Generally I find a way to live with God’s creatures. Slugs eat stressed plants but my chickens happen to love both slugs and slug eggs. Ants, spiders, squirrels and mice, even snakes find places in my garden. I do not enjoy any of those creatures the way I enjoy birds but we manage to coexist. Rats are a different kind of pest. They are as smart as they are hungry. And those tails! creepy!
It did not take long to realize that there were all kinds of wildlife, including rats, living on the unkept bluff behind our property in Everett. We stopped feeding wild birds to keep the rats away. After we got chickens, we would occasionally see rats, but usually it was because Bomber, our Jack Russel terrier had killed one and left it laying. Sadly, Bomber is getting older, and while he still loves to hunt, he is not as fast as he once was. Rudy, our Rat Terrier-Chihuahua mix, does not have the jaw strength of a Jack Russel. Bomber bites them once on the neck and they go down. Rudy bites them multiple times and nothing happens. The rat just gets irritated. I’m pretty sure that Rudy believes that if all he can do is irritate them then he should do a really good job irritating them. He yaps loud and proud… which brings Bomber running to put them down.
Two very mild winters and an older Jack Russel has given us a plague of rats. I hear it is a problem all over western Washington. Ray cleans up the chicken yard every evening. The chicken food is removed from the pen, replaced by an identical feeder with pellets that look a lot like chicken food but are actually rat killing pellets (Ray assures me they are not poison, but something that stops up the digestive system) Rats are VERY smart. Ours will not eat peanut butter because they have seen other rats die in peanut butter baited traps. They will not eat the bait that goes in the big black traps anymore (but they will nest in those same traps), they disappear when they hear the back door open, knowing there is a good chance Ray will be out with pellet guns to shoot them. I’ve dropped the rocks left from sifting the chicken yard soil into the holes they dig. The next morning I see those same rocks thrown all over the place and the hole looking like it was never touched.
I still believe in live and let live, despite the battle of the rats I have been describing. But I do not grow fruits and vegetables as a hobby. I am a subsistence farmer… an urban farmer, but still a subsistence farmer. In the summer of 2014 and again in 2015 out “farm” kept us off of food stamps. We grow what we eat and put up the excess to get through winter.
This summer, while checking our apple tree, I noticed some of my Yellow Transparents had big chunks missing. I wasn’t too upset. I tithe to nature. I plucked that apple off the tree and tossed to over the fence for the wildlife. I could not pick enough apples for a pie, every one had a bite out of it. Gurrrr! By seasons end, not a single ripe apple could be picked, they were all eaten by rats.
In my greenhouse, my sanctuary, I’ve been watching a beautiful Brandywine start to ripen up after all the other garden tomatoes had been tossed into the compost for winter. I went in one morning and found that the ripe section of the tomato had been eaten while the green upper half lay on the ground, discarded by some creature. There were also remnants of ripe red peppers laying on the ground. A feast… but not our feast. OH! ITS ON! Traps were set, even the game camera was put up. I couldn’t believe it was a rat who ate whole tomatoes and peppers. The pictures confirmed that it is a rat. I’m sure I even caught one. The soil around the trap was disturbed (and when I say disturbed I mean there was evidence of such a struggle that I felt sorry for the rat) but the trap was empty. I did notice that what was left of the peppers had been gathered and returned to the pots they were picked from. How strange was that! They no longer eat peanut butter, not even the expensive coconut oil peanut butter I gave them (it was Jif that they quit eating before) I thought they had moved out, but the camera caught them again a few nights later. Last time I checked, the tomatoes in this post were still hanging on the vine to ripen. Today there is a truce, but I doubt the war is over.
Debs at the Toy Box subUrban Farm in Everett, Washington, waking up to a pink sky and wet feet this November 6, 2016. Did you remember to set your clock back? Me either. (thank you Mr. Gates)
Morning devotions on Rainsong. The meaning of words and how one Greek word changes the flavor of Mark 2:18. I think you will like it.