By Sarah Holm
Watching the grass grow this spring makes me remember past grazing seasons. A few summers ago, I had an experience out in a field that changed my perspective of mice forever.
I was moving the fence one summer evening, in the field west of the house. As Organic Valley farmers we rotationally graze our cows, so every morning and every evening someone from my family goes out and moves the temporary electric fence, usually while the cows are being milked. I enjoy moving the fence and this particular night I had brought a cat with me for company.
The cat, a young tom named Gulliver, amused himself chasing butterflies while I took down the old fence line, set up the plastic posts about forty feet away from the old fence line and then strung the electric fence wire through the posts. After I had finished with the fence, I chased down Gulliver, who was stalking me in the tall grass, and carried him with me to check on the cow's water tank before I went into the barn.
I always check the water tank to make sure the hose and float are working and to see if it needs to be cleaned. The tank was in good condition so I began walking back to the barn, still carrying Gulliver.
I was watching the grass as I walked, checking for dung beetles and noting the different plant species, so it was no wonder I saw the mouse. The brown mouse looked up at me fiercely with large black eyes. Without a second thought I promptly tossed the cat on her.
That really wasn't fair according to my rules, I had long ago decided to never bother a mouse that wasn't near the barn or the house. I had decided field mice never bothered anybody as long as they stayed in the field. I said so to my dad once when I was ten years old and he agreed. "We have to work with the whole ecosystem," he said. So, I have always tried to be kind to mice.
Gulliver was quite insulted to be down on the ground so suddenly, but when the orange cat saw the mouse run off he instantly felt better. He ran after her and, almost lazily, flipped the fat mouse onto her back. The mouse flipped back onto her feet and ran away again and Gulliver followed her, enjoying the chase. He had her trapped against a large clump of grass when I ran up to watch. Gulli pawed her a few times and tossed her into the air and she landed with a thump. The next time Gulli came at her, she fought back! The mouse stood on her hind legs, and when the cat tried to bite her she scratched his face so fast and furiously, it looked like she was boxing him!
I watched astonished as the cat and mouse fought together. I couldn't help but notice the difference in how they fought. The cat was just enjoying his exciting meal, but the mouse was fighting for her life. I had never seen anything like that before. Usually mice just tried to get away; they had never fought back before!
I really felt bad for the little mouse; she was trying so hard to scare Gulliver away. Then, desperately, she stopped scratching Gulliver's face and leaped for his paw. She grabbed onto it and sunk her teeth in as far as she could. Gulliver let out a hiss of pain and lunged to bite her.
Up to this point, Gulliver had been enjoying the battle, as cats like to play with their victims before they kill them sometimes. Gulliver hadn't been using his claws and he hadn't bit the mouse. But now that the mouse was hanging like a leech from his paw, Gulli wasn't having fun anymore and he decided to end the fight.
I intervened right before he bit her, grabbing the cat by the scruff of the neck and lifting him into the air. I respected this warrior mouse too much to let her die. I shook Gulliver's paw until the mouse let go. She fell the few feet to the ground and stood up, unhurt. Gulliver squirmed to get at her but I tucked him tightly under one arm and told him to be quiet. The mouse crouched in the grass and sniffed around her, wondering where the cat was. Then she stood up slowly, quivering with fear, and looked at me suspiciously.
"I'm sorry, mouse." I found myself speaking to her demanding black eyes. "I didn't think. You can go now, I've got the cat." I stamped my feet at her until she ran away. I watched her run until she disappeared into the grass, and then I watched the grass ripple where she ran until I couldn't tell her rippling wake apart from the waves the wind made in the green grass.
Farm Fact: The first mice to arrive in North America arrived as stowaways on ships from Europe.