“It’s not the rat’s fault it was born a rat.”
Not the words of comfort I wished to hear yesterday evening but I bit my tongue and showed the Rat Man the problem.
He said nothing and in the way of true countrymen got on with surveying the scene in utter silence. I tried an opening gambit but with a slow raise of his arm I was curtailed. I longed to spill out my woes, to make excuses for the chickens, but the Rat Man now moved swiftly round the pens his expert eye taking in all the detail he needed.
He gazed out to the middle distance, rubbed the ground with his feet, bobbed down to take a closer look at the hut doors. He peered under the sheds. Standing up he walked purposefully back to his stolid green Land Rover, opened it up and started to talk. Caught slightly on the hop, I rushed over to catch what he was saying and was about to apologise for not reacting quickly enough when I realised that he was in fact talking to his dog.
I was just beginning to feel superfluous when he started to hand out an array of large wooden boxes and a basket of the meanest looking traps I had ever seen in my life.
“I only want to kill rats,” I thought, “not men!”
“Now you mind those fen traps, snap your fingers hard they would. Make you cry.”
I smiled weakly and tentatively put the traps on the ground.
“So who’s going to help you then?”
I looked blank.
“Who’s going to help you with the rats?”
I was slightly non-plussed. “Err, you?”
“Well, I can, but it will cost you. Better if you were to do it yourself. I can teach you.”
“Oh great, “I thought, “I am going to have to deal with the buggers!”
“Oh! Yes!” I thought, “I AM going to have to deal with the buggers!”
Sometimes I have great ideas like calling the Rat Man but sometimes I just don’t actually think things through as much as I should. Of course I cannot have him come out here every day twice a day when I am paying him £32 an hour plus £22 travel.
For the next hour he carefully told me what I had to do and helped me set all the traps, patiently going over the routine several times as I struggled to cope with task at hand.
I have no qualms about disposing of the dead rats it was killing those that may not be dead enough that I know I would struggle with.
“Whatever you do don’t try to hold one that is alive,” he warned darkly.
I looked blank
“Quick as a wink it will bite you and it won’t be pleasant.”
“Best thing is to shoot it. Rats may be a problem but that doesn’t mean that they should be in pain when they die. The art is to do it quickly and cleanly as possible.”
I tried to look enthusiastic as I contemplated this philosophy. Perhaps I would be able to take it better if I did not keep looking at the empty chick pen.
“I don’t hold with poison except as a last resort; don’t want rodenticide to enter the food chain if we can help it," he continued. I nodded not completely with the program but coming round to the idea that like all true huntsmen, this fellow knew and admired his quarry.
“Now we can get on top of this infestation but you will have to get these pens sorted, a good foot of wire at the bottom of the pen should help all the way round, rats’ don’t like having to work too hard see. And put wire on the bottom of the door, they don’t like having to gnaw through it.”
I looked at all my beautiful newly built pens and started to calculate the cost of keeping my hens anew…
“And don’t expect to kill many initially; rats are Neophobic,”
“Well them and me both!” I thought as I wrestled with the fen trap while trying to control my fear of having my fingers broken in one quick snap.
Apparently rats don’t like new things and will avoid them at all costs but once they get used to them they accept them as part of their daily lives. Hence the fact that I could keep the traps where they are placed forever and still catch the rats for apparently they will not learn to avoid things they know will kill them as their fear of new things surpasses any other.
“The inside of a rat’s mind is unfathomable, a bit like the Rat Man’s.” I thought.