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How to keep determined rodents away from chickens.
Some people say that if you have chickens, you have rats. It’s inevitable. If you’re in agreement with this statement, you’ve probably experienced a rodent problem or are looking to eradicate critters in your own backyard.
A single pair of rats typically produces up to six litters a year. They are constantly looking for food for their growing family. Chicken feed is an attractive source of sustenance, which makes your chicken coop a target.
They’re not just pesky thieves, though — rats can harm chickens, too. They will kill and eat baby chickens, so are a particular threat when you’re raising young birds. They spread diseases including fleas, mites, and salmonella. They can dig, jump, and are good climbers — it’s difficult to stop a determined rat from getting to your birds.
Securing Your Coop
To keep your flock safe from rats, securing your chicken 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 chicken wire without breaking it at all.
When my husband and I put an infrared camera on our guinea pig hutch to find out what they were doing at night, one of the more interesting scenes was a mouse who squeezed through the wire mesh to reach the upper floor and eat the guinea pig’s food. The holes were much smaller than chicken wire, and watching the video opened our eyes to how easily rodents can access hutches, coops, and aviaries.
Rats can also gnaw through wood and most other materials that aren’t as hard as steel.
Make Your Place Less Attractive to Rodents
If you’re giving rodents a nice, cozy place to live, they won’t want to move out. They will live there and breed there, and you’ll end up with an infestation. When I went to stay with my friend who keeps guinea fowl, he said he’d gotten rid of the rats. It was somewhat amusing to see a family of five rats living under an upturned boat beside one of his paths. The rats had shelter, a good source of water, and plenty of food from the seed he put out in the garden for his birds. Life needs to be harder than this for rats, or you’ll end up with little rat families living on your land, too.
Once we made him aware of the rats, he moved the boat, getting rid of their home. He stopped feeding the birds on the lawn, and he shot the rats.
Take Away Their Food
We had a rat tunneling through our compost heap on one occasion. We removed all food waste from the compost heap and deposited only grass trimmings, leaves, and guinea pig poops and bedding in the compost. Food waste went into the dedicated council collection instead. My husband also turned the compost over on a regular basis, so the rat didn’t think it was a cozy home. Our resident rat decided he’d had enough of the disruption and moved out.
Make sure you collect your hens’ eggs every day, so the eggs are not a food source for rodents. The Backyard Chicken Project wrote, “A friend of mine was wondering why her eggs were disappearing from her nesting boxes every day and was just about to blame the chickens when she dug around in the box and found a whole nest of baby rats living there.”
Keep your chicken food inside a sturdy building or in steel containers with tight lids, as rats will often chew through any other containers left outdoors. Obviously, make sure the rats cannot get at food waste left in your rubbish or compost collection. Don’t leave feeders or water bottles outside at night because the rats will have a feast. Only feed your chickens as much as they will eat in the day, and feed them in a rat-proof feeder. Leave nothing edible lying around outside at night because that’s when rats are most active.
Get Rid of Clutter
A cluttered yard gives rats lots of places to hide and shelter, so move all your clutter off the ground. Hang items from a wall or place them on a shelf. Then rats have fewer places to hide and cannot make a home amongst your junk.
Securing the Hen House
Rodents are looking for easy ways into your coop. They don’t want to have to do acrobatics, chew through wires, or gnaw through wood if there are easier ways to get food. So, there are things you can do to make life harder for them and make your coop less attractive.
Build the coop at least a foot off the ground — this can act as a deterrent. If that’s not possible, a cement floor offers better protection than soil, because rats cannot burrow through cement.
Alternatively, layer an earth floor with a wire mesh hardware cloth. This should keep most rodents from tunneling through. Secure the mesh firmly in the corners of the hutch and continue it up the edges of the coop for a few inches.
Fill any holes that appear in the ground around your coop with wire mesh. This will make the whole area seem less attractive.
Traditional snap traps work well for rodents, but you can also buy humane traps if you want to release the little blighters somewhere where they’ll 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 hazard to all wildlife. Avoid them like the plague.
You could use rat poison, but this can lead to the poisoning of other species, either directly if they come into contact with the poison or indirectly if they eat the dead rat. The rat may hide away to die in a place you cannot access, leaving you with a nasty stench. So, using poison should be a last resort. If you do use poison, using bait stations can substantially reduce the risk of other animals, including your chickens, coming into contact with the poison.
If you are able to shoot the rats froma distance, away from the chickens, it’s a swift and effective method of pest control, but it will probably be hard to eliminate a whole population with a shotgun alone.
Of course, you could always get a cat — they are experts in rodent control! The other simple answer is to call pest control. More on dealing with critters here.
SUSIE KEARLEY is a freelance writer and journalist who lives
in Great Britain along with two young guinea pigs and an aging husband. In Britain, she has been published in Your Chickens, Cage & Aviary Birds,
Small Furry Pets, and Kitchen Garden magazines. facebook.com/susie.kearley.writer twitter.com/susiekearley
Originally published in the June/July 2023 issue of Backyard Poultry magazine and regularly vetted for accuracy.