Originally Posted by Ridgerunner
Is your garden fenced to keep the chickens and dogs out? If it is you are a lot freer to use traps, which I consider natural. Don’t just throw up your hands and say you can’t use a trap, think of ways you can safely use a trap. To me, traps are your best option, especially live traps. A good fence can keep rabbits out but most other things can climb.
It would really help to know what critters you are dealing with. Rats, rabbits, ground squirrels, chipmunks, raccoons, and groundhogs immediately come to mind, possibly a combination of these critters. Is the damage occurring at night? Then it probably isn’t squirrels or groundhogs as they usually don’t come out at night.
Can you see tracks or poop? Digging up ground and leveling it can help you find footprints. Spreading flour can help find tracks too. The poop can be pretty distinctive if you can find some. Can you see tooth marks? Those might give you a clue as to what is biting. If the damage is this bad, a game camera might be a viable option.
Rabbits and groundhogs are really hard to trap for me. They don’t seem interested in bait. I’ve got a few rabbits by building a box to put over a small live trap, making it look like a safe hiding place. They like to go into holes. I’ve never managed to trap a groundhog, they are tough. It’s challenging to even get a shot at them, though I’ve shot a few. One spring I shot 16 rabbits out of my garden before I got the one that was eating the beans just as they sprouted.
Squirrels, chipmunks, and ground squirrels aren’t impossible to trap. A very effective bait is BOSS, black oil sunflower seeds. I scatter a few around the entrance of the trap and more leading to the area behind the trip plate. If you are worried about trapping a good animal, build a fenced enclosure around the trap so they can’t get in but the target animal can. Or use a live trap and release them if you get them. I’ve caught song birds, doves, and even feral cats and released them unharmed.
Don’t be so sure it’s rats doing the climbing and eating. You might be surprised at how high a groundhog can reach standing in its hind legs. They can climb really well too but they are heavy. Squirrels also climb and don’t weight that much. Are birds doing some of that damage up high?
A lot of this does sound like it could be rats though. I’ve trapped an even dozen rats since the start of the year, about half from the garden and the others around the chicken coop and compost pile. The rats built a nest near the garden. They multiply so fast you can’t totally wipe them out by trapping but you can get their numbers under control. Do you have piles of trash, mulch, or brush near the garden that give them a good nesting area? A general clean-up in the area may help you a lot.
My garden is fenced to keep dogs (among other things) out. I built a box that rats could enter but most other things cannot and used rat poison. It took a while, you have to keep the bait supplied over time as one feeding usually doesn’t kill them, but that got rid of that rat infestation and kept the poison away from non-target animals.
I’m not sure what your objection is to the chickens feasting on rats. I regularly feed critters I trap to mine, not if I’m using poison of course, but other times. The chickens greatly enjoy the feast. Still, that’s your decision, not mine.
I’ve tried several of the “natural” methods. Putting dog hair from brushing my dogs in the area, using Irish Spring soap as the smell is supposed to be a repellent, putting up a decoy snake, I even got some coyote urine and spread that. At best I found these to only be a temporary help. These critters are pretty adaptable, it usually doesn’t take long for them to determine there really isn’t a threat. Still, you can do a search on natural repellents and see if you want to try any of those. I haven’t tried various lights or predators eyes, radios that play in the night, or a sprinkler activated by motion. I’m cynical about them being a long-term solution but some people say they work.
I think trying to identify what is causing the damage is pretty critical. That’s not always very easy. You might find some type of fencing or netting can really help. Try to eliminate denning or nesting areas in the immediate vicinity. It can discourage them some if they have to cross open terrain to get to you garden but some can be pretty bold, especially at night. A dog or cat can help with a lot of critters but if a dog can get in the garden itself it can do quite a bit of damage.
My first line of defense is probably live traps. I often have some set somewhere around here. I’m out in the country so I can and do use a gun when appropriate, usually a 12 gauge because of the limited range and I don’t always have to hit the target perfectly. That can be hard to do with my .22, especially when they are moving and there are too many cattle and horses around here to indiscriminately fire a rifle. I’ve passed up shots with my 12 gauge because I knew livestock was downrange.
I wish you luck with it. This is challenging and frustrating.