Millie has her finest hour as rats are rousted

Mrs Downs Diary
Mrs Downs Diary
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I drive John potty pushing guinea fowl eggs under any hen that shows the remotest interest in going broody. Recently, one was a hen that has insisted on going all maternal in a tiny hollow created by crumbling brickwork on the top of an old garden wall.

This natural hollow is criss crossed by ivy branches and presents a springy hammock for eggs.

My first realisation that the hen was there was after hearing her triumphant cackling at laying an egg that she was convinced no-one would find. She was joined by several other hens who also thought what an ideal hidey hole this was for a bit of illicit nest building. Furthermore, a young cockerel contributed to giving the game away by never leaving the patch below the nest and pouncing on any hen who left it too shattered after egg laying to resist his advances.

Eventually I tried the broody with guinea fowl eggs when I had a spare clutch. I even moved the hen into an old cat box, favourite nesting site for many of our chickens. Would she settle? Nope.

So I set nine eggs under her ( not a lot of room on top of a wall) and kept a close watch... Each morning another egg was lying at the bottom of the wall until she was left sitting on only four.

Probably rats taking the eggs, John said. Clearly no good at all. I chucked the eggs away and kept throwing her off the nest site. With no joy until yesterday. Remembering that my friend Stephanie said she used to douse the bottoms of her broodies with cold water to jolt them back into production, I filled the nest with ice cubes. Every day for three days. She was back in the hen hut I noticed last night; waving a small flag of surrender.

The fact that we have such an attractive menu of chick crumbs, barley and corn under the barn where my broody hens and their keets are attracts a number of unwelcome rodent residents.

John stacks hay and straw in there, which provides very comfortable living accommodation for rats. At this time of year the stack sizes are considerably reduced. John has either sold off the hay and straw, or we are down to the last few bales for the cattle that are still inside.

This means rat numbers are concentrated in these remaining big bales. Millie, our Jack Russell is always on the hunt. Last week she caught three baby rats unwise enough to take a stroll across the yard under her nose. But today was her finest hour.

With me driving the tractor and operating the bale lifter, the last few big bales in the yard were shifted so that the space can be cleaned out before harvest. An eruption of rats hurtled out as the bales were lifted. Quick as a flash Millie was in. Snap, shake,snap, shake in quick succession. Nine dead rats in a heap. Result.