Get Rat Smart
Opportunist rodents head for shelter and food sources during the colder months, which means a hen coop, haybarn or even your house. No smallholder is immune, so what can you do to rid yourself of these canny and unwanted pests, asks Kim Stoddart
By Kim Stoddart
Mention the word rat to a fellow smallholder and you are near-guaranteed to illicit a sharp intake of breath and an expletiveladen rant of some description. Often it is hard to move the conversation on as these wily creatures have the potential to run pesky rings around us. Yes, you have to watch out for other potentially problem-creating animals living in the countryside (foxes, stoats, rabbits, etc) but, in my experience, rats are by far the most challenging of all.
As an enthusiastic wildlife lover (and otherwise encourager of all creatures great and small), it took a few years for me to come round to this way of thinking. It is not nice to have to set traps, or lay poison, or indeed safely dispose of the resulting limp bodies. Who wants to think about that? It’s really not the Good Life ideal is it? Yet the gritty truth of the matter is that if you give these clever creatures an inch, they will take a mile.
As well as the health risks associated with rats moving in close to livestock and your home, these rodents also have the potential to cause a lot of damage in a very short space of time. This is especially so at this time of year. As winter draws in, they will also take over and scour your hay store, eat produce in your polytunnel, get into outbuildings and — worse still — move into the very walls of your house given half the chance.
In the past, just some of the damage these creatures have caused because of our laxness in the early smallholding years includes a chewed through water pipe resulting in the need for an internal wall to be replaced; destroyed (eaten) seed packets; and stolen eggs from our ducks. Pet rats may be cute to look at, but rural rats are a different breed altogether and need to be kept seriously at bay.
Getting rat wise
Understanding how these creatures tick really helps when it comes to both preventing problems in the first place and also dealing with an outbreak when it occurs. In my book, rats are only an enemy when they try and muscle their way in and often it is our fault that they have done so in the first place. Kept back and out of mischief they need not be an enemy at all.
John Bryan is the owner of small family trap selling business Fourteen Acre and he
is also a font of all knowledge on all things pest control.
“Prevention is always better than cure — that should always be the first line of defence,” he says. “This is the time of year when vermin are most likely to move into animal housing, outbuildings and houses. With shorter, busier days it is very easy for a problem to build up unnoticed and become a real headache. Most of us are not as tidy as we would like to think we are and in the yard there will be signs of this year’s projects, perhaps with timber and other offcuts stacked in the corner. There might be empty sacks placed neatly in a pile, extra logs ready for winter, grass and weeds a little high, or the first drifts of autumn leaves. All of these will offer potential shelter for vermin, not necessarily to live in, but as areas of transit and cover when moving from place to place. A couple of hours dealing with this now will be time well spent.”
Block off holes
Once you have cleared the decks as it were, you need to conduct a visual inspection of buildings, animal shelters, stores and any other structures, according to John. “This doesn’t involve just a quick glance around, but a proper look. It’s amazing how quickly our brains begin to ignore things we’ve noticed before and we simply stop registering them. Have a pad of paper on which to make notes and put together a list. Look for rotten or damaged woodwork around door or window frames and search out any gaps,” John continues. “Remember that rats and especially mice can squeeze through surprisingly small holes. Once you’ve carried out your survey, tackle the problems that you’ve identified. It may not be possible to carry out a comprehensive repair, but take short-term measures to block holes. Builders’ expanding foam is cheap and easily available and it makes for a very quick gap filler.”
Step three, says John, is to prepare an ambush and Fourteen Acre sells a wide range of traps for every job. Visit www.fourteenacre.co.uk.
Rats tend to be the most challenging of all pests faced by smallholders A rat trap
Rats can find places all around a smallholding to shelter, especially if it is not as tidy as it could be
A humane trap for rats and stoats from Goodnature
A Fenn Mark rat trap