SMITHFIELD — When Code Enforcement Officer Andy Marble and the town’s health officer visited a pig farm on Village Road Nov. 20 they saw dozens of rats feeding on expired produce, bread and canned goods.
During a follow up visit this week, Marble said he saw one rat and the barns owned by pig farmer Nelson Mitchell no longer were littered with food waste.
Even the neighbors are pleased with the progress, but said they are worried that the problem could return when the snow melts and spring arrives.
“I toured the facility for about 45 minutes and saw probably eight bowls of rat poison spread out in closed spaces where nothing bigger than a rat could get into them,” Marble said. “The entire time I was there I actually saw only one rat and it was dying next to a food bowl — I guess it’s working.”
Marble said Mitchell, 71, is doing a better job cleaning up the empty cans of food since the first inspection.
“It actually was a stark improvement from what it was two weeks prior,” Marble said.
Marble, who also is code enforcement officer for the town of Rome, said a rat infestation such as the one on Village Road is unusual and the one at the Mitchell farm is the first he has seen.
Matthew Randall, agricultural compliance supervisor at the state Department of Agriculture, Conservation and Forestry, who visited Mitchell at the town’s request Nov. 27 but was not allowed onto the property to conduct an inspection, agreed.
Randall also said a rodent problem such as the one in Smithfield is uncommon. He said he has only seen two such cases in his seven years with the department — the other being in southern Maine.
A rat infestation in 2009 at the closed China Village General Store ended with success thanks to the efforts of local business owners who paid for a year’s worth of extermination services, according to a Morning Sentinel archives.
Bait traps were set up inside and outside the store and the rat problem was solved.
China Town Clerk Becky Hapgood said Friday the store is clean and since has been sold. A new retail shop, Olde Thyme Primitives, is set to open there in the spring, Hapgood said.
Resident Andrew Landry said earlier this month that his mother’s new home, next door to the Mitchell farm, was being ruined by the rats. He said rats have chewed through plastic water lines, insulation and walls and threaten his mother’s radiant heating system, which was installed in the slab that makes up the base of the floor of the home.
Contacted this week, Landry and his mother Jean Mosher said they haven’t seen any rats since Marble took enforcement action.
“It’s quiet right now — I haven’t seen any rats or any indication of any around here,” Mosher said. “My son said he saw a couple in his wood pile, but that’s common. I’m satisfied with what they’ve been doing. They check on him once a week — they’re cleaning up, they didn’t really have much choice.”
Landry said everything appears to be OK now, but worries that the rats might return in the spring if Mitchell doesn’t continue to comply with the cleanup order.
“Everything’s going alright, but it’s been real cold and real snowy so I haven’t see too many,” Landry said. “We’ll see what it’s going to be like in the spring.”
Mitchell’s housemate of 40 years, Bertha Keyser, said the couple is complying with Marble’s orders to clean up.
“They keep coming and checking up and they know we’re doing everything we’re supposed to be doing,” she said. “They come and check us every week; they have okayed us. It was blown all out of proportion.”
Landry contacted the town’s Board of Selectmen in November about the rat problem. Town officials contacted the state Department of Agriculture, Conservation and Forestry. The rats had migrated onto nearby properties and Mosher said she lost count one night at 70 rats in her chicken coop.
Marble said the town took enforcement action against Mitchell, ordering a cleanup, the setting of rat poison and weekly inspections.
If the farmer doesn’t comply, Marble said, the town has the authority to have it cleaned up without his consent and give him the bill by putting a special tax on his property or they can take him to court.
Randall on Friday said Mitchell’s small operation, even with 20 or 30 hogs, does not meet the income threshold for state rules under the Agriculture Compliance Program. He said the operation is more of a hobby and not a bona fide agricultural business.
The problem, Randall said, is that it appears the rat population is well established and that all property owners in the vicinity should take steps to control the problem.
Marble said the town of Smithfield and his office will continue to use the state as an advisor on the matter, but the rat problem is being handled locally.
“I don’t feel the need to bring in bigger guns at this point,” he said. “It appears to me that the problem is being dealt with very effectively and I plan on checking in on him on a weekly basis to make sure that he doesn’t relapse and have a mess and forget to put out the rat poison. He was pretty open with the whole situation.