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Hoofbeats - The Blog 

Welcome to our blog page, HOOFBEATS, where we talk about the countryside with a main emphasis on training and caring for horses and ponies. If you would like to contribute ideas and information about your own experiences, we would be delighted to hear them. Please email to editor@horseandponyinfo.com or post to our Facebook Page, Horse and Pony Info. If you're into Twitter, you can contact us @horse_ponyinfo.

The opinions expressed here are from personal experience and we strongly advise you to contact your vet or your riding instructor if you are seriously worried about your horse.

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Thursday, November 22, 2012

Horses and Rats - a Horror Story

This post is not for the faint hearted. Just thought I'd get that in early. If you can't even bear the thought of reading about rats, tune out now.
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My horror story began several months ago when our beloved dog died. He used to accompany me every night to the stables for last feeds and enthusiastically slaughter any rat stupid enough to get in his way. It was frightening how rats fought the dog, leaping and squealing in the darkness while I stood uselessly by, also screaming. For all the good screaming does!

Since the dog's death, the rats continued to thrive and breed. Apparently they have an average of 6 babies every 6 weeks. After another 6 weeks, the babies themselves can produce babies. You don't have to be a maths genius to work out that after a couple of months you're in big trouble. Another scary statistic I learnt from the pest control man is that for every one rat you see in daylight hours, there are at least another 10 in hiding. When 5 rats jumped out of a feed bucket one night, I sent for the marines.

The marines arrived in the Rentokil van and, being fond of statistics, I discovered that my rat infestation is 8 on a scale of 10 and that a single pair of breeding rats and their subsequent descendants will produce 2,300 rats in one year. Scary, right?

Some people, when I mentioned the problem, thought rats were cute and were fine to have around horses. Here's why this couldn't be further from the truth:

  • Rats spread disease through their urine and poo. Rat urine will cause Leptospirosis in dogs and Weil's Disease in humans. By the time the infection has reached the liver, it's often too late. If you have been near rats and touched anything, especially if you have cuts on your hands, and subsequently get bad flu symptoms, joint aches and pains and respiratory problems, go to your doctor immediately for the antibiotics. I'm not exaggerating. My brother had to be treated for Weil's Disease last August after clearing out a shed on his farm. You might like to Google Weil's Disease for more info about how it can cause death and make sure your dogs are vaccinated against Leptospirosis as it's also a killer.

  • The Rentokil technician assured me that rat urine on hay, bedding and feed in stables can cause respiratory problems in horses and told me that they are employed in top racing yards around the Curragh on permanent contracts as (and I quote him) ‘a racehorse where there are rats will never win a race.' You need to check with your vet on this one as I'm not an expert.

  • Rats can also nibble through wiring and cause fire in stables.

How to get rid of the rats? First and foremost, keep your feed room scrupulously clean. Rats love cereals so sweep up any nuts, oats or mix that falls on the ground and keep bags of feed in galvanised metal bins. All our plastic bins have been chewed through so we only use metal ones now.

If you don't use professional pest control, and even if you do, make sure you don't cause secondary poisoning where your dog, cat or even owls and birds eat the poisoned rats and mice and also die. I have been assured that the rat extermination programme I am following will not do this. I met a farmer this week who uses bait bought in the local store and it regularly kills off the kittens. Only one cat survives as he doesn't like eating dead mice. Horrible. And not what I would like to happen to our new kitten.

Another way to keep rats at bay is to own a hardy Jack Russell terrier or two. Farm cats will also kill off baby rats and stop the breeding process. It takes a brave cat to tackle a fully grown rat and I remember years ago one of ours getting her face torn open by one.

I warned you this was a horror story.

12:32 pm gmt 


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