Rats on the Pasture!

Karen and Dan were moving a batch of pullets from the brooder house onto the pasture one evening, and saw three rats scurrying around. You know what that means: if you see three in the open, there must be thirty in hiding somewhere!

We usually don’t have much trouble with rats on the pasture. Our chicken feed is in big galvanized range feeders outdoors, and we move the feeders each time we refill them. Any rats who take up residence in tunnels under the feeders have their tunnels exposed when the feeders are moved. Something — probably owls — takes care of the rest.

Only it’s not working right now. Natural pest control is great when it works, but when it doesn’t, now what? That’s the problem with farming. You do the same thing over and over, but the results are different every time!

Well, whatever you believe about “live and let live,” you have to draw the line at a rat population explosion. Their population can balloon really fast, and you can’t have them overflowing from the pasture into the house! So it was time to take steps.

The simplest method of dealing with rats on a pasture occupied by hens (barring the use of a sniper rifle and a night-vision scope), is to use rat poison in tamper-proof bait stations. Now, I don’t like using poison any more than you do, but this is a good example of Plamondon’s Law: “The alternatives are even worse.”

Bait stations are basically plastic boxes that creatures larger than a rat can’t get into. On the better bait stations, the bait is secured one way or another to prevent the rats from carrying it off and possibly leaving it somewhere inappropriate. They have to eat it right there in the bait station, where any crumbs won’t cause trouble.

(I also looked up the poison in question, and it’s a lot more toxic to rats than it is to chickens, not that the chickens will get any exposure to it with the spiffy bait stations I use.)

I have some J. T. Eaton 903CL Rat Fortress bait stations, which I like very much. They have a clear lid so you can see if the bait needs to be replaced, which works okay for a year or two, then the lid becomes clouded. Their T-shaped top-loader bait station is also good.

I use the Tomcat brand bait blocks, which are weatherproof one-ounce cubes with a hole in the middle, so you can thread them onto a retaining wire that keeps the rats from walking off with them.

I put three bait stations on the pasture four nights ago, each next to a feeder. I didn’t expect much activity, since the feeders were full, but I figured that when the feeders went empty, the rats would switch to the bait. The next morning, though, all the bait had been eaten! The rats preferred it to chicken feed and whole corn, apparently. The next night, almost all the bait had vanished again (one bait station was relatively unvisited). The next night, the same. Last night, some bait was left in all of the stations. [Update: The bait is no longer being eaten at all.]

I think this means that the rat population is starting to dwindle. In the past, I’ve used bait stations around the house, brooder houses, and barn, and the pattern was the same: initial interest in the bait, followed by lessened activity and a distinct absence of rodents that sometimes lasted as long as a year.

(By the way, if you are of the opinion that “rats are something that happen to other people,” you will eventually be proven wrong. Sadly, they’re likely to strike your brooder house first, and kill a lot of baby chicks. You don’t want that! I recommend using bait stations or snap traps in your brooder house when it’s not in use, or bait stations outside it all the time. Having your helpless baby chicks killed by rats is just too heartbreaking.)

You want to get the good bait stations. I just bought some cheap ones, and I regret it now. Too flimsy and insecure. I’m probably going to throw them away and buy some of the ones above.