Follow up ‘Rat Control’ responses

Mar 20, 2023

Thank you all for such a great array of responses to the #PennToPaper Rat Control article in the last newsletter. If you didn’t get around to reading it or want to refresh your memory, then here’s the link. Read on to explore the answers you all contributed, and don’t worry, if you’re not prepared to end your rats’ lives, there are plenty of less severe preventative options. Responses have been paraphrased & edited for length & clarity, and combined to avoid repetition.

Rat Cratoon Joke - "Mummy, what's that rat's name?" "He prefers to remain anony-mouse!"
Rat Cartoon – alice@wwoof

Let’s start with your comments on Scarlett’s main concerns about poison:

  • Most of you agreed that poison was simply not an option for you, many stating reasons such as ‘it’s a terrible thing to have in the ecological system’, ‘poison is slow to work’, ‘involves great suffering’, and ‘is dangerous and ineffective’.
  • In a case where poison was the only viable option: ‘I did an online training course which covered the responsible use of rodenticides, how to avoid non-target species having access to poison and limit secondary poisoning including of birds of prey. The course was free. There was an online assessment at the end and I had to pay to get the certificate. Once you start using it, you need to replenish [it] regularly. When I had a big problem, this was daily. Resistance and problems are caused by rats getting regular small doses that don’t kill. If they have a large dose they die fairly quickly.’

So, if you’re with Scarlett in the ‘no poison’ position, but are prepared to end the rats’ lives:

Cat holding a dead rat in it's mouth
Michael Brandtner – Wikimedia Commons
  • Ratting terriers were a popular choice: ‘They can be brought in to quickly and humanely dispatch rats if they are a problem on a farm. A kill takes a few seconds, and two or three visits will help persuade rats that a farm is not rodent friendly.’ Another response said ‘We have rat-men with terriers. Today they caught an impressive 145 on a farm near here. Their record stands at over 200 on a farm in the York area.’
  • Snap traps received moderate endorsements: ‘We have multiple snap traps carefully hidden in the surface of rock wool insulation in the attic’, ‘I’ve used snap traps but after finding a couple of them missing stopped that, as any slow death is vile’
  • Cats are another animal related option, with several advantages and disadvantages: ‘Cats will kill off young’, ‘I have come across part corpses of large rats left on the doorstep by my cat’, ‘they are animals with big teeth who will badly bite a cat’, ‘Our cat once caught a rat, now she’s elderly, her smell probably puts them off a bit.’
  • Air rifle: ‘We noticed that they were picking up seeds from underneath the bird feeders which were close to the house so our solution was to wait in position with a borrowed air rifle. I am uncomfortable about deliberately killing any animal but this at least seemed like a quick death and it was very effective.’
  • Drowning: ‘I trap them then drown them in a barrel of rainwater by submerging the whole trap. It’s a horrible undertaking and a prayer for each rat soul is offered as it enters the water’, ‘trapping live in swing bins and then drowning – search Youtube’
  • Electric shock rodent traps had mixed reviews: ‘I caught countless large mice, (it said it can’t catch hedgehogs but I wasn’t convinced) baited with peanut butter and caught 3 enormous rats. Although I’m not squeamish at all (nurse of 40years!) I did find it quite difficult.’ This member uses a ‘Victor Electronic Rat Trap for 100% Instant & Humane Kill Rate’ Others said they had no luck with them at all!

Or if you’re with Scarlett in the ‘no poison’ position, and want to let the rats live:

  • Noise + light emitting deterrents: ‘a plugin device that emits a noise, haven’t had them in the house since.’ In the chicken run, ‘rechargeable movement sensor lights. Even though they don’t have good eyesight they recognise if the light has gone on and they know being in the spotlight again makes them particularly vulnerable to predators.’ Here’s a cheap one we found at Wilko for £8 (not tested by us).
Here's a cheap one we found at Wilko £8 (not tested by us)
  • Disturb their route from nest to food. Simply a case of moving things around. Move things across their regular paths and move them often. They rely very much on smell rather than sight, something that smells new or was there but isn’t now creates delay’
  • Some of you simply live and let live when they are not close to the house: ‘We choose to tolerate rats in the compost area’, ‘We have rats in the garden and let them get on with it. We’ve been here 40yrs and the population hasn’t obviously changed’, ’everyone has a right to share the earth’
  • Animal communication: this is ‘transforming my ideas of our relationships with the animals around us’, the basics in this case were to have a conversation with your rats, striking a deal with how to go forward in a fair way for all parties. There was a recommendation to read the book ‘Kinship With All Life’.

