A day out with the Working Sealyham Terrier Club

The phone rang, “Hello Nick, it’s Harry Parsons, what you doing next Tuesday?” A quick check of the diary and it looked all clear. “Fancy coming out for a day’s ratting?” As much as I hate rats, especially their scaly tails, I do enjoy a day’s ratting with the Working Sealyham Terrier Club. Everyone involved are great fun, but they also go about their sport in a professional and controlled manner, especially in situations where they have been asked by a land-owner to reduce the population of rodents on their land.

Harry went on to explain that he had been approached by the owner of a big shooting estate near Hereford, the gameshooting season had not long finished and the rats were making the most of the wheat in the feeders and the remaining maize in the cover crops. I typed the entry in my diary and then it dawned on me, I had previously mentioned to Mrs R that perhaps we could go out for lunch and then on to the cinema – this was going to be awkward! I am not going to bore the reader with the intimate details of how I squirmed out of my date, but needless to say as the day dawned, and I found myself trundling along the motorway towards Hereford, my wallet was just a little bit lighter due to the very substantial bunch of flowers I had ordered.

Specialist rat smokers

On arriving at the estate most of the crew were already tucking into tea and biscuits. While they enjoyed their refreshments me and Harry took a walk round the cover crops and things looked promising. The rats had created a network of runs to and from the maize and the banks, there was plenty of activity and hopes were high that it would be a good day. The gang were mustered and a quick briefing was given – no sticks and definitely no swinging of spades or shovels. Harry had just received three specialist rat smokers, Rat Attack Smoker MK2s  and the plan was to work the holes around the area towards one corner of the field and hopefully any escapees would hold up there. The main participants of the day consisted of a mixture of Sealyham and Jack Russell terriers with a couple of lurchers to back-up the smaller dogs.

Ratting with terriers

Ade was given plenty of moral support while he was digging, but it was obvious no one was going to help!

Ratting terrier

Ratting with terriers

I’ve been to a meet or two 
in my time: beagle packs on village greens; minkhounds 
on crumbling stone bridges…

Ratting with Sealyham terriers

The team rely totally on the marking abilities of their dogs and as soon as they got out of the trucks the dogs showed a lot of interest in a pile of old wire fencing. There were plenty of holes in the area and to one side was a stand of trees and a big bramble bush, so the dogs were going to have to be very quick to nail any rodents. The club is very keen on introducing youngsters to the art of ratting with terriers and two local lads, AJ and Jack, were out for the first time. Harry nominated a couple of terriers for them to handle and at the same times he involved them in every aspect of the day including the back-breaking work of digging out the more stubborn rats.

Ratting with Sealyham ter

Harry quite often sets out his team like a cricket captain, this time placing AJ and Jack in the slips

As soon as the wire fencing started to get pulled out of the tangle of brambles and rough grass rats started to ping out of some shallow holes. The dogs initially struggled to catch them as the proximity of the bushes and the holes in the base of the trees made it easy for the fleeing rats to reach sanctuary. Harry quite often sets out his gang like the captain of a cricket team and AJ and Jake were put in the slips. They were given strict instructions to hold on to their dogs and only let them go once they had sighted rats trying to bolt to safety. This proved to be a very successful strategy and in no time at all half a dozen rats had fallen to the skill and tenacity of the terriers.

smoking out rats

The smoke produced permeates through the rat runs encouraging them to bolt

Smokers

It was time to move further along the edge of the maize and the dogs started to mark a number of holes around a small copse of trees. Harry got to work with the smokers. The smoke that is produced by a specially formulated liquid is quite heavy and permeates through the rat runs encouraging them to bolt – unlike using old chainsaws this smoke doesn’t make the rats dozy or kill them through suffocation. It was quite obvious that the rats had made a substantial sub-terrain city over the winter. Despite significant volumes of smoke being pumped into the holes only a few rats bolted, so it was back to watching the dogs and breaking out the shovels.

Sealyham terrier with rat

After a hard hunt, the Sealyham was too quick for the rat – making all the effort worthwhile

Terrier’s abilities

It never fails to amaze me how accurately a terrier can pinpoint a rat underground – they even have the ability to follow them as they move through the tunnels. One of the Sealyhams was insistent that a rat was at home and she was digging furiously at a hole, it wasn’t long before she was joined by some of her team mates. Ade grabbed a shovel and started to dig, each time he turned over a clod of red earth the dogs indicated that their quarry had moved on. It wasn’t long before it looked as though Ade was digging a trench for the local water board, but he trusted the dogs and carried on digging. There is always a lot of friendly banter on these days and it wasn’t long before the rest of the team got behind Ade and gave him plenty of moral support, it was blatantly obvious none of them was going to help him! After 20 minutes of digging a rat finally bolted and made for the maize but the little Sealyham that had started this particular “hunt” was too quick for it and made all the hard work well worth the effort. Everyone gave both Ade and the dogs a rousing round of applause.

Ratting with terriers

Rats started to ping out as soon as the wire fencing began to get pulled out of the brambles

Although at times during the day the ratting had been a bit frantic and more than 45 rats had been accounted for, this one rat meant more than all the others. It had been “properly hunted” and then dispatched humanely and efficiently by a breed that has been bought back from the edge of extinction by a group of dedicated owners.