How to keep determined rodents away from chickens.
by Susie Kearley. SOME PEOPLE SAY IF you have chickens, you have
rats. It’s inevitable. If you agree with this statement, you have
You’ve probably encountered a rodent problem or are looking to eradicate critters in your own backyard.
A single pair of rats typically produces up to six litters per year. They
are constantly in search of food for their growing family. Chicken feed is a
attractive source of sustenance, making your chicken coop a target.
They’re not just pesky thieves, rats can harm chickens too.
They will kill and eat baby chickens, so they pose a particular threat when raising young birds. They spread diseases including fleas, mites and salmonella. They can dig, jump and are good climbers – it’s hard to stop a determined rat from reaching your birds.
Securing your chicken coop
To protect your flock from rats, protecting your coop from predators is the number one priority. Rats have very hard teeth and can break chicken wire with them. Small rats and mice can squeeze through the holes in the mesh without breaking it.
When my husband and I placed an infrared camera on our guinea pig hutch to find out what they were doing at night, one of the most interesting scenes was a mouse sneaking through the wire mesh to reach the floor and eat the guinea pig food. . The holes were much smaller than chicken wire, and watching the video opened our eyes to how easily rodents can access hutches, chicken coops and aviaries.
Rats can also gnaw on wood and most other materials that aren’t as hard as steel.
Make your place less attractive to rodents
If you give rodents a nice, comfortable place to live, they won’t want to move. They will live there and breed there, and you will end up with an infestation. When I went to stay with my friend who raises guinea fowl, he
said he got rid of the rats. It was somewhat amusing to see a family of
five rats living under an overturned boat beside one of its paths. The rats had
shelter, a good source of water and plenty of food from the seeds he sowed
in the garden for his birds. Life has to be harder than that for rats, or you’ll end up having small families of rats living on your land too.
Once we made him aware of the rats, he moved the boat, getting rid of their house. He stopped feeding the birds on the lawn, and he shot the
Take their food
We had a rat tunnel through our compost pile on one occasion. We
removed all food scraps from the compost heap and placed only grass clippings, leaves, droppings and guinea pig litter in the compost. Food waste went to the dedicated municipal collection instead. My husband also turned the compost regularly so the rat didn’t think it was a comfortable home. Our resident rat decided he had had enough of the disturbances and moved on.
Be sure to collect eggs from your hens daily, so the eggs are not a food source for rodents. The Backyard Chicken Project wrote: “A friend of mine wondered why her eggs were disappearing from her nest boxes.
every day and was about to blame the chickens when she rummaged through the box and found a whole nest of baby rats living there.
Store your chicken food in a sturdy building or in steel containers with tight fitting lids, as rats will often chew on any other containers left outside. Obviously, make sure the rats can’t reach the food scraps left in your trash or compost collection. Don’t leave feeders or water bottles out overnight as the rats will feast. Only feed your chickens as much as they
will eat during the day and feed them in a rat-proof feeder. Leave nothing edible
hanging out at night because that’s when the rats are most active.
Get rid of the clutter
A cluttered yard gives rats plenty of places to hide and shelter, so move all your clutter off the ground. Hang items on a wall or place them on a shelf. Second, rats have fewer places to hide and can’t settle among your trash.
Securing the chicken coop
Rodents look for easy ways to get into your coop. They don’t want to have to do stunts, gnaw on wires, or gnaw on wood if there’s
are easier ways to get food. So there are things you can do to make life
more difficult for them and make your chicken coop less attractive.
Build the coop at least a foot off the ground – this can be a deterrent. If that’s not possible, a cement floor provides better protection than soil, as rats cannot dig into cement.
Alternatively, layer a dirt floor with a wire mesh fabric. This should prevent most rodents from tunneling. Secure the mesh firmly in the corners of the hutch and continue it around the edges of the coop for a few inches.
Fill in any holes that appear in the ground around your chicken coop with wire mesh. This will make the whole area less appealing.
Traditional spring traps work well for rodents, but you can also buy humane traps if you want to release the little pests somewhere where they will do less harm. Another option is an electric shock trap, which kills the rodent
instantly by emitting a high voltage zap. Glue traps are inhumane and a
danger to all wildlife. Avoid them like the plague.
Death to rats
You can use rat poison, but it can poison other species, either directly if they come into contact with the poison, or indirectly if they eat the dead rat. The rat may hide to die in a place you cannot access, leaving you with a bad smell. Thus, the use of poison should be a last resort. If you use poison, using bait stations can greatly reduce the risk of other animals, including your chickens, coming into contact with the poison.
If you’re able to shoot the rats from a distance, away from the chickens, it’s a quick and effective method of pest control, but it’s likely to be difficult to
eliminate an entire population with a single shotgun.
Of course, you can always have a cat — they’re rodent control experts! The other simple answer is to call pest control.
More on dealing with creatures here…
SUSIE KEARLEY is a freelance writer and journalist who lives
in Britain with two young guinea pigs and an aging husband. In Britain, it was published in Your hens, cage and aviary birds,
Small furry animalsAnd Vegetable garden magazines.
Originally published in the June/July 2023 issue of Backyard poultry magazine and regularly checked for accuracy.