How we compassionately solved a rat infestation in our duck barn
This summer marked the first time we ever encountered rats within our duck barn. We had blithely kept the duck’s food bowls in 24 pens available 24-7, throwing the screened windows open during the warm summer days and nights for ventilation, and stockpiling numerous paper bags of poultry feed inside the barn.
Needless to say, this summer the rats came home to roost!
Not only were we finding odiferous rat droppings, chewed screens, and depleted food bowls, we found signs of chewed insulation, chewed wooden door frames, and small nests of babies (16! in one day) hiding within the stored hay bales.
One evening, when the skies had darkened and we came to the barn to check on the ducks, we flipped on the lights and the floor literally came alive with the scurry of rats. It was a freaky oceanic experience—the floor was moving!
We were faced with a real crisis—how to secure the safety of the ducks and the integrity of the building, while systematically removing the rats? Would we have to resort to lethal means?
We realized that the rats had leveraged the food we were leaving out for the ducks, and were reproducing in response to its accessibility. So the first thing we did was to remove the duck food at night. Rats are largely nocturnal, so first, we secured all the food in tightly-sealed metal containers. We found their outdoor burrows, and realized that they had ‘settled in’ in response to the food left behind by the ducks.
We also sealed the ports of entry, closing the windows at night, and cementing over 2 holes in the foundation reserved for conduit…that the rats were using for access. We also purchased hardware cloth to tack onto all the window frames, covering all window screens (a winter project yet to be completed).
The next step was to trap the rats already inside the barn. With the duck food secured, we set live traps baited with peanut butter, and sometimes captured 14 rats each night, releasing them 4 miles away near a large, marshy area. We also placed spent duck pellets there so the rats could benefit from their usual food source during the transition to wild foraging.
Fast forward to December 2018. We suspect that only one rat remains. [Update: we were wrong!] We observe signs of its presence, as well as its intelligence in evading the traps we have set. In large part, we feel our effort has been successful. Leveraging the removal of food with the presence of well-baited traps seemed to solve the issue.
We are delighted that we were able to compassionately capture and relocate over 150 rats, institute smart indoor food management, and provide for the health of the ducks. Our experience handling the rats was one of great fascination and compassion. Each rat had a different personality, some we felt incredibly connected to. Our respect for these creatures has only increased with our ongoing contact, as we learn to cohabitate and exclude where necessary.
UPDATE: While we only seemed to have a few rats remaining, they began to reproduce, and we have been live-trapping the young for the last 2 months, keeping them in a large cage until we can release them in the spring (when the ground thaws). If we released them now, they would die either of starvation, or of cold, or a combination of both.