How to end the rat war!
February 15, 2010 5:06 PM   Subscribe

How to quickly end war with local rats?

I've been fighting a rat population since late November with zero luck.

I live in a an old farmhouse on a farm, but my apartment itself is neat, tidy and nearly sterile as far as rodents would be concerned. All food is in glass jars, the fridge or a sealed pantry. However, this is after rats destroyed a good portion of everything. Compost is in sealed snap lid bucket, and all trash is just plastic or metal- no food residue, etc.

Rats have also eaten the armpits and crotch portion of T-shirts and underwear. Yes, EATEN.

I've tried glue traps, the 5 gal. bucket with water & peanut butter trick, huge rat snap traps (with peanut butter and chicken feed) along walls and NOTHING has worked. They ignore everything.I've looked at past entries, and nothing really helped.

I need more suggestions. Poison is not an option. I feel like I'm fighting Ben the rat from the film "Willard."
posted by Etta Hollis to Home & Garden (24 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
You need a cat or three.
posted by Locobot at 5:12 PM on February 15, 2010 [1 favorite]

Find all the holes where they're coming in and block them. You may have to move major appliances, large furniture, etc. to check. The holes can be very small - about the size of a quarter, if that, and you might try steel wool to block them. More extreme, but can you borrow a terrier or a cat that's a known ratter?
posted by dilettante at 5:16 PM on February 15, 2010

Well, when traps aren't working and poison is out of the question, I favor a Beeman R9 with a night scope.
posted by jamaro at 5:18 PM on February 15, 2010

Oh, yeah, check around all your pipes going in and out of the apartment, too - there are often large holes and gaps where they go in and out of the well under the sink.
posted by dilettante at 5:19 PM on February 15, 2010 [1 favorite]

Seconding the suggestion of getting a cat or two, assuming you'll enjoy its company and take good care of it. Nothing works as well as felines to get rid of rodents.
posted by InsanePenguin at 5:22 PM on February 15, 2010

Why is poison not an option? Ethical reasons or child/pet reasons? We occasionally have mice problems, and once had a rat appear outside of our house. If you are not ethically opposed to poison, try taking off the covers of electrical outlets and putting the poison in there so any critters in the walls would find it, but not critters outside the walls. We also put it under a loose floor board where they obviously found it. Nothing works like poison. Or maybe, nothing works except poison.
posted by ThatCanadianGirl at 5:30 PM on February 15, 2010

I would fourth the suggestion of borrowing a cat or dog (or adopting one if your landlord will allow it). Kind of gross, kind of messy, but undeniably effective. Plus, the rats will be much less likely to enter your apartment if it smells like a predator. A terrier-type dog might be a bit more effective than a cat -- the best ratter I ever met in my life was a Jack Russell terrier -- but a big cat or two can be a great ratter as well. I don't favor setting poison bait for house rats. Not out of ethical quandaries or even child-proofing reasons, but because every time I've ever seen or heard of poison used on a rat infestation, rats have died in the walls of the house. Rats are big enough to cause quite a stench when a number of them die inside your walls. Gross.
posted by kataclysm at 5:38 PM on February 15, 2010

Let me more seriously 2nd jamaro's suggestion of an air rifle. It worked in my house for mice on two occassions. Once when we had no traps and were somewhat frustrated by the mouse at that very instant (he kept popping in and out of a hole in the basement ceiling and would not be scared away). Second time for a set that were too smart for traps. You just have to be patient (and have good aim). Its pretty satisfying, let me tell you.....
posted by ish__ at 5:46 PM on February 15, 2010

Do you have any idea where they are nesting? We had a trap-ignoring rat problem last winter. It turned out that they were nesting in one of the compost bins and had chewed a hole into the garage to get to the pantry. I plugged the holes they'd chewed through the bottom of the compost bin and started digging down into the compost with a shovel. At first, nothing, but eventually a rat came shooting out of my latest excavation and started running around the inside of the compost, searching for a way out. I reached in, grabbed it (wearing heavy gloves), and squeezed and twisted until it died. Repeat over a dozen times with some shovel shanking thrown in for good measure, and we no longer had a rat problem. If you can trap them in one location and don't mind blood, they're easy to kill. Of course, we didn't have that many and they conveniently located themselves in the one location that I could turn into rat Thunderdome. But, it's worth investigating.
posted by Derive the Hamiltonian of... at 6:00 PM on February 15, 2010 [1 favorite]

The average cat isn't going to mess with big rats but a terrier will make short work of them. If you live in a rural area there might still be a "rat guy" who will come with dogs and get the nest. Otherwise you have two options: line the entire inside of your house in steel or poison the little bastards. Shooting them is satisfying but realistically it puts more holes in your porch and trashcans than it does in the rats.

