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March 27, 2010

Note: this post and the photos it contains are not for the faint of heart. No, it’s not the “How to Skin a Coyote” post – maybe I’ll get to that one another time. The following entry contains images of a specimen of rattus norvegicus. Consider yourself forewarned. Oh, and no – I didn’t take any pictures of the eventual ‘outcome’ of the rat, which involved a pellet gun and a hanging from a tree.

With baited breath...

The common brown rat is a species many modern Cape Codders prefer to believe lives only in the sewer systems and tight alleys of urban environs over the bridge. Locals know better, although there have been a few debates between city cats and country cats about where they come from. The city cats think they originate ‘in town’, building populations around centers of food handling, such as supermarkets and restaurants. The country cats think they naturally inhabit swamps and waterfronts and make forays to the neighboring homes in search of food. The jury is still out on that one, but, in my case, its sort of irrelevant: I live in a triangle of sheltered land that is almost equidistant from a freshwater swamp, an active salt-waterfront and bustling, center-of-town businesses that include a grocery store, restaurant (or 3) and a school. Rat city.

The main thing is that, wherever they come from, rats love chicken feed. And goat grain. And duck food. And hay. And they seem to be right at home under a 6-cord pile of wood. I remember a local farmer talking about rats and mice and other vermin, back when I was a curious newbie. He said it was a constant fight, an ongoing battle, and a long-term relationship with D-Con must be forged. He talked of trapping ‘coons and ‘possums and shooting at hawks – all threats to chicken flocks. There was a tale about taking a trapped skunk for a ride in the bucket of the tractor or front-end loader all the way down to a nearby pond for a death-dunk. These were stories recollected with an air of grave seriousness, by way of warning, as I entered the ranks of chicken-keepers.

A handful of years, several laying and eating flocks and a few extra species later, I can attest to the veracity of his claim. It is an ongoing fight, and if you relent, they multiply. Relent I did, for about a year. I moved the chickens out of the other house into a funky new shelter closer to home and I thought I had the grain well-enough protected in our attached garage (which hasn’t held a car since it turned into a tackle shop, hay barn, woodshed and grain bin.)

While the grain seemed to avoid being compromised inside, we still saw extensive undermining of the yard. I attributed the tunneling to voles, especially after finding bark missing from the bottom foot or so of many of the trees, damage most often attributed to voles. Then, a month ago, I mucked out the goat shed to prepare for baby goats and discovered that the tunneling vermin had penetrated the goat’s house. I hadn’t seen evidence of this in previous cleanings, so I was shocked, disgusted, enraged, and curious all at once. Okay, mostly curious.

I set Havahart traps. Two raccoon-sized traps, two gray squirrel-sized traps and a flying-squirrel/chipmunk trap were baited with peanut butter and Slim Jims. I have trapped many squirrels before, mostly at the 1900 house when I was trying to clear them out of the kitchen ceiling in preparation for ripping it down. I got all the squirrels out, but still received the Cape Cod Demolition Shower when I started busting apart the plaster and lathe. Ah, memories – my scalp will never be the same, but, luckily, I had bought the last brown Army mechanic jumpsuit from the old Army/Navy and managed to keep all the nastiness out of my clothes.

Back then the bait of choice was peanut butter, which makes sense as a squirrel eats plenty of nuts. But for rats, I heard Slim Jims were The Thing, so I bought a super-sized number and set to work baiting traps. In two weeks we caught zero squirrels, chipmunks and rats. After that, I re-baited and caught a healthy-looking rat in a gray squirrel trap. I dispatched the rat and re-baited the traps and we have not seen any more customers. Not to worry; I have the D-Con trays secreted away under the wood pile. Things should quiet down in that area soon.

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