Although I've often written about my disdain for mice, there is a rodent I loathe even more: rats.
Unlike mice, which we’ve occasionally seen scurrying across the floors of our house, rats have not been on my radar. I assumed the long-tailed vermin were living somewhere on the farm because we have the kind of old wooden buildings in which they like to make their homes, but one had never crossed my path.
Out of sight and out of mind was the way I liked it, and I would have been happy to remain oblivious to the comings and goings of the rodents for the remainder of my days.
It was not to be. The combination of chicken feed and a dirt floor ended my rat-free bliss. I first started noticing signs of them last summer when something started digging in the dirt floor in the room adjacent to where the chickens live. When Brian and I asked our contractor to put in a cement floor on the side where the chickens would be housed, we left a dirt floor on the other side where we keep the feed. The idea was to save some money.
That was the first bad decision on our part.
By winter, the holes in the floor were deeper, and the piles of dirt beside them higher. We tried putting in a live trap, thinking it might be a groundhog doing the digging, but nothing took the bait. So Brian bought some rat traps and placed them beside the holes.
It didn’t take long for the first rat to be caught. I'm pretty sure my heart stopped when I saw it. I closed my eyes and let out a silent scream. I couldn’t look at it when I tiptoed past the trap, and texted Brian at work as soon as I left the chicken house, asking him to remove it when he got home.
Twenty-one rats and six months later, I am an expert at rat removal.
Yes, 21 rats. After the first catch, I kept a running tally, and with each one that greeted my eyes when I walked into the chicken house in the morning, I became a little less queasy about disposing of them. I have become adept at removing the little buggers from the trap and disposing of them by gingerly picking them up by the tail and putting them in a plastic bag, then depositing them in a waste receptacle.
The battle against the rats was prolonged as a result of bad decision No. 2, which was to place bales of hay alongside one outside wall of the chicken house last fall. The hay successfully insulated that wall, but it also provided a home to a family of rats.
Much to my dismay, Mother Rat, her teen-aged children and a few of their younger siblings ran out of the bales when we moved them this spring. I closed my eyes, ran as far from the hay as I could without climbing the chicken fence, and clenched my fists, telling myself not to scream as they ran every which way. Eventually, the rats found holes in the side of the chicken house and tunnels in which to escape.
For the past few weeks, we’ve been catching family members, and I am hoping we’ve finally reached the end of the line. As June comes to a close, we may be ready to proclaim the chicken house a rat-free zone.
We've also decided we will be a chicken-free zone.
I like chickens and enjoy eating farm-fresh eggs, but dealing with rats is too much of a price to pay. When the last of our five remaining chickens goes to the big coop in the sky, I’m closing the door to that phase of my farm life.
Rats! I’m going to miss those hens.
Ann Bailey is a reporter for the Grand Forks Herald and writes a column twice a month.