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

Country Smallholding - - Inside This -

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.

Tidy up

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.four­

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

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