Oh Rats!

amunk01March 2, 2014

Ok gardeners, I need some reassurance! I have been aware of some mice living under my compost container for some time. (it's actually an OLD raised wood flowerbed 2'x8'x1.5'h that was here when we moved in). This is my kitchen scrap compost that is located very close to my back door and sits against my house so mice are a concern. I have tried a few things to scare them off but short of poisoning them I can't get rid of them. I really don't want to put any poison out for multiple reasons ie. my toads & skinks live back there too, dogs are outside, poison is slow and inhumane IMO etc.
So yesterday I decided to flood the tunnels that run under the bin to flush them out. When that didn't do anything, I decided to empty the entire thing and really "get to the bottom of things". Turns out this thing has a bottom or what's left of one. I tore that out too and TaaDaaa... Mice! I caught two fat adults and removed all their nesting materials. Boy, had they been busy. Yuck!

Now here's where it gets crazy. As I'm finishing up refilling my compost bin, I notice a little grey nose poke out from behind some cardboard boxes I've been saving leaned up against the house. So I have my dog block one side and I slid a box over the other opening then scared the thing into the box... Well.. pardon me but Damn! Had I known what I had just coerced into a box I think I would have done things differently! As in just walked away! This is what I caught...

Here is where I need some comfort/confirmation. After reading and identifying this rat, I have learned this species (Hispid Cotton rat) carries the Hantavirus. This virus is airborne and can be contracted by ingesting urine, or fecal matter, or inhaling it by disturbing the bedding material! Oops! Hopefully I won't come down with "flu-like" symptoms in the next week, but I'm concerned about this rat having been inside my compost bin over and over. The actual compost won't be ready to use until next season but is that long enough, can I still plant veggies in it? Will nature kill anything "bad" in there? I mean, we wash our produce (well, unless I eat it directly out of the garden! Eek!) I feel like I'm being paranoid but then again I don't really want the plague or any of the other virus or bacteria these things carry.. Surely everyone has had a rodent or two in their compost bin, right???

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Hantaviruses generally survive for two to four weeks outdoors at this time of year, a few days in warm compost, and do not survive at all at compost temperatures over 135 degrees F.

PS: for small infestations, I recommend electric traps baited with peanut butter. They electrocute the rats/mice within a few seconds, after which you can toss the bodies into the woods and let the crows, magpies and other critters get a meal. Not messy like snap traps and not harmful or slow like poison.

This post was edited by Slimy_Okra on Sun, Mar 2, 14 at 18:58

    Bookmark   March 2, 2014 at 6:54PM
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I don't know what to tell you. But that sure is a nice rat.

I move a large bale of hay a few days a go and found a very large den of some kind. I just left it open for a day or two hoping some kind of critter would get in there and eat what ever made the den. I then tilled the area well hoping I might kill anything else. I also have a little dog that likes to help me on jobs like, but I think that rat could whip my dog.


    Bookmark   March 2, 2014 at 7:01PM
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mksmth zone 6b Tulsa Oklahoma(6b)

I found 2 big rats in the skimmer of my pool last summer. guess they cant swim to good. Also had some what I call field mice getting into my plumeria pots that are stored in the barn A couple of snap traps took care of that. I hate hate hate mice and rats.

    Bookmark   March 2, 2014 at 7:29PM
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amunk01 that is really my main reason to NEVER put a compost pile right by the house. Put it out on the back side of your property. Mice and rats at least are far away from the house. :)

    Bookmark   March 2, 2014 at 8:12PM
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I've only ever found one little field mouse in my compost bin. Well...one mama mouse and some noisy baby mice. I think just turning the compost spooked her, because the next time I went out to add some scraps they were gone. I have one of those black fully enclosed bins with the bottom open. Usually I'm careful about kicking dirt up around the edges so that there are no holes big enough for mice to get in, but I guess I missed a spot.

A rodent that size would probably send me running and screaming back into the house (without the mouse!). It looks like that picture you took is inside your house, which gives me the heebie jeebies just thinking about it!

