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September 10, 2012

Varmint Killing 101: Rats

Alright folks, huddle up. Let's talk about rats and how to rid your barnyard of that pestilence carrying vermin. Like it or not, rats will be come part of your life if you have livestock. Try as you might there is no earthly way to keep them out so you'll have to deal with them one way or another. Lets talk about it.

My "The Black Death", not to be confused with a pestilence.

If barnyard deaths due to varmints, feed losses, and general grossness doesn't encourage you to rid your place of rats, well then... just remember that The Black Death is still alive and well. As is the hantavirus.  While you might intend to come to the country and live in the Peacable Kingdom, I tell you the truth. The first time you find your sweet little duck momma pitching a fit and squawking, then go to find her singleton duckling missing..... only to find it horribly savaged and half drug down a rat hole.... you'll take up your battle implements, cry havoc, and let slip the barncats of war on those rats, for sure.

Before we get too far into this fair warning - all you tender vittles need to turn away. This is just for the farm people. Life and death spin in a tight little circle out here and city folks and the tender hearted might just burst into tears...and we wouldn't want that. And at the end of the discussion we'll all sing a rousing chorus of our favorite varmint killing songs including "Die Possum Die," and "That Hav-a-Hart Trap Won't Help You Much When I Blast You to Kingdom Come," and "I'll See You In Hell, Raccoon."  In fact why don't most of you just click here and look deep into the calm, limpid pools of Little Mo's eyes and I'll see you tomorrow when we talk about canning. And if you feel the need to tell me that my bloodlust is offensive, well. Just keep it to yourself. I'm clear on your position.

My Fighting Uruk-hai, loves to kill stuff.

If any one is still with me then lets move on.

About this time of year we see a bloom in rat activity. If we don't just plain ol' see them thieving curs running around while we are out doing chores at night, we'll start to see their droppings or damage to the poultry houses such as digging around the buildings or chewing thru the walls and doors. And I can smell those dirty rats. They smell like warm, bad, fur.

Rats will be very happy to eat all your feed, then turn their attention to eggs, and then chicks, and then who knows. At some point the adults are either too numerous or too big for the barncats. And since they breed like rats, well, at some point the population will get out of control. That's about the time you need to take other measures.

To be sure, the barncats do a darn fine job but really we probably need a couple more assassins to really do the job right. We figure that some lost souls will eventually find their way to us, or our Good Vet will call us up and say they have just the feral cats we need. We could probably use a good ratting dog. Anything that is low to the ground and has "terrier" in its name was originally bred to kill rats. Fast, determined, with powerful jaws and designed-to-dig claws - makes you wonder why Grandma Pittypoo would want that little "lap dog" to be her friend.  However, we cant really abide by small dogs so that's not a great option for us. 

What happens when big dogs hear rats. A rat terrier wouldn't make this big of a hole.

We've never had any particular luck with traps. Most of the time we'll go out to find the traps sprung, or lets face it - I'm always afraid that I'll get hung up in the damn things. To tell you the truth the best "trap" we have is a half-full water bucket. Surely the most lethal thing in the barnyard.  Many times we've had all rat-killing measures thwarted only to find a couple of them stinin' varmints drown in buckets. Its a good passive strategy, cuz they were stupid enough to fall in, right? There are actually designs for rat traps based on this principal.

But mostly when we find we're being over run with the cursed Norway rat we'll use poison to knock down the populations.  Did everyone just take a sharp breath in? Yep you heard me, poison. Its a tricky thing for sure but we've found it to be the most effective. Unfortunately while effective, its not very fast. Generally this is a 10 day to two week process of setting poison out and then waiting for the bodies to pile up.The rats will eat the poison for the first 2 or 3 days that we put it out then they will start to die.

Natural Born Killaz on patrol. They can hear rats.

Of course this is a "Code Red" project and should be handled as such. You sure don't want your chickens, ducks, or barncats to get into the poison. We go about this with great care. First, we only ever keep poison in a locking bucket. Next we put the poison out at night in an empty, locking coop - those rats will find it for sure. This way your hens will already be roosting and they cant get into the poison in the morning. And we keep everyone contained until we do a sweep of the barnyard to remove the carcasses. You don't want your dogs, cats, or chickens to eat a poison-killed rat.

Typically on the 3rd or 4th day we start to find dead rats. They generally don't go very far so we do a walk around the poultry houses and the vicinity. Normally I take Dog#1 with me as he'll find them but has no interest in touching them. Kai and Zander, on the other hand, think that dead or dying rats are the best thing ever - don't ask me how I know unless you want to hear the stories of "Rat Tug O War" or "Rat Pinata." Gruesome. So Kai and Zander do not come with me on morning rounds and I do not let the dogs run loose in the mornings as they usually do. I also don't let the barncats out until I'm out there doing chores and can supervise the situation.

About this time someone will freak out and say, "Well what about other cats and dogs?" Luckily the Dog Horde do a pretty good job of keeping wanders off the property. And since we are pretty remote we don't feel this is an issue. For a while the Good Neighbor's barncat was coming around. She doesn't do that anymore after I let Dog#1 tree her. Don't worry, this was a controlled operation to incite Shock-n-Awe and it worked just fine. She's stays on her side now. 

The next shrill question I get is, "But how can you be sure your dogs don't find the rats?"  Because I'm with them all of the time. The ten days - two weeks "Red Zone" time is a long, sad time for the dogs because they are closely controlled and either under my direct supervision or in the house. Also, Dog#1 and #2 aren't really hunters....and my natural born killaz, Kai and Zander, like to bring me their kills. Which is gross but they are well rewarded for their body count so they think its the best thing ever. To our surprise, our curly tailed bear killers are "soft mouthed" - meaning they don't chew up their kills but instead handle them gently...after you know,  killing them varmints until they are dead.

So what do we do with the rat bodies? I get the gloves, the longest handled pitchfork or shovel I can find, and a feed sack. I go around and scoop up the bodies put them in the sack and put that rat-sack in a locking garbage can. Our garbage guy hates us for sure.

There are a couple situations were I would not use poison. First is in the house - especially with The Insane Cat Posse.  There's no way to tell what all goes on with this crew and too many hiding places. Plus I'm usually outside so I can't always supervise them. The inside cats are pretty good hunters so normally mice and rats inside aren't a problem.

Next, I wouldn't use poison if I lived in city where there is no easy way to keep roaming cats and dogs out of the danger zone. I also wouldn't use poison if I wasn't at home to be outside and supervise the areas while the bodies were piling up. In the barnyard the hennies usually like to hop around and scream when they find the rats... so I just listen and watch them closely. Last, I wouldn't use poison if I had kids - especially small children.

So that's the story on Varmint Killing, the Oh Rats edition. Now if you'd like to join me we can all start the morning with a round of "Die Possum Die"... everyone together now.... "Die Possum Die... I can't wait to shooooot you in the eye... Die Possum Die....Watch out for My Fighting Uruk-Hai......"

Happy Monday everyone! Are you seeing more rats? As this weather starts to turn they'll be making their way into barns and poultry buildings.