Something I neglected to say in my Prelude to Rats; I will never sell you the things I'm reviewing; or use the blog as a way to make commissions on sales.
Because? Inevitably, such reviews will become warped in the direction of sales. No matter how pure the original intent. So; I won't go there. I will give you a link to the manufacturer, who may very well have an internet sales operation; but you should always be aware that the same item is often available at a discount elsewhere. Up to you. I will not be getting anything out of it from makers or sellers.
Not to make you dangle any longer, this Review is mostly of an "electronic" rodent trap; the Rat Zapper; with a fair amount of extra rat biology and rat trapping information.
Link in a minute. Pay attention first.
An "electronic" rodent trap?? Isn't an electric rat trap like snake oil; a silly con? (Like those "ultrasonic rodent repellers" - which are a con.) And what the heck for; what's wrong with the classic cheap rat traps that have worked for centuries? (Search "rat trap", click "images" if you want an education on varieties.)
They weren't working. I investigated the electronic frontiers out of desperation. I read 30 reviews of the Rat Zapper, on 5 sites; finally finding a couple which indicated genuine knowledge- of rats. They said it worked; so- in hopelessness, despair, distress; anguish, agony, torment, misery, wretchedness; discouragement, disheartenment (the entire thesaurus entry for desperation); I tried it.
It works. Day 1; 3 dead rats. Day 2; 2 dead rats. Etc. With every other trap system I had tried (many, including crazy ones) my best success rates were 1 rat per 4 days, for 3 rats total, perhaps, then tapering to 0. The rats learned; new trap system needed; repeat. The Rat Zapper seems to prevent rats from learning- a genuinely spectacular achievement.
Ok; here's the link; and this is the right time to point out - companies/markets/technologies change -always. This one has changed its name, in the 10 months since I bought one, and has shifted its business practices considerably; they're now "Raticator". I still tend to call it the Zapper. I have hopes their quality has not gone downhill. At the time I first searched for this kind of trap, the Rat Zapper was my top search result. There are multiple competitors in the electronic rodent trap business; I have not tried any of the others. Primarily because this one has been working.
Oh, and, Sharon, I'm terrifically sorry I suggested you had rats. It wasn't you. It's The Crunchy Chicken; of course! Mea culpa, mea culpa. Crunchy - let me know if this helps!
My expertise: I can claim to be an unusually expert mammal trapper. I've trapped literally dozens of species, for science, both live and kill traps. Much of my science trapping was tightly targeted; I knew what I was trying to trap, and eventually caught little else. I'm good at it. I also, in the early days here on the farm, trapped for fur, meat, and money. I successfully trapped raccoons (not too hard), grey fox (harder) and red fox (extremely demanding). We ate a lot of raccoon back then. Tastes like lamb, done right; I recommend it.
I know both traps and mammals; there are still people at the U who think I was/am a Mammalogist. I wasn't- I worked with mammals as tools to study evolution. I did research on birds, too.
My Rating :
Ok, I can probably use your suggestions on the rating system. I went with the 4 out of 5 stars on the theory that this is pretty common, and easily understood. Yes; I recommend the thing I'm reviewing. But there are some details you need to know; it's not perfect. The stars work ok? And yes; I'm fussy- you won't see 5 stars from me very often; so 4 is really pretty darn good.
Basics: I use the larger trap model; which is powered by 4 alkaline D cells. It does get mice as effectively as it gets rats. I currently have no rats; but mice keep breeding, and reappear often. I currently think I have no mice in the house- for the first time in decades. Heard one last week; got it. The rats can/will reinvade someday, too. The batteries are good for a very long time; and there is an LED indicator if they're low.
It kills by electric shock. Ergo- it's dangerous to small children, and kittens. But- it kills so quickly, that (I think!) the rodent has no time to emit alarm pheromones; so the next rodent to approach the trap is not afraid of it. (Blood, per se, scares very few mammals- it's the alarm chemicals that do it.) That is a factor particularly with rats- rats are smart; and co-evolved with humans. Even a powerful snap trap frequently does not kill instantly- then not only the trap, but the immediate area around the trap may warn the next rodent. With the Rat Zapper (ok, Raticator), a killed rat shuts the trap off (so it doesn't just waste batteries on a zapping a corpse.) The other rats will just walk over the killed one, to steal the bait. Dead rat, bait gone = you still have rats. Useful.
My Story: I started keeping poultry here on this farm only in 2008. A 4 year track record with the birds is not that long. But- we've been growing various tree crops, including a bunch of nuts, for over 2 decades. Harvesting, storing. The nuts mean rodents; and that means I've been tracking rodents very carefully for a long time.