    Bookmark   March 2, 2014 at 9:21PM
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helenh(z6 SW MO)

I like the black plastic snap traps that Lowe's carries. You don't want your dog's nose or your finger caught in one of those. The larger ones for rats are about $5. I catch more rodents with those than any other trap I have ever used. I won't use poison either because although my animals aren't much interested in dead animals, they would chew on a sick or dying one. I think there are rodents all over and most of us are surviving them. There are old rats nests in my wood block pile. Every time I put wood in the stove, I wash my hands. My hands are very dry and chapped.

    Bookmark   March 3, 2014 at 2:15AM
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I lived in Arizona as a teen and from what I remember, we considered every mouse or rodent to be a potential Hantavirus carrier. I wouldn't have tried to catch and identify one in my compost pile! :)

As for the compost being safe to plant in, I'd wait until after the summer to use it if I was being extra cautious. I want my compost to look a lot like dirt when I use it. Our summer temps will heat a compost pile which kills most bacteria. This article explains how temps above 65 degrees Celsius will kill microorganisms.

Here is a link that might be useful: Compost physics

    Bookmark   March 3, 2014 at 9:10AM
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I prefer organic means and methods, mostly because it's cheaper ...and I have the time to do it that way.


I'm not afraid to nuke those little critters from orbit, if that's what it takes to get rid of them. Rats and mice carry disease and parasites of all types and kinds. From my pov, they are trying to kill me and destroy my property, not to mention my garden. The Castle Doctrine is applicable.

Never, ever stack anything - anything at all - against your home, sheds or garages...unless you want rats, mice and every other type of bug, parasite and wild critter tearing up your property and trying to make you sick, or even kill you.

D-Con for mice and rats.

...and you're the adult, here. If you can't apply the rat poison in such a way as to keep the dogs and kids outta the D-Con, you're doing that adult thing wrong. You gotta be smarter than the stuff you're working with, even if that 'stuff' is dogs and kids...or rats and mice.

    Bookmark   March 3, 2014 at 10:52AM
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helenh(z6 SW MO)

Sometimes the rats are smart or smart people don't realize their habits. My rats move the D-Con or what ever and pile it up with dog or cat food, bird seed, small items like plastic forks, pens etc. leaves, acorns and sticks. They move it from where I put it to their nest which may be where another animal could get it. Rodents carry disease and ticks that carry disease. I would use poison for house mice and feel safe putting it in a good place but rats are different. It is heartbreaking to see a pet poisoned. My friend's son's chocolate lab was poisoned with warfarin and had a stroke. He swears he put the rat poison outside the fence under rocks, but I know the rats here will move poison.

    Bookmark   March 3, 2014 at 11:38AM
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seeker1122(7a ok)

Adopt a rescue cat.
A few years ago my 15 year old cat got too old to catch mice and rats. Living surrounded by wheat, canolia, and alfalfa fields there's always plowing or cutting going and my whole house was over run.I rescued a small female and within 2 weeks no rats or mice lived in the house and within 2 months none lived in my yard or property.
Now she keeps the neighbors yards clean and even the park that seperates my house from a wheat field clean.
Just a thought cuz lots of cats need homes and they even donate for free at places.
good luck I 've known the worst of rodent problems.

    Bookmark   March 3, 2014 at 12:12PM
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helenh(z6 SW MO)

Yes they help. When I don't have a cat I have rats thumping everywhere. My Puff died and he was a great hunter. Spanky catches them, plays with them, looks away and they escape. Usually the dogs watch and kill them. They don't get them all because there are too many good places to hide. I think you are going to have to put the compost somewhere else. Dog food and bird feed attract them too.

    Bookmark   March 3, 2014 at 12:52PM
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Okiedawn OK Zone 7


Feeling better about this yet? I think that you'll be fine, the compost pile's heat will kill any potentially hazardous pathogens and one day you'll look back at all of this and laugh.

