Rodents That Can Be a Problem for Backyard Chickens
Reading Time: 4 minutes
by Chris Lesley of Chickens and More
When chicken owners start thinking about animal-proofing their chicken coops, the intruders who come to mind are usually the obvious predators, like foxes, weasels, and snakes. And when they consider rodents that might cause problems for their flocks, few people go beyond considering mice and maybe rats. However, chicken coops are much more susceptible than houses to animal invasion, and there are a number of rodents that chicken owners could easily overlook — until they break in and start wreaking havoc among the hens. Fortunately, most of these problematic rodents can be kept out of the coop with a little bit of ingenuity and some careful planning.
- Squirrels: Both ground and tree squirrels can become a nuisance in a chicken coop. Most often they’ll target unsecured chicken feed and maybe eggs, but they can also occasionally kill chicks if left unchecked. Ground squirrels may be more of a threat than their tree-dwelling cousins, because they tend to hunt in packs, but almost all squirrels are relatively fearful of humans and can be easily shooed away if caught in the act. They can also be deterred by traditional predator-proofing techniques, like burying fencing and reinforcing the coop with hardware cloth (not chicken wire, which is too weak and has holes too large to keep most small predators out). Chicken owners concerned about squirrels should also consider cutting back any tree branches that overhang their coops or runs. Perhaps the most effective squirrel deterrent, though, is simply eliminating the most appealing food sources by securing the chicken feed in an animal-proof box and collecting fresh-laid eggs as frequently as possible.
- Chipmunks: Chipmunks, fortunately, are too small to pose a real threat to your hens or their eggs. They are, however, still large enough to get into the chicken feed and create quite a mess. As with squirrels, the best methods for keeping chipmunks out of the chicken feed are hardware cloth and a secure storage box. Keep in mind that the imperative for keeping chipmunks out of the coop isn’t just to protect the feed, but also to protect the hens, as any regular rodent presence in the coop will only attract larger animals — cats, snakes, foxes, hawks — that won’t only want to prey on the rodents, but also the hens or their chicks.
- Voles: Voles, like chipmunks, are probably too small to pose a direct threat to anything but the chicken feed; if one does get into the chicken coop, it’s significantly more likely that the hens are going to pose a threat to the vole than the other way around. However, voles are prolific burrowers, and any tunnels they dig under the coop could represent the beginning of an access point for snakes or other burrowing menaces, so if nothing else, voles are an advertisement for the importance of sinking any fences and/or hardware cloth at least 12 inches underground to hold off the tunnellers.
- Mice: Mice can be a major problem in any building; they’ll make nests in anything soft, poop everywhere, chew on the wiring, and, of course, get in the chicken feed. For chicken owners, besides the feed problem, the biggest threat of their presence is that they might attract larger, more pernicious predators. One of the best ways to prevent a mouse infestation in a coop is to elevate that coop at least a foot of the ground, which will eliminate the space under the coop as an attractive place for the mice to build a nest.
- Rats: Rats are the rodent that probably evokes the most visceral hate and/or fear response in most people, and for chicken owners, this isn’t unwarranted. Rats can be much bigger and more aggressive than most of the other rodents covered here, and therefore that much harder to eliminate; even a veteran barn cat can do very little when faced with an aggressive, well-established rat colony. Like all rodents, rats are attracted to the feed, not the chickens, though they will eat eggs and sometimes even attack the hens if they try to gang up on them. Here again, prevention is crucial: Secure your chicken feed, elevate the coop, and be thorough with the hardware cloth. If the coop does develop a persistent rat problem, calling an exterminator might be the best bet, if only because any DIY attempts at laying rat poison are likely to affect the hens as well.
Rodent problems, unfortunately, are almost inevitable for any chicken owner, and knowing how to deal with and (preferably) prevent them is one of the most important skills for any owner to have. Whether it’s a few chipmunks chowing down on the chicken feed or a full-blown rat invasion, rodents are, at the least, a headache, and, at the worst, a serious threat to the flock, either by spreading disease or paving the way for larger, more aggressive predators to follow. Either way, a good laying of hardware cloth and, most importantly, locking the chicken feed in an animal-proof box will go a long way in keeping your chicken coop happy, healthy, and untroubled by unwanted visitors.
Chris has been raising backyard chickens for over 20 years and is the Chickens and More poultry expert. She has a flock of 11 chickens (including three Silkies) and is currently teaching people all around the world how to care for healthy chickens.