Animals at Work

Mice and rats could be a problem in the kitchen because they are attracted to the wide variety of food found there. They are nocturnal, so are active at night when no-one is around. Many varieties of mousetraps and herbal repellants existed, but the best protection was to have a cat or two. These cats had to work for a living; in exchange for a warm bed near the fire and an occasional bowl of cream, they were expected to keep the kitchen free of pests.

Insects were another problem in the kitchen because there were no screens on the window and doors. Mosquitos do not like the smell of smoke, so they were not too troublesome in the kitchen, but flies were a constant challenge. People did not know that flies carry bacteria, but they knew that flies were bothersome! Moths like to lay their eggs in grain; herbs such as wormwood were used to repel them. Ants like sweet things; precious sugar had to be kept in a tightly closed container. This was also true for molasses and honey. Many birds like to eat insects, so bird houses would be put up near the building to attract them, with the hope that the birds would help to keep the insect population under control.

Many wild animals were attracted to farmyards; they would try to get into the henhouse or the barn in order to eat eggs, or even to catch the chickens, ducks, and geese. Dogs sleeping in the barn would guard the farm animals from predators such as foxes and raccoons.

A Closer Look at the Painting

What evidence can you see of animals at work in this painting? Are there any animals here that are not expected to work in some way, even if they are resting now? Can you find a bird house?