Having secured a new bit of permission recently we organised a second visit with a few more dogs and people. Our first visit to this site was a week ago and it is a small stable block that sits on the edge of a narrow but deep, water filled ditch. There were plenty of rat runs under the sheds but nothing of interest to either dog, but after putting Bilbo and Belle onto the embankment the fun really started. Marking at almost every hole it wasn't long before the smoker was bought in to see if anything could be moved. The vegetation was thick and high and we used our spades and machetes to clear some space. As the smoker was entered there was a veritable spray of large rats from one of the larger holes, some moving so fast that they hit the opposite bank almost level with where they had taken off from. The dogs got onto none that day due to the vegetation and although a few more were moved that day we concentrated on clearing more for a second visit.
Degsy sorted the invites and we all met up at the farm on the Sunday evening. Paul, his son Jack and Lakey Tilley, Paul and his Beddlington whippet Sid, Belle and Bilbo. We all arrived within minutes of each other and met the land owners, who had just finished putting their dogs away. We let ours out to stretch their legs and have a run before they started to work. The wind had dropped throughout the afternoon and we were all greeted by a lovely warm sunny evening. Our first point of call was to the straw heap just inside the gates. This usually holds good numbers of rats and the last visit the dogs had been marking the heap well although nothing flushed. Today though Bill gave it a once over and came away showing no interest at all.
We took all the dogs over to the buildings to see if they marked around the dogs pen or stable. Although there were new signs of rats using the runs and tunnels none of the dogs marked positively at any of the entrances. They showed a bit more interest in the area adjoining the metal container that was used as a store, but even this was only a half hearted interest. We decided to head over the fence with the dogs into the ditch. The vegetation had not grown back even with all the rain and we had a good amount of cleared ditch to start with. As the dogs started to explore we began clearing away a bit more of the bramble and nettle. After a few minutes none of the dogs had really began marking any of last weeks holes, as time stretched on I was beginning to think returning after a week may have been a mistake. The owners were offering encouragement and confirming that they had seen plenty of rats about since our last visit. In fact one of their Alsations had managed to catch and kill one that had come up from under its kennel a few days earlier.
A fruitless few minutes followed and we decided to put some smoke into the ditch embankment to see if that shifted anything. After a few seconds we heard Degsy, who had taken up position in the water at the bottom of the ditch, shout that he had seen one. Tilley was on its trail as it headed along the bottom of the ditch at the base of the embankment. They were soon out of sight in the vegetation. A second rat and more followed some seconds later and at this point all the dogs were converging on this location. Degsy had managed to find the hole these rats had escaped from and I decided to get into the ditch to try to see if I could help from down there. Degsy was sure that at least 6 or 7 rats had emerged from a low hole and made along the embankment. As the dogs now marked and dug at the holes near to the exit hole I cleared some more of the growth at the bottom of the ditch. I was turned away from the dogs when Degsy called out again, I saw movement to my right and there fleeing along the edge of the watercourse was an adult rat. I was determined, after our quiet season so far, not to go home without Bill having at least caught one rat. I set off after this rat through the water, wishing I had decided to wear my Wellington boots instead of my walking boots. I caught sight of the rat occasionally through the vegetation and as it ran out of soil to run on a dropped to see it swimming underwater following its course. I grabbed for it and came up with it in my hand, squealing and biting at my glove. I called to look for Bill, not realising he had been alongside me all the time, as I turned he took the rat from my hand and dispatched it. The other dogs converged on us and they got a rag of the rat before returning to find another live one. I collected the body and to my surprise I found a second dead rat in the mud next to the watercourse and although obviously freshly deceased no one could say which dog had taken it or when.
It order to dry out a bit I climbed back out of the ditch and set about smoking a nearby hole that the dogs had found and were frantically tearing at. This mark was in the direction they had fled and we were sure most of the rats had fled inside. I smoked this hole and some of the adjacent ones for a few minutes and although no smoke was seen seeping from any other bolt holes there was no flurry of fleeing rats. The dogs continued in their assault on the embankment, sure that they were close to their foe. Paul decided to use his spade and try to vibrate and shake the area surrounding the dogs. Within seconds of the smoker finishing and the spade beginning its movement a rat shot from the hole mere inches away from the dogs. It fled with them in hot pursuit through the bottom of the ditch and onto the opposite bank. Sid took it upon himself to follow it up through the grass and into the field above. He was nose down tracking it as best he could until the noise from the other dogs bought him back to the ditch.
We moved back the other way after another five minutes disturbing the area with no success. Paul found more holes and we set about again clearing around them as the dogs began to mark again. I put some smoke into one of the large holes, as we cleared the area. Nothing emerged although the dogs were marking strongly in the area. I stopped the smoker after a minute or so and removed the hose. We moved on along the ditch to concentrate on other holes when Degsy let out a shout from below, as did Jack from the bank above. A small baby rat had emerged from one of the holes and was making down the bank. Sid was the first there and after a bit of footwork from Degsy Sid struck and took the rat. A quick clean kill and by then other babies were emerging from other holes along the bank. The rest of the dogs joined in in finding these babies in the growth, dispatching them as they found them. As things calmed down again Sid spotted something in the ditch and flew through the cover sending water spraying everywhere much to Degsy's horror. An early shower was not on the cards!
More cutting showed another set of holes which appeared productive, as the dogs worked digging I used the smoker to see if anything could be tempted out. At one point Paul noticed a rats face at the entry to a hole but on spotting him it fled back below.
No more rats showed and after another fifteen minutes we packed up and headed back to the buildings. The owners were made up with our small success, seven babies and two adults, which had mysteriously vanished by the time we got back to them. One or two dogs had obviously had a little energy boost.
All in all a good couple of hours out in good company on a new bit of permission which may well become very productive once the vegetation has died down come winter, unlit then we can use it as a bit of fitness work for dogs and handlers alike.