If you do get sick in the next few days, you should immediately seek medical attention, though, since you know there is a chance you were exposed to hanta virus. I do think the chance you actually would contract it based on the limited exposure would be incredibly low though. Often (though not always) people who contract hanta virus do so after being exposed to it multiple times.

Just let your compost pile heat up and it will destroy the pathogens for you and there will be no reason to fear contracting a disease from something raised in soil enriched with the compost.

Adding kitchen scraps to the compost pile is like putting out a big neon sign calling all mice and rodents to "come here now". I mean, it is fast food for them, so why wouldn't they be attracted to a compost pile. You can help hide the kitchen scraps from the rodents by using a shovel to dig them into the center of the pile and cover them up a bit. Since I'm in a rural area with lots of wild critters roaming around, especially at night, if I don't bury kitchen scraps beneath something else to hide them, the foraging varmints will eat all my kitchen scraps every night if I leave them out in plain sight.

Clearly your problem with the rodents living beneath the compost pile is that you don't have any snakes living in or near it. I don't see many rodents in or near my compost piles, but I have snakes there a lot, and those snakes are there to gobble up the rodents that come to the pile searching for a meal. Hawks and owls often sit in the trees near the compost piles, and they are there for a reason too. You don't need less wildlife---you need more! If you don't want to turn your backyard into a wildlife haven, you can trap or poison the rodents. We prefer trapping outdoors or in the chicken coop, but sometimes use poison in the barn. However, when we do that, we keep the barn closed up securely in order to keep the dogs and cats away from the poison and from any poisoned rodents. Once we have had the poison available long enough to do its job, we remove it and dispose of it so our animals can go into the barn again.

I agree with others here who have commented that it never is a good idea to have a compost pile too close to a house. Wherever we have lived, I've always put the compost pile pretty far from the house even though it means that it is less convenient for me to empty the compost bucket that I keep stashed underneath the kitchen sink.

We also have a rule here in our family that we always wear disposable latex or nitrile medical gloves when handling/dealing with any wild animal, dead or alive, or when handling any material we know they have come in contact with. If handling a live animal, we have thick, leather gloves on our hands with the nitrile or latex gloves underneath. Different animals can carry different pathogens and it is a good idea to protect yourself from exposure to all that.

Seeing the rodents in the fields, in the woods, in the garden, etc. drove me up the wall when we first moved here and I did not like it one bit. Over time, I observed the web of life, so to speak, and realized that for almost every problem animal on our property, there is a predator higher up the food chain that will take care of it. That helps me keep it all in perspective. However, when some of those varmints (skunks and venomous snakes being two examples) are places they don't belong, we do not hesitate to remove them. Having a skunk walking up close to the house at night as it is out roaming around foraging for food at night is one thing, and we do our best to ignore that and sort of live and let live. However, a skunk doing the same thing in the middle of the day normally is indicative of an animal that is ill, likely with rabies, and we shoot them.

Rodents, though? If they are in our space where we don't want them, we take them out. If you tolerate having a couple of little field mice living under the compost pile or in a corner of the garden, their little family will grow exponentially and soon you'll be overrun with rodents, or overrun with other wildlife coming to eat the rodents. If they cannot find what they want outside, they'll come inside looking for it. Because they can carry disease, you don't want that. So, my gentle suggestion is that the next time you become aware of a rodent living somewhere, you immediately take steps to eliminate it.


