Monday, August 15, 2016

Rats #9: Good Riddance at the Eggplant

Jay, Matt and I set aside a summer Saturday afternoon to once and for all get rid of the remaining rat. I had purchased a pack of four smoke bombs and a large bucket of poison blocks that were developed to kill rats resistant to blood-thinning poisons mentioned in Rat #4: biology basics, what’s in rat poison and UW-Madison.

The first thing we did was take a close look at the situation. The rats had done a lot of excavation from under the coop storage area and around our garage. As they dug tunnels under the coop, they moved a large amount of sand, gravel and wood chips into a three-inch space between the coop and the side of our house. When peering into this small, dimly-lit space, we could see excavation piles and the entrance to at least one tunnel.
Excavation around loose soil around our garage.
The rat moved a lot of gravel from
under the coop to make tunnels.


Excavation and tunnel entrances inside the run.



















In the run (that’s the screened in porch area) we found two tunnels with some excavation as well. Looking inside the storage area we didn’t find any evidence of holes or other damage. (In the spring we did have a mouse infestation in the storage area, but they’re dumb, and I caught five in a 24-hour period with peanut butter-baited mouse traps.)

Next, we put our heads together to figure out how to catch and kill the rat. Matt set a live trap up at one entrance to the three-inch space between the coop and the house. I blocked the other side of the space. Then we covered one of the tunnel holes with a rock and lit a smoke bomb and put it into the tunnel.
I like the brand name...

The smoke bombs can do two things; chase the critter out (into our live trap) or kill it with noxious gas. While I don’t know if it's the same stuff, but when we lit the bomb, it smelled like the same smoke after lighting fireworks. In our case, we flushed the rat out, it suddenly appeared in the run, scampering about in circles until it darted into one of the holes in a cement block that was on its side. The block was pushed up against the foundation of the coop, so there was no exit, and I quickly put a flat shovel in front of the opening.

Got it! Now, what to do? Jay, Matt and I steeled ourselves to kill it. We each had a shovel in hand and prepared (mentally and got ourselves into position) to smash it. It would be a bit gruesome, but it would be done. I moved my shovel and, nothing. I looked in the space and the rat wasn’t there.

We moved the block and saw that there was a tiny hole in the the foundation that the block was next to. The rat had squeezed itself into the hole and was again under the coop. That was maddening.

We lit off two more smoke bombs but never saw it again. We don’t know if the subsequent smoke bombs killed the rat, but we also couldn't figure out how to get to it without moving the entire coop.
So we got out weapon #2, the bucket of poison cubes. We put them in the holes, between the house and the coop, and for extra measure, I put them in some somewhat sheltered areas around our garage.

Satisfied that we had made the environment inhospitable (smoke bombs, closed up tunnels, and lots of disturbance) we also committed to removing its food source. We added a hook to the roof of the run and each night when we lock the chickens in (something we do anyway) we also remove the food from it’s low hook and put it up so the rat can’t get to it. In the morning when we let the chickens out, we put the food down again. In this way, we hoped to make our coop a very unpleasant place to stay.

Food at chicken height during the day
The next day I peered between the coop and the house and one of the poison cubes Jay had thrown there was gone. Apparently we didn't kill it with the smoke bomb, and the rat gathered a free meal. Over the next few days I monitored the coop and surrounding area for holes or new tunnels. I also put a rat trap at the entrance of the space between the house and the coop in case it wanted to venture out. We haven’t seen any new evidence of excavation.

Food now hung from the ceiling at
night to remove the rat's food source.
So, in sum, we physically killed one rat, and saw another. After our smoke bomb adventure and adding new poison cubes, we haven’t seen new evidence of the final rat. I think we’re done with our problem, but we have several lessons learned.
  1.  Rats are smart. They won’t fall for the same trap more than once.
  2.  Rats can get through the smallest hole. EVERY hole needs to be sealed up.
  3. We must be vigilant and not nearly as nonchalant as we had been when we first noticed them.
  4.  It’s good to talk with neighbors – Jenny and I formed our own little rat support group to talk about our frustrations with getting rid of them.