Ohiofarmgirl's Adventures in The Good Land is largely a fish out of water tale about how I eventually found my footing on a small farm in an Amish town. We are a mostly organic, somewhat self sufficient, sustainable farm in Ohio. There's action and adventure and I'll always tell you the truth about farming.

Monday, 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.


Linda said...

For us it isn't rats, it's mice and skunks. Zeus used to keep them under control. I sure miss that guy.

David said...

I have no trouble getting rid of vermin. I've used snap traps and air rifles. Air rifle was effective but took too much time. When I was a young'en used to sit out in the old grain barn at a relatives and shoot them with a 22.

SOunds like you have the poison system down. I would be worried about cross contamination but putting it out into a locked down pen where only they can get it is a fine strategy!

Susan said...

Oh, yes. And this was a particularly bad year for them, the bastards. I trapped 27 in a live trap (drown, rat, drown!) then they go hip so I pulled out the poison. It's about all you can do. I think I'll go out now and sing a few rounds of your rat-killin' song. The lyrics are catchy.... :)

Diane said...

Our rat problem this year peaked at the height of the heat & drought. It drove them into a killing, feeding frenzy! We did have a dirt floor in our coop but we fixed that sucker right up after losing a major portion of our birds to rats & raccoons. Our anniversary present to each other this year was pouring concrete in the (metal) chicken and duck/geese houses. Ha! Take that, you nasty critters! They're either stuck in or out. If in, we bash the snot out of them with shovels and/or hubby's nasty boots. If they're out, they can't get to the feed, eggs, and little chicks. Plus the cats will eat the snot out of them. We just brought home three more killers a couple of weeks back.

(I'd not think twice about using poison, either, but I have kids. Once the kids are grown, I'm gonna get downright evil on 'em. Um, the rats & 'coons, not the kids. I'm already evil on the kids.)

Anyhoo, it seems that our rat problem is lessening now. Normally, it'd be starting to ramp up about this time. What a weird, stupid year this has been.

Quail said...

This is how things go around our house. Suburbia with no dog :( , no guns allowed and a 4 year old who convinced me to let a teen raccoon go...


The raccoons show up last night. First time since I let that cute one go. Darn things were carousing for about 3 hours with me providing the disco light in the form of an occasional flash light beam. They would be quiet for a bit after I flashed them, them gleefully find the NOISIEST leaf pile or clanky garden tool to lurch into. AAGGGHH!!!!

Then they started harassing the quail. That was IT! Anger propelled me out of bed. After ALL I did for them by releasing Ohsocutecoon! How DARE they!

So I ran outside in my PJs and flip flops (hardly girded, I know) and reached for the nearest weapon. A broom. A MIGHTY broom. Well, ok, only a plain old broom BUT I wielded it MIGHTILY! I ran toward aforesaid coons bellowing "Git!", the time honored expulsion chant bellowed by mighty warriors of yore.

The raccoon responded by growling in a menacing fashion from the dark crannies of the suddenly creepy-looking garden.

Did I hesitate? Um, ya, but it did not stop me because it is hard to turn around at full tilt on dewy grass while wearing flip flops. Now I know why those aforementioned warriors wear those cool lace-up studded booties - for sudden retreats!

Forward I stumbled ending up in the vegi garden where I scared the bejeebers out of a teen coon. It tried to hide in the kale but the rustling gave it away.

"Git! Git!" I chanted while whacking at the exposed keester of the growling, half-seen monster. It fled up a tree temporarily stimying me in my pursuit. I menaced it with a flashlight causing it the climb ever further in it's attempt to escape. The awesome power of light was on my side that night.

Growling also came from nearby. "Too close!", I thought and swiftly flip flopped a retreat to the lawn. Unable to pinpoint and hence avoid the menacing critter, I re-baited the raccoon trap and fled indoors.

The next raccoon in that trap shall meet his maker (and no the soft hearted 4 year old)

Anonymous said...

My youngest son's first full sentence was, "The only good coon is a dead coon."
Sniff, still brings a little tear to my eye...


IanH said...

That would definitely be a rat's worst nightmare, seeing that big dog bearing down on him. It might make visitors think twice before "just dropping in". :-}

Unknown said...

we have more of a problem with mice at our place. We leave poison inside the shed at all times, and all animals are banned from the shed. When it gets really bad, we put poison out around the feed bins at night and pick it up in the morning. I'm not sure how good quality it is, as we once came home to find the dog chewing on some that she had got down from our hiding place, and she didn't die, or even look sick. The poison works very well on rats/mice though, and the main problem is when they die in places where you can't find them, for ages we had a terrible smell in the shed, and only recently found the decayed body of a massive rat in amongst husband's collection of car parts. The other rodent solution in our parts is pythons, we are very lucky to have one living in our hay shed on top of the bales of hay, it is at least 3 m long and seems very happy up there collection the mice for us. Husband also has some good traps, little boxes where the mice can get in, but not out, and then you drown them. Best bait so far has been peanut butter. We leave these out around the house, as the dogs can't get into them (so far). Thanks for the laughs, its always interesting to read your perspective!

Damummis said...

Rats! Who cares about stinking rats! The squirrels and chipmunks have it all over rats. Damn varmints.

Ohiofarmgirl said...

You'll find a good mouser, Linda.. and when you do, give him snuggles from me.

Dave - there's nothing better than a rat shoot for sure! And yep locking it an empty coop works for us.

Susan, 27!!!! and yeah those are my favorite songs for sure!

Diane, I just watched a newstory abut how the drought may be causing the upswing in these vermin related diseases. Wow! Maybe thats why everyone is seeing more varmints. What a wonderful, thoughtful gift!

Quail, A hearty song of valor for sure! You swing that broom baby! And extra points for flippity flopping toward the face of danger! Outstanding work!

Yes, BR, I still weep with joy when I remember those words.....I love them kids.

Ian, The Dog Horde is mighty...varmints and strangers hear their roar...and fear.

Farmer Liz, someone just told me that dogs and cats can vomit up the poison - and rodents cant - which is why your dog may have been unaffected. Good strategies all around. I dont think our milk snake (a rodent eater) stuck around this summer but good on you for having some!

Damummis.. Kai and Zander just discovered squirrels - both of them tried to climb a tree the other day. Can you imagine? Bear killers that can climb trees? Be afraid, squirrels... be very afraid...

Unknown said...

OMG, that was too funny! Rat Pinata!!! I swear some dogs will eat anything. My old dog used to eat cat litter, ew.......

Anonymous said...

I liked my Rat Zapper indoors and outdoors. The electrocution pad would fry them 9 times out of 10 (changing the location after every zap)and would need a cleaning every four or five times, since they would smell up when deep fried.

The Desert Rats are gnarly guys and get quite large. We also would get field mice and unfortunately, we would also get the cute little Desert Ground Squirrels (they look like Chip and Dale) with fluffy tails. I loved watching them play outside the houses windows, but they are terrible once they get in the house.

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