    Bookmark   March 3, 2014 at 4:40PM
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Thanks everyone! I've been stuck at work for a few days and haven't had a chance to respond.
To ease any concern (that I may be an unreasonable live & let live extremists), we do have poison in the house and should I ever find Any activity there, the culprits will be killed without hesitation (if the poison doesn't get them first). As for the outside pests, I have a hard time viewing them as pests, flat out, across the board. Like Dawn, I see rodents as just another part of the cycle. Of course, I don't want them growing in numbers near the house either, but within reason I'd rather just catch and relocate like I did the other day. (Don't worry Dawn, I wore gloves and actually held my breath for the bedding removal) I appreciate all animals, and know quite a bit about handling them. I knew rodents carry disease, parasites with disease, etc. What I don't anything about is pathogens. Reading Hantavirus is airborne was news to me. I thought one had to be bitten, or ingest excrement to become infected. I also wanted to know the "shelf life" of the virus since that rat possibly has been making "Hanta-pellets" in my compost or "plague deposits" for that matter. :)
I know we have predatory birds, but I haven't seen any snakes yet (although they would be very welcome! I love reptiles!). Getting a cat is not an option at the moment. My 5 bulldogs wouldn't have it, I'm afraid :) But Tree, I'd love to rescue a few once I have an acreage with a barn. I actually did rescue fulltime for a few years, but mainly giant breed dogs. There are a ton of great cats out there too!
Since I won't be able to move the compost, I've done the best I can with preventative measures. I filled the space between the house and the bin with a foot of rock, and packed it in around the sides, after filling in any openings/pathways under the bin.
Wbonesteel, I completely agree! That is what started the mouse hunt in the first place. My hubby set some boxes out for me and a few pallets two weeks ago, but I hadn't gotten to them yet so I decided to get out there and get them up and away from the house. Once I finished that I tackled the compost bin :) No sense in griping about rodents if you built them a hotel, right?
Mia, thanks for the link. And, yes, I have been called crazy many times for all the things I've caught just to identify and learn about. The rat is definitely not the craziest thing I've put in an aquarium so I could Google it lol When I was 9, I brought home a 20lb alligator snapping turtle rigged in a sling made of shoe laces and sticks.. my mom just about lost it! Lol I had no idea that thing could've probably bit through my arm let alone all my fingers! It sure was cool though, plus I learned a ton about turtles that week :)
Helen, my next property will have all the compost far far away from the house lol My main compost is actually on the back fence line, but when we arrived here I thought the old banged up flower bed would make a fine little kitchen scrap bin. Clearly, I am very new at gardening/composting :) Oh, and I'm sorry about Puff, losing a pet is terrible.
Miraje, I almost hate to admit this because I'm sure almost everyone will think I'm insane or a complete idiot, but.. that picture was taken inside my house! Now remember, I caught this thing in a box so I didn't actually know what it was until I emptied the box into a big aquarium I have. However, that all occurred outside so I knew exactly what I was bringing in, when I carried it into the house :) Here's why.. I wanted to watch it, Identify it, read about it, learn more about rodents, protect it from -5° tempts since I was holding it hostage, take a picture then relocate it. Crazy or not, it's a life, a beautiful fat, healthy rat. The prettiest rat I've ever seen actually. It looks like an obese mouse. I realize that all may sound strange to most, but animals are IT for me. Learning about the creatures around me, in depth, has been and will always be a hobby per se. Just by catching this one rat, I have increased my knowledge on rats, mice, voles, and mole exponentially. Not to mention, all I have learned on pathogens (who knew the CDC website was so interesting?) Oh, and I've learned more about composting! Long story short, I love nature and all that comes with it. I've been catching creatures and learning about them since I could outcrawl a sowbug :) Of course, I've grown out of putting any of my new "finds" in my mouth, but other than that not much has changed lol Crazy or not, I caught the little buggers, learned a ton, then let them go miles and miles from my house! :)

    Bookmark   March 4, 2014 at 2:26PM
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helenh(z6 SW MO)

I think my rats are wood rats. I have to kill them because they chew wires no matter how cute, fat and healthy they are. Last damage was this year. Pump men charged me $125 for a chewed wire to the well. I had no water and thought the pump would have to be pulled. They also chewed the phone wire under my house and I had no internet but that was a couple of years ago. And years ago the coil wire to our brand new car which would not start.

