Rats in Home Composters
How We Deal With A Rat Complaint Call At City Farmer(C) Copyright: City Farmer 1994
We listen carefully to the caller's story and find out what he/she has seen, ask what kind of bin he is using, ask what is being put in the bin, and ask about his neighbour's composter.
We tell him that he can call the Health Department in his municipality. Each environmental health office in the Greater Vancouver Region and throughout the Province of B.C. has a slightly different way of dealing with the problem. In Vancouver if the officer determines that the problem is neighbourhood-wide he will bait the whole area. If the officer feels it is site specific, the caller will be asked to deal with it either by trapping/baiting on his own or by calling a private pest control company.
The individual who calls the Hotline is usually quite shocked that he has a rat on his property. Sometimes the rat jumped out as the person was placing compostables in the bin. The individual will often not want to go near that part of his yard.
We recommend that the caller stop adding compostables to the bin immediately and that he attempt to exterminate the rodent population that is frequenting his property. If the individual wishes to begin composting again, (some callers do not want to) his next bin should be more rodent-resistant than his last one. For example, if he has a 'rodent-resistant' plastic Soil Saver, he might consider moving up to a metal Speedibin or a wood and wire mesh West Coast Cedar bin. Alternatively, for less money, he can fix up his plastic bin by reinforcing all sides plus top and bottom with 1/4 inch strong wire mesh.
If rats are known to be a particular problem in the caller's area of the city, we might recommend that he compost only yard waste and no food waste. We will go over all the correct methods of making compost, such as always burying food waste, aerating the pile etc. We will stress that the caller use strong wire mesh both underneath his composter and over as much of the bin as possible.
It is very important to take the caller's concerns seriously. We spend longer with the caller than usual and get back to him with follow-up help. We might mail the caller rodent-resistant literature such as Urban Home Composting, Rodent-Resistant Bins and Environmental Health Standards; Rodent-Resistant Composting Update Newsletter Fall 1992; or the GVRD's Here's The Dirt, A Guide to Home Composting.
The hotline staff report all rodent (or other animal) complaints to the Executive Director of City Farmer. He may refer a particular call to City of Vancouver Engineering or to the Health Department.
If the bin penetrated is one sold through a municipal distribution program, it is possible that a bin manufacturer's rep will visit the caller's home and replace the part of the bin that was penetrated. Only certain bin reps do this. If we know that this is the particular policy of that rep, we will call him.
On many occasions since the Fall of 1989, City Farmer staff have actually traveled by car to homes to talk and give advice to those who have called with a rodent in their composter. These visits help us understand the problem better and give the disgruntled citizen the good feeling that his complaint is being taken seriously. For new staff it is helpful to visit the site with a vector control officer from the Health Department. The officer can paint a complete picture of the "scene of the crime" by assessing the environment and finding signs which can only be interpreted with his experience.
The Hotline operator, after helping a caller as much as possible, will always refer him to services as close to his municipality as are available, ie. health departments, compost educators, private exterminators etc. All rodent calls are documented for further follow-up if necessary.
Luckily these kinds of calls are infrequent. But when they do come it is wise to have a sympathetic and well thought-out response.