Another big part of your responses encompassed various tips and tricks learnt over your years of experience in preventative measures to avoid helping the rat population on your land:

2 chickens looking at each other in the snow
Chickens by Louise, Ayrshire
  • Remove all food sources by storing edibles in metal containers, including animal feed. These can be obtained for free from ‘free stuff’ websites, skips, local businesses, eg. old swimming pool lockers, filing cabinets (with mushroom trays in for easy inspection of apples + potatoes). Keeping fresh produce in old fridge/freezers isn’t a great option unless you can sort better ventilation.
  • ‘Earth up potatoes in polytunnels’
  • ‘Half bury domestic compost bins’, ‘don’t add cooked food to compost bins’, ‘cooked food can go into sealed hot-composting systems or bokashi compost’
  • ‘Crushed glass added to mortar discourages tunnelling’,  ‘A trench filled with free running pea gravel also discourages tunnelling’
  • ‘Remove chicken feeders asap after putting them out to minimise available waste food’, beware also that ‘underneath your wild bird feeders may also be a great source of food’ close to your house
  • Site your chicken house flat on the ground (or a solid base concrete base), ‘our previous one allowed rats to hide underneath’

A few more interesting and useful thoughts that didn’t fit into the above categories:

  • ‘Remember that rats can carry Weils disease (Leptospirosis ) which is transmissible to humans, see the NHS website here for symptoms and prevention. The main answer is: wear gloves but still always wash your hands after dealing with any rat-related issues, as you can catch this by coming into contact with their urine, not just the animal itself. It is said to be rare in the UK, but better to be safe than sorry. ‘
  • ‘It could be argued that not seeing an animal die is a luxury we should not indulge in, if we are to be responsible custodians of planet earth. Because sometimes they do have to die and we should shoulder that responsibility in full consciousness. No squeamishness please.’
  • One member directed us to the history of the ‘rat man’ on this website (warning – this link contains photos of mass rat death). ‘Anecdotal reports suggest that some rat-catchers would raise rats instead of catching them in order to increase their eventual payment from the town or city they were employed by.’
  • In response to ‘‘We have a lot of buzzards. Do they eat young rats?’ see the Woodland Trust page here about buzzard diet, the answer being yes sometimes.

As you can see, a wonderful range of extraordinarily helpful tips, tricks, success stories and more. Thank you! Contributions from multiple members including: Judith Brennan, Wendy, Susan, Nain, Susy, Manda, Pam, Allie, and many more.

Do you have any dilemma’s like Scarlett’s where you don’t quite know the right thing to do? If you’d like us to consider featuring your ‘hive mind’ question feel free to email the editor with the topic of your conundrum.

Opportunity: Start your own small dairy

Opportunity: Start your own small dairy

Start your own biodynamic small dairy on the Inner Hebrides with help setting-up from wonderful WWOOF hosts. We have created a biodynamic farm on the inner Hebridean Island of Lismore, 38 acres. We have been here 13 years now and our cattle are ready to move up a...

New beginnings: first time WWOOFing in Wales

New beginnings: first time WWOOFing in Wales

By Joel Rouse WWOOFing in Pembrokeshire was like being in another world despite being only 235 miles from where I live and work as a photographer and part-time travel blogger. London is home, and I work on Whitehall - one of London's tourist hotspots, topped and...

Growing Roots in the Local Organic Farming Scene

Growing Roots in the Local Organic Farming Scene

By Aurora Moxon Hello, I’m Aurora, a thirty-two-year-old who is happiest in a pair of muddy wellies harvesting apples for scrumpy making, sowing veg for the year ahead and learning hands-on how to make cheese. If my hands aren’t covered in soil, scrumpy or curds, then...