More Rat Tails (Tales) 09/10/2021

It is always interesting to get notes from readers about one of the Friday Footnote postings. In this posting, I will share some of the notes I have received this week regarding last week’s “I Smell a Rat!” Footnote. I hope you enjoy reading them as much as I did.

From Jim Connors (Teacher Educator, University of Idaho) 

It [the Footnote] did get me thinking though that in some instances, a Pest Hunt could still be conducted if it followed current ethical practices.

I’m sure that many urban and suburban areas are still plagued by rats. I’ve heard horror stories of rats in New York and Chicago. A few years ago I was walking through Lafayette Park across from the White House in Washington, DC and a rat crossed the sidewalk in front of me.

Also, no matter what neighborhood one lives in, skunks and raccoons cause problems. FFA chapters could work with state fish and game officials to educate homeowners about ethically removing these pests. I have a garden shed in my backyard and we are always trapping skunks that want to live under the shed.

So while this topic is from decades ago, it could still be utilized today, albeit in a different manner.


From Ryan Anderson (Teacher Educator, Texas State University) 

This contest was still in full effect when I started teaching at A-C Central in Ashland Illinois in 2002-2003. It was one of their sacred cows. We had students who would hunt all fall just to be the points leader. I do not recall handing out any awards beyond bragging rights. I had no desire to process tails, ears, and/or paws, yet there I was.

A couple of my former students confirmed that the pest hunt in Ashland is still active.

The current teacher reached out to me to let me know they modified the pest hunt to focus on raccoons only.

One of my students sent me this photo.


From Randol Waters (Retired Teacher Educator, University of Tennessee) 

Your story on pest eradication contests reminded me of our contest one year while I was a member in the Luray Chapter in Virginia.

These contests were still taking place well into the late 1960’s in the Shenandoah Valley (Massenutten Federation) as I was a member of the chapter from 1968-72. We had a similar contest to the ones described in the article with the exception that “individuals” participated for points instead of “teams”. I don’t recall prizes, but I do recall points going toward the “outstanding member” award annually.

I remember a contestant coming into the ag classroom one morning after having the fortunate luck of shooting a “pregnant rat” at a local dump the previous night. When he brought in his bounty he had also “opened” the mother and produced the carcasses of 9 unborn rats along with the mother’s tail. I remember the agriculture teacher laughing so hard that he almost fell out of his chair. Other contestants yelled foul… but the teacher counted all tails for point assignment. I don’t recall whether the boy won the contest, but he certainly won the award for most efficient collecting of rat tails.


From Joshua Berg (Agriculture Teacher, Illinois)

I’m attaching pictures of two Pest Control trophies from the 1950s. These were the only awards that survived from the period the Okawville FFA Chapter existed from 1942 to the late 1980s when the program was disbanded. They survived because they were in the sports trophy display case. Our program was restarted in 2003 and when I started teaching in 2004, many parents and students asked if we would do the pest control contest. No Thank You!

Curators Note – The engraving on the trophies show that Okawville won the Farm Bureau sponsored pest control event in 1950, 1951, 1952, 1953, 1954, and 1955. Apparently, they had the winning playbook. Ctrl + enlarges the image.


David Laatsch (Retired Ag Teacher, Wisconsin)

I am trying to track down a record/lesson on mouse and rat control by the Good Way Mouse and Rat Bait Killer Co. The salesman would go from school to school promoting this Warfarin bait as an FFA Fundraiser. At Christmas time, he would come back to see if more product was needed and deliver a gift to the advisor–a fifth of brandy!!!! The salesman’s name was “Tiny.” He was 6’4′ and 360 pounds! Real tiny!

Since Warfarin was developed at the University of Wisconsin, the product had another intrinsic feature!

Concluding Remarks

I have always thought that a book of true stories from agriculture teachers would make for fascinating reading. And it would based on these samples. I am sure there are many more “pest control” stories out there.

There is also a very subtle lesson that might be learned from looking at the engraving on the Okawville trophies. The wording is “pest control”, not “pest hunt” nor “pest eradication.” Sometimes the words we use can make a difference.

Next week we will learn more about the “thrift” emphasis from the early days of the FFA. That topic might be a little more sanitary.