One of my oldest permissions is a stable block on which the owner also keeps a few chickens. The coop sits alongside a stream which acts as a highway for the vermin. The rats not only present a health problem for the stable workers, but also cost a small fortune in terms of the chicken feed they eat.
Over the years I’ve shot hundreds of them, sitting back from the chicken enclosure in the dark using my Nite Site infrared gear. In fact, so successful was I that the rats all but disappeared. I congratulated myself on a job well done and resolved to visit the stables less frequently on more of a maintenance timetable.
Inevitably, of course, those maintenance visits became less frequent and, shame on me, pretty much stopped altogether about a year ago.
Fast forward then to a call from the owner a month or two back saying the rats had returned with a vengeance and asking if I could I come down and do something about it. Feeling suitably ashamed of my lax approach, I promised to drop in the very next evening.
In the past I’ve had landowners tell me they’re ‘over-run’ with rats and rabbits only to find, in most cases, the problem is an exaggeration. This wasn’t one of those times though; I could see dozens of rats in the chicken run in full daylight casually helping themselves to the free food.
I was confident that as soon as the sun went down, and the chickens put themselves to bed for the night, I would make a huge dent in the population. Two hours later, with only three rats on the ground, I was left wondering what had gone wrong. The rats had simply disappeared as soon as it got dark. Hadn’t they read the rules?
I put that trip down to a fluke – perhaps a full moon or an owl or something. But when I went back a week later the same thing occurred.
The great thing about sitting in the dark on your own with nothing to shoot at is that you have plenty of time to think. I realised that I was dealing with two completely separate rat colonies; the first was resident inside the chicken enclosure – I could see the holes around the hen houses. These were the rats that were feeding during the day.
The second community came into the enclosure from the outside, travelling down the stream. I realised that the resident rats ate their fill during the day and then hid during the night, and that the few I was able to shoot were the visitors.