Dealing With Rats in the Compost (warning – images of living and dead rats/animals)

I’ve been delaying making this video for
some time even though I get a lot of requests for it. And the main reason is that I think a lot
of people aren’t going to like it. There’s a lot of people out there who hate
rats, who think they are vile and disgusting creatures, and will be disturbed that I even
tolerate their presence. Other people love rats and think they’re wonderful
creatures, and will be disturbed that I see them as a pest. And still others might be disappointed that
at no point during this video do I show the actual killing of a rat. But this is the nature of the diverse range
of opinions that we have about this creature that has adapted so well to live among us. Personally, I quite like rats, I think they’re
intelligent, sociable creatures, and they make very good pets, and at the same time,
in the context I’m in, I actively cull their numbers. Or, in other words, I kill them. Rats have a very bad reputation, especially
in the cities, and for good reason, but I think the countryside is a little bit different. Most people are concerned about Leptospirosis,
or Weil’s Disease, so I decided to do my own research on it. According to the official statistics, there
are generally fewer than 20 cases reported each year in Ireland, many of which require
hospitalisation, but very rarely are there any deaths. It seems that most people were infected either
engaging in water sports, or with farmers working directly with animals, or with people
who are working in and around water, or people who travel to the tropics. This is a water born disease, and any water
that could have had rat urine washed into it is potentially contaminated. Apparently the highest risk comes from when
water is contaminated, comes in contact with open cuts and abrasions in the skin. So, its relatively easy to avoid by staying
away from water, or by covering any cuts and abrasions with waterproof plasters, and by
washing your hands. Because of all of this, I consider it to be
a low risk, even if rats are around, and it can be reduced even lower by common sense
practices. But I do recommend that people do their own
research on it. I think we need to be careful about how we
seek to manage rat populations in our gardens. Rats are pervasive in this country, and I
don’t think you can do anything to eliminate them, without doing serious damage to other
biodiversity. As one example, any habitat that might be
suitable for hedgehogs or other useful creatures in your gardens, would also be suitable for
rats. Poisons are seriously problematic, especially
as they can kill off any bird of prey that eats a poisoned rat. Traps can be effective, and I’ve used a
number of them over the years, but I’ve also found that they can kill animals that
I don’t want to kill, and it seems that rats are intelligent enough to learn how to
avoid them over time. I occasionally find cats hanging around my
gardens, and no doubt other predators that I’m not aware of pass by. A few years ago, i used to see a buzzard,
which is a type of bird of prey here in Ireland, hanging out on my compost pile, obviously
waiting for a tasty snack to appear. But I haven’t seen it again since I got
a lot better at controlling the rat population. I learned a valuable lesson about the relationship
between predators and prey, which I think is similar to the relationship between aphids
and ladybirds or ladybugs. It seems that we tend to not to be tolerant
enough of a background population of pests, in order to sustain the predators that we
want to help out in managing them. in this case it seems that the number of rats
that are needed to sustain a buzzard, is too many for most people. It was then that I realised that I needed
to take on the role of being a predator of rats. There’s this pervasive idea that you should
never add certain types of food to a compost pile, for fear of attracting rats. But, in my experience, rats are attracted
to compost piles in general, because there is probably always something to eat in them, and they seem to make ideal places to build nests in. It seems that rats are always going to be
attracted to an allotment or a garden, there tends to be a diverse range of habitats for
them to live in, and there’s always something to eat, either in the compost or growing in
the garden. I’ve seen many examples of rats eating things
directly from the gardens, including digging up pea seeds that were freshly sown. I’ve had the tops of carrots gnawed at,
I’ve had beetroot being chewed, I’ve had squash hollowed out so that the rats could
get at the seeds inside, and a neighbour had an entire crop of sweet corn stripped by rats. I’ve sat and watched a rat come into my
gardens, climb up a pea plant, pick a full pod of peas off of a plant, and drag it back
into the nest, only to come back a few minutes later and do the same thing. I’ve also seen them do it with broad beans
or lava beans. While rats may be more attracted to certain
types of material put into a compost, eliminating these items is not going to eliminate rats
from your garden. And, I’ve come to realise that if rats are
attracted to your compost, they can actually be easier to control. For the last few years, I’ve been managing