You can also ask Animal Control to drop off any extra snakes that they pick up at your place too if you live in snake country. That's going to help a lot.
posted by fshgrl at 6:23 PM on February 15, 2010 [1 favorite]

Yeah, your choices are poison or a bunch of ratter dogs.
posted by Justinian at 6:27 PM on February 15, 2010

Oy vey, I'm sad that I know so much about this topic.

We had a rat problem a few years ago that we solved with snap traps filled with peanut butter (via professional exterminators, for the most part). When the professionals came back last month for a follow up, I got into a discussion with the guy. Turns out not all rats like the peanut butter. (And believe it or not, these pros don't use peanut butter any more because of lawsuits re: allergies, but that's another story!)

So what he uses is blueberries, chocolate, or walnuts. One key, he says, is to not put too much in the trap -- he pointed out that my husband had put so much peanut butter on the plastic thingy that the rat could nibble quite a lot off without tripping the trap, and then on one trap the peanut butter actually acted like glue so the trap would no longer trip.

If your place is old, as ours is, totally thorough rat-proofing can be very, very hard. Allegedly they can get through a hole the size of a quarter, and those can exist in hidden spots, especially in old homes with lots of nooks and crannies . We got rid of the worst of our problem with LOTS of traps -- once caught 5 rats in one night -- and then keep up maintenance by always keeping a trap or two in the main trouble spots we identified.
posted by BlahLaLa at 6:54 PM on February 15, 2010 [1 favorite]

Seconding terriers or poison. Those are the only ways to end a rat infestation. Regrettably, the poison is more reliable, but the terriers will get the job done given time. It's a rare cat, as pointed out upthread, that has the balls to mess with a full-grown rat.

My best rat kill, though, was with a .22. The bastard had been driving me crazy for days, running from one end of the kitchen ceiling to the other, between the joists. I finally said 'fuck it,' got everybody (human) downstairs so I could see they were out of harm's way, pointed the rifle up at where I knew he was, and bang. Scuttle, scuttle. Stank for a couple of days, but it was the sweet smell of victory to me.

And then I threw a pack of poison up between the joists in case he had friends.

And keeping your compost in a sealed bucket will only help if the bucket doesn't smell at all—which is unlikely. They will be attracted even if they can't actually get at it.
posted by bricoleur at 6:57 PM on February 15, 2010

Choose barn owls!

If you have a tree, a pole, or space to put up a pole, you can build or buy a nestbox to attract a beautiful, feathery, environmentally responsible barn owl.

Even a single owl roosting in the box will dispatch five or six rodents a week, but a young mated pair will need dozens for their little family.

I'm not sure where you're located (maybe Massachusetts?) but you'll want to check your statutes about migratory bird nesting. Some states have laws regarding security of nesting sites (for example, a law that you can't change your mind about hosting the owls -- once you put up the box you may be required to keep it in place). Set it up far enough from your house and pathways to keep pellets and shrieking to a minimum, but close enough for maximum rat-nomming.

You could also look into inviting some kestrels to the neighbourhood, but they are smaller and more likely to prey on little rodents.

Barn owls are awesome, and they need habitat and rats. You've got plenty of both!
posted by Sallyfur at 7:17 PM on February 15, 2010

I forgot to mention I've used hardware mesh to seal off all holes, and there is a cat, sometimes two, that live here. They just don't do the job. The one place I cannot seal is between the wooden floor and metal stove bottom. Tonight I have 8 heavy duty rat traps set up with a little chicken feed all around in hopes of catching something

Poison is out of the question due to the cats. Plus, this is a farm. Even if the cats weren't here there are many other animals (and toddlers, too.)

And, the air pistol may be a good idea, but they are only active late at night, when I and everyone else need sleep.