Our first line of defense against rodents is cats. We now have 3 separate populations of cats on the farm; widely separated. They do a pretty good job, and police around the buildings where we provide some food, and water. But- cats inside the poultry house- not going to work, and that's where the rats were hiding from them.
In spite of the availability of spilled crops for 20 years, and cats catching what was available, I never saw a single rat on the farm- until we built a poultry house to over-winter the guineas and chickens. And yes, I had traps out that would have caught one or two if we had; not just mouse traps that they would walk away from. In some years, we've had 13-lined ground squirrels become problems, and sometimes chipmunks. Trap setting was done only in response to damage/losses; never a rat appeared; more than 20 years. I did know my neighbors (nearest 1/2 mile) have always had rats. They're corn/bean/cow farmers. Spilled grain. Farmers around the world have had rats living with them for at least 10,000 years; always.
For the first 2 years we had poultry, they were housed outside in chicken tractor type situations; yes, even in the Minnesota winter. This wasn't by intention. We started building a sod poultry house... not really knowing what we were doing, but trying to save money... With the walls about 3 feet high on the highest side, the guineas and chickens started walking on the walls; foraging among the lamb's quarters growing around the disturbed site- and digging. It became clear - if closed in for the winter, the chickens, in particular, would peck the walls to dust; unless we prevented them with some kind of hard surface. Not economic. Back to drawing board, except it was really too late for construction that year. So; we tried to keep the birds warm all winter with blankets. Froze the combs off a couple roosters, I'm afraid.
When we got a real building up; I noticed rodents starting to dig a bit- inside it, coming up through the dirt floor, I thought - within 5 months. I thought they were pocket gophers; which I'm very familiar with, since we have to control them in the trees, and I could see them working right outside the building. (Note: if you're building a poultry house; give it a rat-proof floor; somehow.)
So I set a trap in the tunnels- inside the building- for a pocket gopher. This required a fair amount of care, because if a chicken stuck a foot in, and tripped it; it would break the leg, or worse.
I caught a rat. A big, mature, male rat. I was astounded, and had my eyes opened. And I immediately re-set the gopher trap in the same tunnel - which works great for gophers. Two days later; I caught a wad of rat hair. Never another rat with that kind of trap or set. Educated the rats; a bad idea. Never, never, educate your rats; you will pay for it.
I'm not sure which rat I have here; likely the brown rat; but be aware there are multiple species, and it may help to know which one you have. I've seen rats in Hawaii, running along the telephone lines between houses, that would be too big to fit in a Raticator... even though the Raticator can kill a rat only halfway inside quite effectively.
How did the rats find the poultry house, which is a 1/2 mile from the nearest farm population? I think the answer is "all the ways there are". Remember they're co-evolved with us; and humans have kept chickens literally for thousands of years. And wherever there are chickens- there's rat food. I'm pretty sure rats have evolved to be sensitive to sounds (rooster crowing?) and smells (chicken manure is stinky) - and they learn to explore in any direction where chickens might be. Getting back-yard chickens? You WILL have rats, someday. 100% guaranteed. It's been known even to scientists since 2006 that rats "smell in stereo"; and it only takes them 50 milliseconds to know which direction to move in.
I set up heavy boxes inside the building, about 18 inches by 2 feet, with a concrete block on top to keep the birds from knocking it over, and either getting hurt or just messing up the rat trap inside. Regular big mean snap trap. Caught 3 rats, juveniles, over 3 weeks. Changed the type of trap; caught 2 more, over 2 weeks. Not catching any big adults; and obviously there were adults breeding here.
At this point someone is saying "Why not rat poison?" The answer is "poultry", and "dogs" and "cats." All of them can wind up dead if they eat rat poison- and if a poisoned rat dies on the surface, where cats and dogs can get at it- they can die from secondary poisoning. It's not terribly likely. But- do you realize how much money is invested in 2 years of feed, vets, and training for a good farm dog? Thousands, easily. Not a risk you want to take if you can avoid it. But- stay tuned on the poison topic.
Using poison inside a poultry house; where I hoped we'd eventually be rearing chicks; would be a high risk procedure. One spill of pellets; one dead juvenile rat in a corner, escaping notice until the birds peck and get access to stomach contents; etc; and you wind up losing the thing you're trying to protect.
