Ya Flea-bitten Varmint…
I’ve been an advocate of Do-It-Yourself, Back-to-the-Land, smallholding for many, many years… decades even. I’ve gardened since I was knee-high under the sage and experienced advice of my favorite Uncle Henry, that is, Uncle Hen, as he was affectionately known. I’ve put-back, processed, preserved and otherwise stored a variety of vegetables, grains, bulbs, herbs and even flowers from one growing season to another. I also have literally scores of reference books and saved magazines like the old Organic Gardening and Farming and Mother Earth News from their heydays of the 1970 – 80’s and yet there is very little advice or experience as to what to do about varmints, vermin and other nuisance critters and pests, most especially the fur-ball kind like mice, voles and rats.
I’ve also long wondered if all the books, magazines, videos and blog-spots wish merely to depict the bucolic and pastoral side of the Back-to-the-Land and smallholder lifestyle in order to sell, …well… books, magazines, videos and blog-spots. Things like the nitty-gritty of mucking stalls and pens; shoveling smelly and gooey poop from various livestock, dealing with the death of same and dispatching and processing livestock are glossed over at best and completely ignored at worst in most publications and videos. Yet these chores are an intrinsic part and parcel of homesteading, self-sufficiency, smallholding, or whatever other romantic sounding name you will apply.
By far the most egregious oversight is the subject of vermin, especially rats. Despite all the resources at my disposal, there is little to no info on vermin-control aside from a cursory treatment of it such as how to ward off or discourage them. It is equivalent to hanging garlic to ward off the mythological vampire without a description of how to destroy one. Thus the information is incomplete and largely useless. Why is that?
Also, why does mankind have such a visceral hate of these critters? Perhaps there is an instinctual aversion on the part of mankind to rats, snakes, spiders and other denizens of the darkness stemming from the collective consciousness of humanity caused by millennia of these critters causing disease, suffering, death and destruction throughout human history.
Be that as it may, I’m here to tell you, despite the stroll through herbaceous borders that homesteading is presented as, wherever you have barns full of grain and feed for livestock you have vermin… mice, rats, voles, snakes, maggots, etc. It is a harsh reality of country life. Indeed, even in cities these hangers-on of human habitation are to be found wherever man calls home. I’ve even seen NYC subway rats, known as Norway rats, as big as the average sized housecat neatly traversing the tracks and nimbly avoiding the third rail. Indeed, I can tell the many tales of these Norway rats in New York City, even horribly attacking tenement folks in the middle of the night as related by Uncle Hen who was a City Housing Inspector in some of the worst slums in Harlem and the South Bronx… but such yarns are not for the faint of heart and squeamish.
To most folks, a rat is a rat, is a rat, but here in the country we predominantly have Allegheny Woodrats and Eastern Woodrats, otherwise known as pack rats. While there appears to be a commonality between the two types the mitochondrial DNA indicate that the Allegheny Woodrats are a different species entirely. In both cases, the woodrats are supposedly in decline within the Northern most reaches including New England. However, in my neck of the woods, if you will pardon the pun, they have appeared to be as numerous as ever. Like most wildlife their abundance and influence varies from year to year, depending on factors like weather, forage, and the increase or decrease of their natural predators. This year’s appearance seems to have originated in the woodlands that surround Honey-Bunny Farm; where they are ever present and kept under control by the foxes, owls and other predators. They started in the garden during the mid-summer, migrated to the hen-yard; and subsequently moved onto the aviary / rabbitry.
Their sojourn to the aviary / rabbitry coincided with the onset of the cold weather in late November early December of 2016 and here they settled in for the winter. Unfortunately, their raids did not end with grains and seeds, but with the absolute predation of my quail. They reduced the quail flock from 14 quail to 5 remaining birds which I now house in the basement pending resolution to the problem. Unusually, but not unheard of, woodrats will consume meat if it is opportune… and defenseless caged quail were a smorgasbord for them.
So here we are in a standoff of a battle that is going on 7 weeks. While initially, I seemed to have snap-trapped many; my troubles were not behind me as rats are intelligent creatures that learn quickly. That is the one of the primary reason they are used in labs for their ability to learn and adapt. Indeed, research indicates a type of intelligence known as the g factor and though many experiments have indicated a distinct learning nature, the results varied so that overall they are inconclusive. From my experience rats quickly learn that traps equal death. Despite soaking successful used traps in bleach water, after one or two uses these traps are useless; the same with various baits. I’ve learned, as well, that traps that have been successful cannot be used on the current generation of rats, but can be used on the next successive inexperienced group.
By the way, there used to be an extremely effective pesticide from D-Con that used warfarin as a poison. Mixed with oatmeal or peanut butter, once ingested it caused internal bleeding and the rats would seek water outdoors and die. Warfarin is the same chemical used in Coumadin, a blood thinner for humans with heart and hypercholesterolism. Tree-hugging animal rights people managed to get the EPA to ban the product and now the only poisons are so watered down as to merely serve as Hors d’oeuvres for these pests. …they are completely ineffective.
So onward the battle rages with my having to come up with innovative and novel means of warfare, including stuffing dry ice into their tunnels after a liberal salting with mothballs. Since dry ice, (CO2), is heavier than air, the evaporation will cause the carbon dioxide to settle low into the nests bringing with it an overwhelming waft of mothballs effectively gassing the pests. In combination with traditional snap and sticky traps this should eliminate the problem or at the very least reduce the infestation. Time will tell so look forward to more to come in this regard.
Of course, in some cultures rats are eaten as ordinary fare. …Hmmm… perhaps with a fine Chablis!?!? Naw!
Meanwhile, it goes without saying, continue to say the Rosary for the Consecration of Russia to the Immaculate Heart.
If you’ve enjoyed this little narrative or have gained some information from this or other articles in Catholic Rural Solutions at: https://richardofdanbury.wordpress.com/ Go to this blog please rate and comment.
Richard of Danbury, D. S. G.