For the first time we've observed rats in our back yard. We keep our dog feces picked up and have no garbage lying around. We do have a really lush raised bed of beans and tomatoes (not yet producing) that they seem to be going into. I put egg shells there weeks ago to prevent damage from slugs. Also have a bird feeder but since I've noticed rats have not added feed and have cleaned up around it. We have a dog that is in the yard periodically so want to be careful about using poison. Help! don't want my veggie plants consumed.
Thanks for the question. Rats are never a fun issue to deal with, but they can be beat. You've already identified a few issues that may be attracting them - pets, food waste and bird feed. It sounds like you've taken some great steps in making the yard less appealing as well. I've had a similar problem in my backyard, and the culprit was actually my compost bin!
Similar to other pests, rats need three basic things: food, shelter and water. Again it sounds like you've got some of this under control. Preventing the rats from entering the garden may be problematic. If you can't keep them out through mechanical means, you may want to consider using baits. Modern baits are often housed within tamper-proof stations to prevent pets and kids from accessing the baits themselves. Also, traps and glue boards can be effective if placed correctly. Rats are creatures of habit and tend to travel at night, and along the same walls. Also, if you've got them in your backyard, I would make a very careful examination of the foundation of your home and garage to look for ANY entry points. It's remarkable how small mice and rats can make themselves to gain entry into a structure. If you suspect they've entered your home, baits can become problematic (dead rats in wall voids can cause bad odor problems and be nearly impossible to remove). I've included a link from the UC Extension Service on additional information for rodent control:
One additional point - if you suspect the egg shells for slug control are contributing to the problem, you may want to consider copper strips along the garden beds or using an iron phosphate bait for the slugs. Since you have dogs, I would not use a metaldehyde-based product, as these are toxic to our canine friends. Here is a link to more on slug control:
I hope this helps and best of luck!!