a community composting facility as part of this RED Gardens Project. For me, it enables me to capture a lot of
valuable fertility for use within the gardens, and for my neighbours it means that they don’t
have to have their own composting facility in order to manage their food wastes and yard
wastes. But, by being located away from the houses,
it also means that any problems that do arise, including issues with rats, are much easier
to manage. I’ve learned a lot from managing this composting
system, including developing several strategies for dealing with rats. Most of them are based on the fact that seem
to prefer building their nests within the compost itself, seemingly because it’s safe
and warm, and full of food. I used to borrow my neighbour’s dog whenever
I felt that rats were in the compost, and together we made a fairly effective team. As I dug the compost to turn it, he would
quickly and efficiently kill any of the rats that ran out. Unfortunately he’s now too old for the task,
so I’ve taken on both jobs, though I’m not nearly as skilled as he was. This was when I realised that there was real
benefits to having an enclosed box for a compost bin, but still enabling rats to burrow in
and make nests inside. Whenever it was time to turn the compost from
one bin into the next, I would seal up any of the holes, effectively trapping any of
the rats inside, and because they were trapped in there, they were much easier to kill. It was a vicious process, and I didn’t like
it, but I became quite skilled at it. As more people started tot use this community
composting facility, I ended up having to turn it more frequently, and more often than not I was finding nests that still had baby rats in them. And I realised that it was a much easier and
more effective strategy for culling the rat numbers was to kill them when they were still
babies, than to try to find them and kill them when they were adults. I found that turning the compost heaps once
a month gave enough time for the rats to become established, but wasn’t long enough for
the baby rats to mature and be able to leave the nest. And I found that this was quote an effective
strategy for controlling the rat population, especially during the autumn, winter and spring,
when the extra warmth of the compost heaps was an added attraction for the rats. In the summer time the rats were more likely
to nest in the broader landscape, but continue to use my gardens and the compost pile as a source of food, so I had to develop a different strategy. the method that worked quite well, was when
I surrounded all of the compost piles with a makeshift fence, and left a short section
of pipe at the base of the fence, so that the rats could come in and out as they pleased.. And I was able to determine when there was
a lot of rats visiting by the path that they wore up to the entrance to this pipe. And then, any time I was in the area, I would
make sure the fence was secure, and fix a bag over the end of the pipe. I would then lift all the coverings in the
composts and poke around until any rats that were there were scared off, and more often
than not, they ran straight through there pipe and were trapped in the bag, and were
very easy to kill. This ended up being very effective, and a
lot easier than trying to find and dig out all of the nests that they built in the wider
landscape. And I realised that the more attractive the
compost pile was to the rats, the easier it was to control their numbers. So, in the context of this RED Gardens Project,
I’m actively attracting rats to my compost pile, away from the houses and the broader
landscape, and taking responsibility for killing them. I’ve been quite successful at this over
the years, and have developed a number of different methods, but sometimes I’ve been
less successful, and these have been great opportunities to learn some more. Some of my neighbours still have problems
with the way that I manage this composting facility, and would prefer that I had conventional
rules of not allowing certain types of material. But, if these materials weren’t allowed,
then where would they be composted, and how would I get the fertility back into my gardens,
I think these are important things to consider. Perhaps I could develop a rat-proof composting
facility, but that would be a hard thing to do, and even if I was able to achieve it,
the rats would still be in the landscape, and would probably do a lot more damage to
my gardens. I believe a background population of rats
is tolerable and inevitable, but we need to take responsibility for managing their numbers. Within the context of abundant food and lots
of habitat, and not enough predators, I’ve found that a compost pile is by far the best
rat trap. Well, if you made it to the end of this video,
I do hope that means that you valued what I had to say, or at least found it interesting. As with all of the videos in this YouTube
channel, and with my work in the RED Gardens in general, I try to focus on the specifics
of my own experience, rather than trying to give some generalised advice. If you value that type of approach, and like
the work that I’m doing, please consider supporting me by going to my Patreon page
linked here or in the description below. As always, please like, subscribe and share,
but most importantly, thanks for watching.

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