September 17 2014 Latest news:
Q- We have a (young) sitting Khaki Campbell, and a big rat problem. We’d really like to pinch the eggs to incubate at home (in our new secondhand Polyhatch incubator), but don’t know how long she’s been sitting, and, therefore, when to stop turning the eggs once they are in the incubator. Also, I'm worried she's sitting on too many and the bottom ones are chilling. Any eggs we hatch out at our plot get attacked by rats, so I don’t much fancy the ducklings’ chances au naturel. Do you have any suggestions?
Alistair Abbott, via email
A - VR says: Khaki Campbell ducks are notoriously unreliable sitters and will not mind you pinching the eggs to put in the incubator. You can collect all the eggs, candle them and put possibly them all in the incubator – if any smell bad or rattle (gently shake beside your ear) then discard these carefully as, if they break, you will have no friends for a while! They may not all hatch at the same time, however, but keep candling them and, if the lower part of the eggs are all black on candling, they are near hatch. Do not add water until they pip, so keep looking through the window. Rats are everywhere and, of course, they are attracted by chicken food. There are various ways you can discourage or get rid of the rats. If food is not available to them they are likely to go elsewhere, but doing your bit by killing them may be better! They have to drink on a daily basis, so if the sources of water are few, then Fenn traps can be put on the rat runs which go to the water. A Fenn trap Mark 4 is best for rats. This trap should be put in the compost heap for a week or so when new to remove factory smells, then set it across the rat run, using gloves to both avoid your scent and to protect you from Weil’s disease (leptospirosis) that the rats carry. The trap must be covered to prevent non-target animals from getting caught and must be checked at least daily. If the trap is set properly, the rat is killed. If you are seeing rats in the daytime, there will be lots more living underground, so several traps may be better. I don’t like poison as it has a knock-on effect and is dangerous to pets, children and other wildlife. Some rats are immune to some poisons and the most effective poisons are not allowed to be used outdoors, due to the danger.
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