In fact I had not exhausted the basic trap repertoire. I changed baits; from basic peanut butter to bacon; to bacon/peanut butter mixed; to more exotic nuts and nut mixtures; anise. I shifted from basic mouse/gopher practice where human scent is of no concern whatever, to fancier fox-trapping practices; using de-scented gloves to handle traps. That's really time consuming. I tried several of the "modern" rat traps, which I already owned for attempts at red squirrels in nut crops. I'm not going to present them all here; there are many, and they increase daily. The type pictured is
more effective than most, and has some advantages over the age-old snap trap (its action is very fast, for one thing). But; after catching 3 more juveniles, it too stopped working.
Though they are terribly inhumane, I tried a "glue trap". (The animals struggle horribly, but usually do not die- you have to kill them. Desperate measures, and yes, this is literally war.) I'd had reservations about it working in the first place, and they were quickly proved correct; the glue is rapidly inactivated by dirt and dust in the poultry house environment. It's also very easy for a rat to put one foot on a glue trap; then escape, becoming educated.
This was the point where I started looking for an electronic trap; a good 3 months into the rat war. The rats were costing me a huge amount of time and money- food consumed, newly hatched chicks murdered, eggs eaten, setting hens rousted. At least, the rats didn't touch the guinea eggs; apparently they're too hard for them to crack. But something had to give.
I was actually considering my trick of last-resort for pocket gophers; a 20 gauge shotgun. Sounds crazy; trying to shoot a burrowing rodent, right? But for the occasional un-trappable gopher; it's faster than anything else; likely only takes 30-40 minutes. You find the active burrow; open it; set up a chair down-wind and out of the sun at least 15 feet away, aim the gun- and wait. Without moving; at all. Keep the gun on the hole, safety off, finger on trigger. When you see the head; pull the trigger. Not that easy, in fact; but far faster than 3 weeks of tending traps which never catch anything, while the gopher kills another tree every 3 days.
Using a shotgun inside a poultry house however- was not an attractive idea to me; for so many reasons.
Specifics: The "Raticator" is not cheap. First, it cost me 2 hours of online research, looking at models, reading all the reviews, filtering, then looking for somewhere to buy it I could be reasonably sure would actually send me one in a sane amount of time. Then it cost ~ $50.00, including shipping. Did I mention how expensive the rats are?
The maker's and sellers' "product descriptions" are all the same- designed to sell, and to me, uniformly uncommunicative. I learned a lot of things about the trap - only after I had used it. Call me silly; but I would love to know what I'm really getting into ahead of time. Yes, I could re-write their product descriptions so they would do much better at preparing the users, not harm sales, and improve user success and satisfaction.
Missing Info #1: this thing is not waterproof. If you're going to use it "outside"; it needs to be in a strict protection device of some kind; getting it wet will destroy the electronic sensors/controls. Guess what? Inside a poultry house is pretty much an "outside" kind of world. The birds will sit on top of anything you put in the house; and poop on it. They'll knock it over, peck at it, and try to eat it. I had that figured out; but in trying to use the same protective boxes I'd been using for the other traps, it quickly turned out they were inadequate; the rats would burrow under it; throw dirt in it- tip it over; and getting it placed was too difficult.
Fact: a major portion of the design criteria for any animal trap consists of getting/allowing/enticing the animal to position itself so the trap will trap it. Out of the box, the Raticator would work very well for mice (too big for them to knock it over); or for rats in a clean house or warehouse environment. In the dirty poultry house; no way. (I don't care how clean your poultry house is; it's too dirty.)
Yes, I'd seen this when ordering my trap in the first place; hadn't quite comprehended, now I had to go back and buy one; the "Rat's Nest" (now re-named "Gimme Shelter", and I don't want to know why). It's a plastic box specifically designed to provide water (and dirt) protection.
Missing Part #1 - that cost an additional $15 (just a tad exorbitant) plus another 4 day wait. After receiving my $15 + 4 days plastic box, I realized I could have made my own- just as effective, just as waterproof, with a $2 plastic shoe/bread box, and a sharp knife. The one provided is not very strong; in fact mine is already cracked on the top-bottom junction.
It does, however, work. Inside the box, the trap is safe from most wetness, and the size is such that it can be pretty easily positioned for the convenience of the rodents.
Missing Info #2 - it doesn't weigh enough to stay put, though, in any environment containing chickens, dogs, cats, or strong winds. In order to make it function; I had to put a substantial chunk of firewood on top of it, stabilized by blocking it against the building wall, so birds could hop on, off, and investigate, without displacing it. Without that- they'd have tossed it all across the room in minutes.
