Friday, March 26, 2010

I'm Gonna Fix That Rat, That's What I'm Gonna Do

I didn't want to tell you all about this little issue we've been having on the farm. It's one of those things that gives folks the serious heebie jeebies at the slightest mention. Rats. There, I said it. Those who have no stomach for the discussion of vermin execution, read no further. This is today's topic.

I thought I had the matter under control, my definition of control being that I could just live and let live. But when I woke up yesterday morning and found that my entire garden, which had grown a solid six inches high over the past few weeks, had been completely decimated, mowed down to bare earth without a single green stem left standing, I realized that I had seriously underestimated the problem.

I don't know why I thought I could avoid all this. My neighbors had always complained about rats in their basement units, but we had never seen one. Odd since we are butted up against a Chinese restaurant and produce bodega, not to mention the other three restaurants sharing our block. Even for the first six months of having livestock, we saw no signs of these dreaded creatures. Our luck eventually ran out and when it did... oh brother!

It started with the onset of the rainy season. I began to notice droppings around the animals' feed dishes. The Disgruntled Farmhand operated the first line of attack, glue traps and snap traps, after hearing the screeches of rat gangs fighting for territory along the fence lines. The only thing the glue traps caught was our dog's tongue and the snap traps had a tendency to fall short of the finish line, leaving the DF to end the ugly business with a shovel. This was messy and not as humane a death as I would have hoped for.

For advice, I turned to other urban farmers who assured me that this was a seasonal problem. They dealt with it by using poison just to get it over with quick and easy. I didn't feel like this was a good option for us because of the number of stray cats and pets wandering our neighborhood. I didn't want to kill someone's unsuspecting Fido seeking out a late night rat snack. Poison is also a painful death, and though I was fully poised for murdering the bastards, I'd like to think of myself as somewhat of a merciful henchman.

I did some online research and found that electrocution would be quick and cause the least amount of suffering. We bought a rat zapper. It worked perfectly when it caught that first rat, but since the zapper died the next day, shorting out in a rainstorm, this didn't seem to be a great option either. Plus, it can only off one rat a night. With a 40 plus dollar price tag, this was going to be an expensive and lengthy massacre. So I let sleeping dogs lie. Other than the blood curdling, vaguely human-like squeals, emanating from somewhere near the compost pile in the deep recesses of the backyard, they seemed to be harmless. Oh I know, there's that whole plague thing. But when have you heard about a recent plague outbreak?

I love how my thinking can spiral downward into unconscionable levels of denial as some sort of avoidance of action. We all find ourselves there from time to time. It's not that I'm lazy, more in a state of paralysis due to ignorance of rodent killing methods that would meet my criteria: not causing harm to other creatures and being as humane as any killing can possibly be. I didn't even go there with all the disease related issues attributed to rodents, let alone that rats are one of the most destructive forces in agricultural crops worldwide and a huge food security issue. But this total and utter annihilation of my beloved plants that I've babied since the first shoots popped through the damp, crusted soil was a rude awakening to exactly how big this problem actually is.

The breeding capabilities of the Norway rat (this is the specific vermin we are having the problem with) along with the laws of mathematics indicate that within the span of a year, one pair of rats can produce up to 5,000 descendants. Let's just hope that the exponential population growth capabilities have not been fully realized, as I have been sitting on this dilemma for almost a full six months. I suspect, however, that the infestation is substantial. Last night, I went out at dusk to put the animals to bed and saw more rats than I have seen combined in the past half year. This is a very bad sign.

What are we going to do? I'll tell you what we are going to do; wage war on these little mother fu*&$%#! This weekend we shall enact Operation Rid Ourselves of All Rats. OROAR will have multiple lines of defense consisting of

  1. electric fencing put on a timer for nighttime, so that when those pesky varmints try to enter the yard or garden bed - BOOM! - ouch is right you dirty little rat!
  2. extruded metal on major thoroughfares into the yard. Critters hate this stuff because it cuts up their tender feet.
  3. the Zimbabwe bucket trap which consists of a bucket filled with water buried in the ground, and a dried corncob smeared with peanut butter (I'm going to add some animal feed sprinkles to further entice) that can rotate freely on a stick, laid over the top of the bucket. The rat scurries out onto the corncob smothered in goodness and then falls into the bucket from which it cannot get out. Drowning is not ideal, but it's better than blood and guts. I'm certain this method will be most effective since I have so far found three drowned rats in the goats' water bucket. Ack, poor goats!
I will keep you posted on how successful we are with OROAR. As the goats will be on holiday in Lake County starting this Sunday, we will be a lot freer to experiment with the electric fencing without shocking our girls. Hopefully it won't be a case of free electroshock therapy for the DF.


  1. I can feel your pain. We delt with rats around our home in the Dallas area years ago. They invaded our property after construction started behind us. They managed to get in our attic and garage. We could hear them fighting in the attic at night. I, like you, did not want to use poison as we had dogs in our home. It was on ongoing battle the whole time we lived in the house. We did use the large rat traps. We never had to "finish the job" with those, but they did learn to avoid them. We did have another tool in our arsonal. Our female dog would hunt and kill them. I could always tell where they were nesting becasue she would sniff them out. We would then dig them out of where ever they were at be it under the dog house or in the shed and as they ran off she would catch them and kill them with a bite to the back of the neck. Her best count was 6 in one nest. We did eventually find all of the holes they were using to get into the attic and plug them up but did have to make sure that they did not chew through again. You wil never get rid of them all but you can reduce the number if you are dilagent with your efforts. I hope you win this war. Keep us posted and believe me you are NOT the only one who has to go to battle with the rodent population. I myself have recently delt with a rabiit invasion. I happens to us all.

  2. oh yuck, you had the other kind of rats. I wish our dog and cat were effective exterminators. unfortunately, they are totally lame. DF says that someone who he was working for installed an electric fence and it completely got rid of the problem. i'm not that hopeful. Sorry to hear about the rabbits. my friend is dealing with a serious squirrel problem. where are you located now?

  3. We are now living in outside of Pueblo Colorado. It was a move home for my husband and I. Yes the rats that you have sometimes look like small dogs!! We had a pack of coyotes move in and the rabbits have dwindled down to a normal population. I have not heard about the electric fence for rats before. Hope it works.

  4. We're going to electric this year. I got hit hard in 2013 and then in 2014, could hardly grow anything edible. We've had a professional pest control guy working on it all winter and come spring, I'm electrifying the garden.

  5. I would love to see pictures of electric fence solutions for rats! I live in San Francisco and we have had a horrible problem the past six months after not really having a problem for six years! Very frustrating, isn't it!