December 5, 2013

Pig farm rats a problem in Smithfield neighborhood

The town’s code enforcement officer says he is hopeful the farmer will correct the problem before town officials take enforcement action against him.

By Doug Harlow
Staff Writer

SMITHFIELD — Residents of a section of Village Road in Smithfield say they are overrun by rats from a neighboring pig farm and fear that the problem will be difficult to fix.

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FREE RANGE: Chickens eat bread and baked goods outside a barn at the Bill Mitchell farm in Smithfield on Wednesday.

Staff photo by David Leaming

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RAT HOLE: Rats have bored a hole in the ground outside a chicken house at Jean Mosher’s home in Smithfield.

Staff photo by David Leaming

Additional Photos Below

The town’s code enforcement officer, meanwhile, says he is hopeful the pig farmer will correct the problem before town officials take enforcement action against him.

Resident Andrew Landry, 41, has videos on his cellphone showing rats fleeing from his mother’s chicken coop.

“I’ve got evidence. It will blow your mind,” Landry said. “The house isn’t finished yet, but it’s a brand new house for her that’s being ruined by these 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.

“One night we lost count at 70 coming out of my little 6-by-8 chicken coop. I was petrified,” said Landry’s mother, Jean Mosher. Mosher said the rats also entered her house through the vent to her clothes dryer.

Andy Marble, Smithfield’s code enforcement officer, said when he and Sue Lacroix, the town health officer, visited the farm of Nelson “Bill” Mitchell on Nov. 20, he saw 20 or 30 rats.

“He admitted that a rat problem exists,” Marble said, “but he also explained that he’s been working trying to get the rat problem under control by purchasing rat poison and making sure his food operation is cleaned up on a regular basis.”

Marble said Mitchell has assured him that he has he has begun setting out poison to kill the rats and will reduce the amount of spoiled food he receives to clean the place up.

Landry and his mother, who have been a neighbor of Mitchell’s for decades, said the rats come from a scattering of his single-story farm buildings next door.

Landry said Mitchell keeps 20 to 30 pigs and receives damaged and expired produce, bread and canned foods from a food bank, all of which is fed to the animals.

The spoiled food also has provided the rats with a place to feed and breed, he said. He said the rats are breeding fast and that when he shoots one with his shotgun, the others feed on the carcass.

At Mitchell’s main barn on Wednesday, there were several 5-gallon buckets filled with food next to a pile of opened cans and empty produce boxes.

Mitchell, 71, who was working in the barn, refused to comment.

Bertha Keyser, who lives at the same address as Mitchell, said by phone later in the day that the problem is being fixed.

“They’re under control,” she said of the rat population. “We’re fine. Everybody is making a big deal out of nothing.”

Landry said the damage done by the rats and the potential for health and public safety problems really are a big deal. He said his family includes three children — two 11-year-olds and a 9-year-old.

“To feed his pigs, he’s got a little set-up over there trying to find a fast way to get into these cans,” Landry said. “He’s got a drill press rigged up, and he’s putting them in there, and there’s food everywhere.”

Landry said he went to a selectmen’s meeting in November to get started on some direct action.

“I told them about the rat problem — that it was overpowering. Things have gotten out of control,” he said. “They got a hold of the health inspectors, who called the state Department of Agriculture. We need something done here.”

Matthew Randall, agricultural compliance supervisor at the state Department of Agriculture, Conservation and Forestry said in a Dec. 2 memo to Smithfield town officials that he visited Mitchell on Nov. 27 but was not allowed onto the property to conduct an inspection.

(Continued on page 2)

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Additional Photos

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RATS: Jean Mosher inspects the work she did to plug a hole that she said rats made in a wooden wall to get into her chicken house at her home in Smithfield.

Staff photo by David Leaming

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DAMAGE: Inside a furnace room in Jean Mosher’s home in Smithfield, her son Andrew Landry holds insulation that he said rats from a neighbor’s pig farm pulled from a wall. At left are holes in the walls that were made to gain access to repair pipes damaged by the rats.

Staff photo by David Leaming

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FOOD SOURCE: Bill Mitchell leaves a barn Wednesday on his Smithfield farm after working around boxes and buckets of food that are stored in the building and fed to his pigs.

Staff photo by David Leaming

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