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THINK LIKE A RAT

Jay Turner recounts some of his most memorable rodent jobs, the ones that put his pest management knowledge to the test.

 

No matter how many rodent treatments we perform in our career, there are always a handful of treatments that stick in our mind. They are those jobs where our normal treatment procedures just haven’t cut it and we’ve had to think outside the box to get the results. And it’s that proud feeling we get when we achieve these results that sticks with us for the rest of our career. The following is a recount of four very different rodent treatments I’ve done that stick in my mind, and which I think of every time I approach a rodent job.

Treatment 1: Bait placement

This was a rural produce and garden centre where rats were attacking bags of animal feed in their warehouse shed.

Being an agricultural supplier, the customer already had access to a myriad of rodent baits; however the rodent activity and damage to bags of feed was increasing, despite the amount of bait they put out. They reluctantly knew it was time to seek some professional advice. Their current in-house strategy was to simply throw rodent bait under the pallets of stock feed.

With this job, I knew I would have to put my thinking cap on and come up with something logical but different from their current approach to get them on board. The key here was bait placement and bait palatability.

After looking at the baits they were using, I noticed each one was a block-type, grain-based bait. Given that the available food was also grain, I figured a soft bait would be more attractive to the rats. I also observed the rats were using the shed purlins as runways to gain access to the pallets, therefore my strategy was to place tamper-resistant stations loaded with a soft bait along these pathways before they reached the pallets of stock feed. The theory behind this strategy was to offer the rats a more attractive food source, in a more accessible position, in a more protected place to eat.

And guess what? It worked! Within a few weeks there was no more damaged stock feed. But as to be expected, the clients then decided to take over in-house. Regardless, I was still proud to claim that I solved a problem that no amount of bait could.

Treatment 2: Palatability

This was a commercial kitchen with a cunning rat that was making its presence known each morning. The kitchen had a pest management plan in place with rodent bait stations, however this particular rat was not interested in what was on offer.

After a detailed inspection, I was able to work out the rat’s routine each night, its entry point, its food preference and its most frequented pathways. Once again, the plan was to offer the rat something a bit more tempting than the bountiful morsels of food available in a commercial kitchen. Thus, a prawn tail lightly coated in a rodent tracking powder was placed in a used bait station strategically placed along its runway. Each day the prawn tail disappeared, and each day the toxic prawn tail was replaced with another. After four days the prawn tails stopped disappearing and the evidence of rat activity ceased.

Treatment 3: An in-ground approach

This was an artificial abalone (shellfish) farm with an increasing rodent issue. We held the pest maintenance for this facility, however our rodent maintenance program was just not working. To understand the challenges with this facility, you have to understand what an abalone farm is and how it is run..

This abalone farm consisted of multiple tents, each approximately 100 metres long, 30 meters wide and containing approximately 20 very shallow concrete tanks filled with saltwater. The abalone are hand fed like chooks, with a seaweed-based pellet. The tents are also in darkness 24/7. So, you have lots of spilled food along the edges of the abalone tanks, lots of harbourage areas with the rats burrowing under the concrete tanks, and to make matters worse, the humidity was through the roof with droplets of water forming on every surface. Every bait type used inside the tents would turn to big sloppy clumps of hairy mould within days.

 

Abalone farm in Queensland

So, after a bit of brainstorming and consulting with a few rodent bait manufacturers, a plan was hatched to incorporate a strategy known as ‘burrow baiting’. Burrow baiting basically involves pouring a small amount of pellet-type bait down each of the rats’ burrows and covering the burrows over. Each week the same strategy was used, and any unearthed burrows were re-baited.

Each week the number of active burrows diminished drastically. The strategy was labour intensive initially, but effective in the long term. External perimeter stations then minimised re-infestations, and the occasional burrow baiting of any recently constructed burrows nipped them in the bud pretty quickly.

Treatment 4: Careful inspection

This was a fresh produce store with a rat that was taking a nibble out of the fruit each night in the cool room. After a good assessment of the cool room door seals and speaking to the staff, I came to the conclusion that despite the logic of it, the rat was actually living in the cool room!

Rodents will pull in various material to create an insulated and comfortable nest

And sure enough, after a good hunt around on my hands and knees, I noticed in the very back corner under a pallet, what appeared to be a pile of rubbish. The rat had picked the least cold spot in the cool room and constructed itself an insulated nest of herbs, plastic and shredded cardboard. Needless to say, that rat’s cool-climate holiday was ended pretty abruptly!

It’s jobs like these that I find most gratifying, where I’ve been able to use my knowledge of rat behaviour, as well as calling upon the expertise around me, to come up with a strategy to solve my client’s pest issue. They are also good examples of how rodent management is more than just putting bait out – you have to put some thought into it first. You have to love a job like this where every job is different, and you never stop learning!

 

Jay Turner, Laguna Pest Control