I have heard for every rat you visibly see, there are 50 more. That is a frightening statistic. When we first moved in, I watched a rat chase a Gopher snake out of a bush. I should have known then we were in for trouble! So the question remains, how do you effectively control rats without poison?
|RIP Max...wherever you are. Tiger Lily (right), more lily than tiger.|
Method #1- Cats- Our cats are somewhat prissy and feminine and aren't the big mean tomcats that could easily dispatch a fully grown rat. I recommend getting a male kitten and not neutering him (i know, i know, but you gotta keep that testosterone following). The purchase of our farm came complete with such a tomcat, who was an excellent hunter of rats, gophers, even rabbits. This was in part because we didn't realize he was ours and weren't feeding him. Once we realized he was ours, we made the mistake of neutering him, shortly after, he disappeared. My wife blames coyotes, but I feel that had he had an intact manhood, he could have stood up to any coyote. He was like a bobcat, his neck was thicker than my bicep and his head was like a kids bowling ball.
Method #2- Owls- Apparently a nesting pair can take up to 3,000 rodents in a single breeding season! Needless to say, I built owl boxes. I still have hope that owls will move in, but one box is already full of bees, and you can't rush owls. I've been trying to make the remaining box as romantic as possible...to no avail.
Method #3- Removing Habitat- we had iceplant ground cover and other thick/dense shurbs that was ideal cover for rats. We noticed most of our tomatos were being lost and nibbled closest to these shurbs. I have seen Ground Squirrels eating iceplant and figure its a water source during our dry California summers. Getting rid of it and planting California natives instead has helped. Turning our compost regularly keeps momma rats from setting up nests too.
Method #4-Traps...not for the faint of heart. Buying a trap, baiting them with peanut butter (buy a jar strictly for traps, let's no mix our PB&Js and rat control together) and leaving it out does not guarantee a rat. You gotta think like a rat. Rats scurry along the bases of fences, alongside your house and other walls. You'll hardly ever see a rat run across open space. So your traps need to be set perpendicular to walls, fences, etc. That means the peanut butter bait butts up to your wall, this way a rat coming from either direction will find it.
You can buy all sorts of traps. I have had luck with them all. Even the quintessential cheap $2 traps, although these are so light and pack such a spring loaded punch I have screwed them to a heavier board to keep them in place when the spring shut (this increases the chance of it actually snapping on the rats neck). I don't recommend the sticky traps because then you have to deal with a live rat if you catch it. I have a friend that claims he had a sticky trap with a chewed off tail and foot, it seems like a quick broken neck is more humane.
|A well used traditional trap along our fence,|
notice the dense brush is good rat habitat
|This traps runs about $6 and is easy to arm,|
placed along a garden bed wall
With traps you have to move them around, rats are smart, if they spring one and get away they get wary and won't come back to it. I also try and wear gloves and touch them as little as possible to keep human smells off it and rat germs off me.
**But what to do with a dead rat? I hate the idea of a dead rat decomposing in my trash can and stinking it up to high heaven. So I dig a hole, 8 inches will do, cover it up and squirt it with the hose to seal up all the dirt and keep the dogs from finding them. Plus it adds some nutrients back into the soil.
When it comes to rat control, we have employed all these techniques and it seems to be helping. We try and pick our tomatos before they fully ripen, but we still see nibbles out of vegetables from time to time, but these just go to the goats and chickens instead of the kitchen. If you have any other good techniques, I welcome a comment, as I am always trying to improve my odds.