Thursday, 25 October 2012

Oh rats!!!

Thursday 25th October 2012
So that's what the horizon looks like.
But still no sun.
When we moved into the farm two years ago, it was running alive with rodents. Now, we may be city people, but we knew that there shouldn't be this many. In the walls, the loft, the ceilings, mice could be heard scurrying everywhere. And they sound alarmingly loud when they're inside a wall.
We couldn't use the kitchen for almost two months, as any food would be sought out, the packaging nibbled away and the contents spread everywhere. It seemed as if we spent every second of that two months scrubbing and cleaning.
Then there was outside. It was impossible to enter the stables without a mouse crossing your path. Worse still, there were rat runs and burrows everywhere. The previous owners had sold animal food as a way of off-setting their feed costs, but the rodents had found it and the place had become a regular fast food outlet for them. Add to this the fact that the previous owners and our immediate neighbours were spending a fortune on poison bait, to which most of the rats were clearly immune, and we had a big problem to sort out.
The only plus point was the number of barn owls which spent their time in the Ash trees and in the stables, as well as the ever present pair of kestrels. I would regularly see a kestrel devouring a rat, sometimes even right up against the patio doors. But I was worried about the effect of all the poison being put into the environment.
For  me, it all came to a head when I found a dead barn owl.
This was Pied Piper of Hamlyn stuff, but the bit they don't make much of in the poem.
Now, I'm no expert, but I know that if you remove an animal's food source, disrupt its routines and disturb its habitat, then that animal is going to struggle. So the clean-up began. We cleared all the rubbish leaning against the walls where the rats liked to run. Give them no cover and they would be exposed to predators. We stored all animal food in secure, metal containers. And we got rid of all the poison - the riskiest act, but I was convinced that it had become little more than a food source for them. For some of the rats were dying - we would find them just sitting, motionless, on the lawn, and their remains turned up in all sorts of places - but many were clearly unaffected and were carrying these nasty chemicals around in their bodies.
To cut a long story short, we were pretty successful. So much so that there was no visible rat activity at all on the farm for the first half of this year. The occasional mouse is still heard scurrying along inside a wall, but a little strategically placed poison soon sorts it out. And if I do see any evidence of rats, again a minimal amount of poison and activity stops within a few dyas, once the rat has taken the poison. By the way, did you know rats are neo-phobic, which means they steer clear of anything new. This is why they often take a few days to take the bait.
So, we now probably have considerably fewer rodents (barring voles and shrews, which Gerry still catches on a very regular basis) on the farm than anyone else.
But recently a few tunnels and runs have appeared down by the chicken pens. At the same time there are mouse droppings in the garage. At this time of year, after the harvest and as the weather gets cold, this is inevitable. So I have placed trays of poison, going to great lengths to make sure the poultry, the cat and any wild birds can't get to it, but despite using two different types, the rat lives on! I did read the other day a report which said that in some areas of the country you might as well feed the rats Sugar Puffs as rat poison, they are that immune!
Besides all this, I would still far rather not use any poison. A Jack Russell would be one solution, but I'll never trust one with the cat.
So it was great news when somebody told me about a product called EradiRat. Great name and great product. We looked it up - it's now changed its name to EradiBait - and this morning a giant tub arrived from Mole Valley farmers.
This product is approved by the Barn Owl Trust as it works in a way which is not harmful to other wildlife. If you want the details, it dehydrates the rat (or mouse) by tricking it's lower gut into sending messages to its brain that it is not thirsty.

The great thing about this is that it will be much esier to administer in the vicinity of the chickens. I won't need to feel guilty about using it and, as far as I know, the rats won't gain immunity. Not only that, but it seems to work out cheaper than poisons. 

It all seems a little too perfect.

But if it really does what it says on the tin, why on earth can't some official body do something to encourage (or even obligate) its use instead of other poisons. It would be good for the environment, good for the economy and surely would have a huge impact on the number of rats in the country.

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