After that first heartbreak of losing two baby chicks my routine settled into a new normal and no one else died. Each morning before work I would check in on my new chicks… water (check), food (check), temperature warm enough (check). Once home each evening I would do the same routine and most evenings I would sit out in the coop with wine in hand, country music serenading us all from the radio while watching and holding each chick with vigilance and care. I wanted them to know me without fear. I wanted to know them. I wanted them to come when called and so I spent a lot of time out there. It was peaceful and interesting watching the changes from soft, little, baby chicks to adolescent chicks to little laying hens in just a few short months.
Of course, more construction would need to be done getting roosting boxes built and a secure outdoor pen ready. So my life was full-on chicken mode. Day-after-day there were morning chores and evening chores and then one evening as I was checking the coop before bed I noticed the silhouette of what appeared in the shadows to be a RAT!
I was grossed out and upset. I thought I might have to move (no overreacting here). I looked online for guidance on what to do. There were all kinds of information… scary information. Rats bring with them all manner of disease and are vicious if confronted. I heard horror stories about rats chewing the toes of unsuspecting, sleeping chickens. I, myself, saw evidence of chewing on the wood surrounding the coop. Chewing evidence that was nearly six feet off the ground and very near the chicken’s roost. I was literally horrified.
After digesting this invasion of the rats I came up with a plan and did the easiest thing first by setting out rat traps. Now when I say “rat traps” I’m not referring to those nature lover catch and release kind. The traps I’m referring to are the kind that can snap your finger in two or at the very least cause a break that will send you to the hospital. So with bits of cheese and a steady cautious hand I set up a couple of traps along the edge of the wall where I’d seen rats prowling. The very next day when I went to check the traps I discovered the most gruesome sight. I discovered that I had indeed killed one rat but apparently his or her compadre’s felt compelled to eat him or her leaving behind only the barest thread of skin and skeleton. It was the stuff of horror shows… After carefully extricating the skin and skeleton from the trap and tossing it into the woods I pondered…
“How on earth will I ever eradicate such gruesome and vicious creatures from my chicken coop?!”
But as chief in charge and the only chicken keeper in residence I had no choice and war was declared… the War of the Rats had commenced. My first order of business was to button up any access holes and for that I called my handyman, Gene, who made some long overdue repairs that were beyond my level of carpentry expertise. After that I watched and still there were signs of rat activity so I purchased rat poison, more rat traps… lots and lots! I moved my compost heap far from the house and garage (no easy task); I put peppermint oil soaked rags into cracks and crevices; I made my own “rat poison” from cornmeal and baking soda. (Apparently rats can’t fart or burp so if they eat this concoction they will explode although I never saw any evidence that claim is true. But still I had to give it a try.) This War of the Rats literally became a full time job setting up traps, restocking the poison, switching from cheese to peanut butter as bait and, of course, keeping the cats and chickens away. That spring and summer I killed 13 rats in kill traps in and around my garage-coop and who knows how many exploded in the woods! I was beside myself and very upset.
The whole rat thing came to a head one Saturday afternoon when I was outside with my cat, Luvy. I was raking leaves that had been left too long on my perennial gardens beside the garage when out of the corner of my eye I saw Luvy jumping and heard a scuffle in the leaves with much squeaking and such. When Luvy emerged out of the leaves he looked bewildered and concerned. Yes, cats can look bewildered and concerned (who knew)! And that’s when I saw a not-so-dead rat just a short distance from my sweet Luvy. It appeared to be stunned and was not running away and then I remembered the stories of how vicious rats can be and knew it was time to face this rat head on. It was him or me!
Now this is when if I had someone of the masculine persuasion in residence I would have expected him to dispatch the rat pronto in order to save this “damsel in distress” and her sweet cat. But in my neck of the woods that day we were fresh out of anything resembling macho and so the task fell to me. I knew instinctively that in order to protect my cat I would need to dispatch (dispatch equals kill) this rodent and quickly somehow. Immediately I ran to the garage and grabbed a shovel then without hesitating I dispatched that dirty, rotten rat and saved my little Luvy from harm. Honestly, I never knew I was capable of doing such a thing. I’ve killed spiders and random bugs with a swat of my shoe but this felt different. This was a mammal – grant you a dirty rodent mammal – not some gruesome insect, but still it surprised me that I was capable of such an act. At the end of the day I suppose we are all capable of doing shocking and awesome things. But still I do wish I had some guy to do the deed because I’m a girl and it’s a lot more ladylike to squeal in helplessness and let someone else dispatch the rat.