Sallyfur: I have owls and kestrels (with boxes, in Massachusetts!).
Applemeat: Try living with rats destroying everything and having to disinfect your house every morning before you do ANYTHING.
BlahLala: I've used PB, raisins, nuts, marmalade, cheese, butter, apples and oats. And I make sure they can't steal it off the traps.
posted by Etta Hollis at 8:04 PM on February 15, 2010

OP, if you decide to try shooting them, you won't have to stay up every night. The little ones learn how to avoid traps from the older rats: if you pop a few of the big ones, the traps will take care of the rest.
posted by jamaro at 8:24 PM on February 15, 2010

[A few comments removed. Not the place for general commentary on people's feelings about rats.]
posted by cortex at 9:27 PM on February 15, 2010

After they plowed the 2 acre woods next door, we were infested with HUGE Norwegian rats. They burrowed little tunnels under the concrete pad foundation of the garage and raised their families, cozy as can be. I drilled about half a dozen holes in the garage floor and squirted 3 bottles of liquid Joy dishwashing detergent in the holes, and followed with the garden hose on full tilt until I thought the foam squishing out all four sides of the garage would lift it into the air.
We also drug out a couple of lawn chairs and the 22, and were able to kill 17 rats and a 6-pack of Bud one fine Saturday afternoon.
posted by Acacia at 9:36 PM on February 15, 2010

Terriers. I opt for terriers. Best rat and vermin control I have ever had.
posted by fifilaru at 9:42 PM on February 15, 2010

Snickers is the best rat bait I have found. Sticky and sweet, and nutty. I push the sticky mess in between the little, yellow nubs on the tongue of this trap. Had it for 3 years now and it has gotten 14 rats.

Best part is, besides baiting it, you don't have to touch the killing parts. Usually the bait will last for 2 or 3 actions.
posted by psycho-alchemy at 2:15 AM on February 16, 2010

My grandfather used to seal up the holes the rats would chew into the foundation of the house with broken glass mixed with concrete.

We've had good luck with live traps in the backyard baited with old deli meat. No real luck with peanut butter. We use the live traps, as opposed to the snap traps, to avoid hurting the neighbor's cat. We were getting one a day for a solid week.
posted by electroboy at 6:05 AM on February 16, 2010

When there was a lot of construction going on nearby, I had a horrendous mouse infestation in my apartment. The only thing that eradicated the bastards was a small version of the Ratzapper. When I first got the thing, it was killing three or four a night. (The brief zapping noise and occasional squeak are a bit disturbing but far less so than the effects of any other trap I tried. And you never have to touch the carcass.)

I tried peanut butter bait at first but switched to dog food, which they seemed to prefer.

Good luck!
posted by dogrose at 6:25 AM on February 16, 2010

OP: If your cats are too little/non-aggressive to go after full-grown rats (my ratter cat was a psycho-aggressive 20-lb. behemoth of a tom), shooting them and/or getting terriers are your best options. Trapping doesn't work all that well for a full-blown infestation, because rats are way smarter than mice and even one elder rat statesman will teach all the young'uns to avoid traps. Terriers are your best option for long-term pest control; you can't shoot them all, and you can't devote your life to rat-shooting, but ratter dogs are incredibly tenacious and have the mindset that their sole mission in life is to kill vermin. After a couple weeks of ratter dogs, the rats will probably decide that your underwear crotches aren't worth it, and will seek less-dangerous foraging grounds (like the barn).

If you opt for ratter dogs, be aware that good ratters have a high prey drive, and that dogs with a high prey drive are more likely to be aggressive towards animals that you might not necessarily want them to hunt. Therefore, if you're looking to borrow, buy, or adopt a ratter dog, make sure to get one that has been raised in a farm environment and knows that cats, chickens, etc. are off-limits. If you get an adult dog, make sure it's a known ratter. If you're looking to get a puppy, make sure its ancestors were good ratters. You don't need a fancy purebred; if the farm down the road has a rat-killing bitch who has puppies, that's a good bet. Terrier blood would be ideal; terriers are selectively bred to control large vermin. (But most dogs hate rats, and I've never owned a dog that wouldn't kill a rat given the chance.) A puppy won't be able to start killing rats for several months (and if it is a small puppy, you will need to protect it from the rats and from rat-borne diseases like leptospirosis), but you have the advantage of being able to teach it not to kill your cats. Plus, you will be able to train and reward it for following its natural rat-killing instincts.
posted by kataclysm at 6:32 AM on February 16, 2010

Besides food, rats scavenge for nest-building materials. Since you're on a farm, there are probably plenty of options for your rats. Others reading this thread may find that cotton balls, either right out of the bag or sprayed with a teensy drop of vanilla extract work well when the rats aren't taking food baits.
posted by Coffeemate at 7:52 AM on February 16, 2010

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