This is what I found on their reproduction rate:

Reproductive habits of rodents are variable in the wild and can become more so when domesticated. Most are born naked and helpless and must be cared for in nests. Some female pack rats have been known to deliver up to five litters per year with each litter having as many as five young. The offspring may open their eyes between 10 to 12 days after being born and are usually weaned between 14 and 42 days. AFTER 60 DAYS they are sexually mature AND CAN HAVE MORE AT THE RATE OF 5 LITTERS A YEAR.

They are cute especially in your picture because those rats can not come here, but where ever you dumped them they will be multiplying. Someone else will have a problem. Not judging I did that with an armadillo once. Neighbors and people in the country don't want them either.

    Bookmark   March 4, 2014 at 4:08PM
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That is also the cutest rat I've ever seen. I saw one in a garden once and it looked just like Templeton.

I have done zero research into Hantavirus, but I'm having a vague 15-year-old memory that the reason it is communicable through the air is old rodent excrement essentially turns to dust and can become airborne, so really you are inhaling the old excrement and pathogens. You definitely will know more than I do about Hantavirus if you've googled it recently!

    Bookmark   March 4, 2014 at 4:26PM
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helenh(z6 SW MO)

This information I just found does not mention wood rats as carrying the virus. That makes me feel just a little better. What is useful to me about this link is that it says to spray the area with a bleach solution. I need to clean out my barn which is open and does not stop anything from getting in. When I worked on it before I bought a mask, but now I'm going to spray with bleach before I sweep in there.

Here is a link that might be useful: information on rat disease prevention

    Bookmark   March 4, 2014 at 5:53PM
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Yes, different species carry different things so I'm glad your wood rats are "clean", :) but as a rule I'd say most people should stear clear and assume whatever they are dealing with is a carrier. :)
Helen, that sounds awful. I am so sorry, how frustrating! I would definitely be in kill mode instead of research mode. lol I fortunately live in a residential neighborhood so the populations are minimal (at least compared to country living.)
I too read about their extraordinary reproduction abilities! Eek! You would think we would be ankle deep in rodents! Fortunately, a very large percent of them only live 30 days to 6 month depending on the species, genes, environment, etc. For instance, its estimated as high as 88 percent of voles aka field mice never make it past 30 days. I guess they are extra yummy to predators. lol

    Bookmark   March 4, 2014 at 11:40PM
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I was weighing thermophilic composting versus cold composting in my head when I stumbled across this post. Problem solved.

I'm with most, and want to avoid infestations. But that is the nicest looking wild rat I've ever seen.

Hope he/she does okay in the new territory.

    Bookmark   March 5, 2014 at 12:42AM
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Okay, this is a little off-topic but how did you get your dog to block one side of the cardboard boxes? Sit, stay? My dogs would have been going nuts to get at that thing. Or maybe running in the other direction. Not sure...


    Bookmark   March 5, 2014 at 1:18AM
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Linda, I have 1 out of 5 dogs that is actually somewhat obedient! Lol I just pointed him to the scent and told him to wait.. He kept his head at the opening for all of 1 minute, luckily that's all it took to scare the rat into the box I had waiting on the opposite end.. It was a miracle, really!
Bon, ive been actively reading about "hot" composting after my recent "rodent revelation". :) The rat was relocated to the lake. It may not be as plentiful as my compost pile, but I'm sure it's better than death lol.

    Bookmark   March 5, 2014 at 1:58PM
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I just read the Humanure handbook 3 days ago. I wish I had read it three years ago, not for the humanure but because he dispels myths about hot composting. Not as hard.

.pdf files online free perusal Humanure Handbook by Joseph Jenkins

    Bookmark   March 6, 2014 at 4:31AM
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I use to hot compost and liked it very well, except the turning part. Years ago I caught my grass clippings and had too much greens in my compost, now I have too much brown. I have found that if I buy a bag of composted manure and mix in some green grass clippings with the leaves and hay it will heat and compost faster. I cant put any kitchen scraps in the compost because of too many critters. I would say that 90% of my compost is just decayed mulch.


    Bookmark   March 6, 2014 at 8:29AM
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