Note: this post is not for those squeamish about, or advocates for the survival of rodents.
We have chickens and we have vegetables, so inevitably it would seem, we have rats. We've always had a few hanging around the yard, and occasionally in the roof space but have managed them with a combination of baits and traps. To be honest, if they're not in the house I'm not overly bothered. When we came back from our Big Gypsy Getaway however, the problem seemed to be on a much larger scale. Our absence had seen them move in, in plague proportions. Apparently it's not just our house though, and our area has seen a rise in numbers.
Recently, probably as a result of summer heating up, our rat colony sought refuge in the roof space. I was frequently being woken up to scurrying (which sounded like a heard of buffalos) above my bedroom, and although they didn't seem to be getting into the house, their presence in the roof was unnerving so it was time to take further action. It didn't take long to discover they had set up their main nest in a small semi-open shed next to the chicken coop. The chicken feeder plus the veges were supplying constant food, so baiting was pointless while they had food and shelter readily available. Hubby and a friend went out with a torch one night to discover a hive of "rativity", so they set up "rat-cam" in the shed to get a better idea of their numbers and movements. After a night of filming, the shed (and their nest) had to go.
After complete destruction of their (disgusting) quarters, which discovered some ruined/chewed windsurfing equipment and resulted in a man-on-rat duel between Hubby and the king rat locked in our outside bathroom (the details of which I will spare you all), we began to gain a little control. Hubby covered all the gutters with fine mesh to eliminate gaps between the gutters and our corrugated tin roof. I no longer feed the chickens via a feeder, rather they get a finite amount of pellets plus scraps daily thrown onto the ground, normally in the morning when rats are the least active. We are also continually baiting in known areas of high "rativity", and Perth's heat wave over Christmas and New Year seemed to work in our favour. A LOT of rats died over that period, and I can only think it was a combination of lack of food and heat.
The rat population clearly hasn't moved out of our neighbourhood, and neighbours have said they have seen them. My tomatoes and capsicums keep going missing off the vines, I still hear occasional scurrying in the roof and we still find the odd baited beast "sleeping" on the back lawn (or in the dog's mouth), but all in all the numbers have been significantly reduced.
If you have chickens and/or veges which seem to attract rodents, I hope some of our techniques are helpful to you. I'd also love to hear any coping strategies you have found useful. With small children and animals, mass baiting isn't ideal, and while we seem to be gaining control, I'm definitely interested in other ideas (which don't involve getting rid of either the chickens or the vegetables).