece of plywood.
As I strode to the garage for the live-trap, my mind skittered back to the long-ago winter on our South Dakota farm, the winter of the great rat infestation. When you live in the country and have livestock and feed, it is a given that there will be rodents around. Our lab-mix dog, Rex and the menagerie of barn cats usually kept the population down to manageable limits, but one year the pesty, brown scavengers invaded the hen house. Beady eyes shone from corners of the coop on rare night-time egg hunts. Feed consumption spiraled but not by the eggers. Something had to be done. The men tried a couple of midnight raids with the 22 rifle but only managed to eliminate a couple critters.
Delmer recalls that finally Dad got the idea of putting one of the tomcats into the coop at night. Sprinkles (I take full responsibility for cat names) was a black and white long-haired, rub-on-your-legs pussycat. I could not imagine the gentle cat even stalking disgusting rats, say nothing about killing them, but I was wrong.
The next morning eight fat rodent carcasses were literally lined up next to the door. After a week of slumber parties with the chickens, Sprinkles was no longer needed as the mighty hunter of the coop.
Though the feline possessed amazing hunting prowess, he wimped out on standing up to the dog. One Saturday, a couple weeks after the cat cleaned the coop, we woke up to a six-inch blanket of whiteness on the ground. This was the heavy wet stuff that sticks to boots and shovels—and fur.
Rex bounced around in excitement about the new wet snow. He grabbed bites of it as he tore through the yard. The humans in the family added shoveling and scooping paths to our usual list of Saturday farm chores. No one noticed the slowly moving white form creeping next to the front porch. Rex had romped and rolled and pushed the cat through the snow until he was a snowball with tiny areas of skin and fur peeking out between hundreds of small ice clumps.
Just before supper, Delmer stomped off his 5-buckle overshoes and opened the screen door. He heard a weak meow and turned around to find the barely-recognizable Sprinkles, struggling to move.
Mom had a no-animals-in-the-house rule, but she also had a very soft heart. Sprinkles was soon sprawled on a rug in the warm kitchen as Delmer and I pulled and brushed packed snow out of his matted coat. After a couple hours, the snow melted, and the cat began exploring the house. Mom and Dad both said “No!” to my sudden plea that we needed a housecat, so once Sprinkles was dry and fluffy, he strolled back outside to his role of rat patrol.
Back to my duck house this morning, I checked my trap for the second time. Nothing. I used smoked pork as bait, since I had leftovers in the refrigerator. In the past I have caught them with bacon. Maybe this guy is on a high-fat diet, so I will try bacon next. And maybe Cheerios.
Better yet, I wish I had a cat like Sprinkles.
Kruempel’s newest book release, Once Upon a Midwest Sunset, as well as her series, Promises to Keep, are available on Amazon.com. Once Upon a Midwest Sunset (an excellent gift) is a compilation of the stories from her NOOKS AND CRANNIES column, which was published in five newspapers in 2020-21. Contact her at email@example.com and receive free stories, recipes, photos and updates.
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