Operating- I believe in at least following the maker's instructions, to start with. They recommend baiting it with 3 pieces of dry dog food (no more); and leaving it in place, not turned on, for 3 days, before setting it to kill. Basically; you're establishing a new rat-feeding station, and the rats learn- free dog food. Check it daily; replace the dog food when they take it. The rats are used to your scent being connected with free chicken food already; that shouldn't be a factor- yet. I followed their instructions.
Missing Info #3 - the gizmo comes with two LED indicators on top. A green one, which tells you "it's working, batteries ok"; and a red one, which if it's flashing tells you "dead rodent inside."
The first time I turned it on, I was waiting/looking for that green LED to turn on. I had my eye right above it- looking - and that turned out to be a mistake. There's a pause while electronics boot and circuits charge before the light turns on, then - ow. It's overpowered; and I had a hard green dot burned into my retina for about 20 minutes. Now I kind of hold it at arm's length, and observe from a distance. The green LED turns itself off after about 10 seconds; why waste the energy?
I like the LEDs; apart from that. There's a flashing mode that indicates weak batteries, or some other fault; and in all the 40 some dead rodents so far, the flashing red has only been mistaken twice; in both cases not for a rat, but a deer mouse which somehow tripped it without getting electrocuted. For the rats; 100%; flashing red LED= dead rat; regardless of size. The red light is bright enough it's easily visible through the plastic box.
On Day 1 of operation; having invested so much time and money, I was of course eager to see if/how/when it worked. I turned it on during my morning feed/water visit, added 3 bits of dog food since they were gone, and checked it on my way in for lunch at noon- dead rat; 1/2 grown juvenile male. Re-set; checked mid afternoon- dead rat; nestling female. Re-set; checked at sundown closing up- dead rat; fully mature male. Big.
Folks- that's just impressive as all-get-out.
Re-set; next morning; dead rat, juvenile female - and the 3 pieces of dog food were gone; meaning her siblings had climbed over, not indulged in any cannibalism this time, and taken the food. The trap is not capable of multiple catches; you have to reset it.
In the next week; averaged 1 rat/day. 2nd week; 1 rat/ two days. 3rd week; 1 rat / 3 days. The rat population was dropping fast, therefore the longer times between kills.
Though I'm not a rodent rookie, that was roughly 4 times as many rats as I ever imagined I had- all living under and among my poultry, and consuming my poultry feed constantly. The feed losses had accelerated so slowly I hadn't quite noticed; but now, suddenly - I was needing less than half the feed. Saving lots of money. (The feed bags, of course; had always always been stored inside a metal trash can; mouse tight. Obviously.)
Missing Info #4: the trap gets dirty after a while. Ok; that was actually in some of the reviews, and if you look very carefully in the manufacturer's information, you can find this out- but - you really do need to know this, particularly because the need can be unpredictable.
The thing works by providing a shock, via metal plates on the floor of the trap. Frequently, during any kind of death, mammals strongly tend to empty their bladder. If you're unlucky; and hit a big rat with a full bladder; this can mean a lot of urine on your trap plates, which can dry to provide a hard to see film- which is an electrical conductor. If the plates are shorting - it can't work. If it's been a while since you cleaned it (process below) and you get a "false positive" indicator; flashing red, no dead rodent; chances are high you need to clean it.
Remember that it's not water proof? Oh, and, sticking your hand in it while there are batteries installed - is a big no-no. This is a tool for adults. It's not that hard to clean; but you have to pay real attention to the instructions; and it takes about 12 hours before you have a functioning trap again. Prepare a bath for water not more than 1 inch deep; use luke warm water with a very slight amount of dish soap- and a bit of vinegar. Soak for an hour, at least; swish a little, then- rinse - not more than 1" deep remember; get the top wet and you'll likely kill it; then carefully air dry overnight. The construction of the thing is hard plastic; you can't use heat to dry it. I've done this twice; it works.
Yes, it's a bit of a pain in the neck; but compared to all other methods of getting rats; it's still the best.
Disposal - is easy, just dump the dead rat out; make sure there's bait replaced, re-set. Since there's no poison involved- we fed the dead rodents to the cats. And quickly discovered who our best rodent-killer mama cats were; one in particular leaped on any newly available rat carcass, and hurried it off into a corner where her kittens attacked it instantly. The cats who were casual about it- got little; and guess which kittens get a bit of extra care now and then.
Missing Info #5 - The zapper did not get the last rats in the colony.
