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Tillachooks

Rats - even though we’ve made so many changes

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Hello! I can see many forum posts about rats so I’m sorry for posting another but we’re a bit stuck. 
 

We have 6 ex-batteries that free range in a smallish orchard at the end of our driveway. We have had them for a year. They have never hurt any of our chooks. 
 

We first saw a rat eating bird seed before we got the chickens and had suspected they were around before that even. Scuttling noises inside a large outbuilding/barn made us assume they were around. Since we have had the chickens they have set up home in multiple holes around the entire orchard. We never see them in the day, but at dusk we see 2-3 and dispatch them with an air rifle. We don’t have time to go out every night, but perhaps once a week we kill this many. The holes bother me and I worry that our neighbours may become anxious if they see them. 
 

We moved from a normal plastic feeder to a treadle feeder very early on in our chicken keeping. This reduced the amount of feed we were going through rapidly so I assume this stopped the rats accessing it. We store the feed away from the orchard in a rat proof bin. 
 

We can’t physically move anything out from the orchard - there is very little in there except the hen house (raised up) and various branches and boards for them to perch on. We do not want to lay traps in case we catch squirrels and hedgehogs. 
 

We have stopped feeding the birds, and we have stopped composting food waste as there was signs of rat activity at both these areas. I don’t know of any other food sources, and I’ve never seen evidence that they are eating our eggs. 
 

Do we just accept that they are there and keep shooting them...? Or can anyone think of a more solid solution? We don’t understand why they haven’t gone away now they can’t get to the food. We live in a very rural area so they have no access to food waste from shops etc. 
 

thanks in advance all! :) Happy to keep shooting but we are mystified about why they haven’t moved on! 

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Gosh, it sounds like you've done everything you can. Rats will stay around if they have a food source, and their numbers will adjust accordingly. More food, more rats. You have obviously removed food sources from your property. Do your neighbours have compost heaps, bird feeders etc? Is there anywhere else the rats could be feeding?

Shooting with an air rifle sounds quite theraputic. My Data used to shoot crows (I think). They grew to recognise whether or not he had his air rifle and would hang around mocking him when he came out without it, but fly away fast if they saw it in his hands. 

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It sounds as though you have already taken very sensible precautions. Maybe it's worth asking a pest control expert to come and have a look round and see if they can recommend anything extra that you could try (sometimes they can place traps in places that would not be accessible to other wildlife).? Equally, you could approach your neighbours (if you feel able) and explain the situation (so that they know that you have done all that you can) and ask if they put bird food out or have accessible compost bins. Do you know where the nest may be? If so, there might be someone with a ratting terrier who could clear it out (you sound quite rural). Otherwise keep shooting as many times a week as you can!

 

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Sounds like you’re in a similar situation to my mum. Her chickens are also in an orchard that has rat holes and rats. She brings food in at night and doesn’t feed wild birds or have a compost heap. All food (horse and chicken) is stored in bins that have never been broken into / chewed through. AND she has a terrier who catches rats, rabbits, and squirrels (and sadly this week one of the chickens who flew out when the mesh ‘roof’ was removed). Yet still she has rats. Not hundreds but they’re always there. She doesn’t like to poison them and won’t trap for the same reason as you.

I guess sometimes you’re just not going to completely get rid of them.

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We were in the same position as you Tillachooks. We had an orchard with chickens, coops raised and didn't want to use poison or snap traps so ended up just shooting them. The ones brave enough to come out in the day soon went, but even with a very good telescopic sight we still only had a few minutes at dusk to shoot them. We used to have a compost heap which they ignored, preferring the pellets that got spilled from the feeders. We left the feeders down to draw the rats to them and hung them up later. The one thing we really needed was a telescopic night-sight, but they were too expensive then. We never stopped the rats, but we did get on top of the problem to a large extent, but it was a lot of time spent. The reason was essentially because they lived in the neighbouring gardens and they fed the birds.

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I have a rat problem at the moment, it seems rats are nesting in a rarely used barn, and no chickens are involved!  The only other time I have had them I got a pest control man out who put poison down where he could see their trails.  He put the poison under roof tiles so only very small things could get under there, including rats with their collapsable skeletons.  He also put poison down under the shed where they were nesting.  It worked, they died (stinky) and were no longer a problem.  I had to make some long term changes to my compost bins, no cold/raw food waste and I put chicken wire across the bottom (apparently they don't like it) to stop them nesting there after I found a nest and destroyed the babies.  I understand everybody's reluctance to use poison, but I have to say I am using it again now, I absolutely can't bear them and the health threat, which is very close to the house in my case.  I should also add, that before I realised I had rats the first time, I picked one up thinking it was a vole or mouse.  It bit me and I had to go to the surgery to have a jab, the nurse thought I was an idiot (well she was right)!

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The problem with poison is not just other animals eating it, but predators eating poisoned rats and getting themselves killed that way. 
This is one of the reasons why it will be illegal to use mouse and rat poison by normal people in the EU. Law will be installed in 2023. Only professional pest controllers can use poisons then.

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