Rats are not only smart; they are authentically co-evolved with Homo sapiens; which means if we could just outsmart them using our big brains, they'd all be dead long ago. They've evolved ways around our brain; one of them being - extreme suspicion.
The zapper quickly caught and killed nearly 30 rats. Being a trained mammalogist, of course I was recording the age, gender, size of all the dead rats; and what was consistently missing was - Big Mamma. I never captured a big mature female; and there had to be at least 1, because I sure caught a ton of little ones. I have a strong suspicion that bit of fur I captured in the gopher trap- may have been off Big Mamma's backside- and the experience triggered "maximum suspicion" in her. For everything in her world. I hope it gave her nightmares; but it also made her extremely difficult to catch.
When the trap stopped catching rats, and no big female was on the dead lists, I started paying strict attention again to the signs of activity in the poultry house; yes indeed, the rat burrows were active; dirt moved, new tunnels being dug. So; I tried all the tricks; moved the zapper to new locations - changed baits - was careful about human scent - and the rats started burying the trap in chicken litter, expressing their contempt.
So. Yes; in the end; I used poison. Very, very, very, very, carefully; and in full accordance with the law, which is a good idea from many perspectives.
By law, rodent poison used around livestock and children has to be enclosed in a "tamper resistant" "station". What my farm supply store stocks is the Tom Cat brand; manufacturer here, with many suppliers. I already had a couple on hand, used in the crop processing area. Carefully; moved one into the poultry house, and weighted it down so the chickens would not/could not move it. An advantage here is that you don't have to touch it again for a week- allowing suspicions to go down - particularly if foolish young rats go freely in, and out (and die somewhere else).
Results; I did have 2 rats die on the surface; where chickens might eventually have pecked them. I was watching closely, and removed them before that could happen. One big rat died with just its head out of the burrow - another male. Then a week later - the rat holes I closed and burrows I collapsed - remained closed and collapsed. And the bait in the poison station was no longer disappearing. (The poisoned rats are disposed of quadruple wrapped in plastic and buried by bulldozer in the public landfill. Burying them on the farm is not reasonable; the farm dogs dig.)
Since I had to resort to poison eventually anyway - why bother with the electronic trap? Because it's still safer, and any way to avoid poison is good. If I'd had to kill those nearly 30 rats with poison; the probability that a few of them would have wandered outside the poultry house; and wound up poisoning a dog or cat - gets to be seriously high. Bad risk; to be avoided if at all possible. I think it's possible the zapper might have gotten all the rats; if I hadn't already educated some of them to be in "exceptionally suspicious" mode. And- next time I'm in this situation; I think after 5 rat kills; I'll turn the trap off, and make it a rat feeder again, for 4 days. Then turn it back on. Several days of free food should alleviate some suspicion.
Options not resorted to: gas, and "water traps" that drown the catch. Sulfur dioxide bombs are available for use on pocket gophers - but in fact they don't work very well, and I would have had to evacuate the poultry for a week; an extreme option. Drowning traps for rats are large- require a lot of maintenance really, are disgusting to empty, and also give no guarantee of getting the suspicious ones.
Business opportunities/improvements - Getting into the rat trap business is not recommended; the competition is fierce, and driven more by "cheap" than by "value". The improvements/options I would love to see, and would pay for, in an electronic mouse trap are primarily water related. It would help enormously if the electronics could be waterproof. Encased in epoxy, maybe? And; if the bottom, which will always need to be cleaned - could just come off for cleaning. I know; electrical connections need to be maintained. Still; not impossible. And third; if a serious weight could be added to the bottom, to make the whole thing a bit less movable. Those could be options; the trap as it exists is extremely well suited for use indoors, in attics and warehouses; where rain is not a concern, nor puppies etc.
One last reminder- not at all compatible with small children. The shock kills big rats; instantly; what it would do to a curious toddler we do not want to find out. Likewise, any small curious kitten (or kitten-sized pet) is at risk.
So - there ya go. Review #1. What did I forget? I know you'll tell me. : -)
And; policy - I'll insert your fixes into this review, rather than post updates. Better if we keep all the rats in one trap, I think. Like the refrigerator posts - there are about 8 so far. Messy!
Ok, next post, likely to be a good short rant, on something not reviewable. This is hard work- but - I hope - worth your time.
Addendum: 6/23/13. Our poultry house is still rat-free. For now. But the rats remain my mind, and likely yours, if you've had the problem ever. Today's Washington Post has an article about the rat problems in Baltimore. I have to admit- it ends primarily noting the broad adaptability of - humans. We may be more adaptable than the rats.