Chickens and rats always seem to go together, where there are hens for any length of time rats are sure to be. It’s the prospect of free food that is the magnet.
Where you store the feed is important. All feed should be in rat proof containers. Ours are stout plastic bins, which so far have kept the rats at bay. Metal containers are probably better, but more expensive. That’s not to say rats are not a problem, they are. They have become quite a headache in fact. Not content in eating the remains of feed scattered outside, they decided to try and get at the source. To this end they have gnawed a sizable hole in the side of the wooden shed to gain access to hen central.
In the process of feeding your birds some feed is always spilled and rats take advantage of that. The number of our birds has increased of late, aided by a number of unplanned pregnancies earlier this year. I can recall at least four occasions when I have suddenly come across a mother with her new chicks, all wanting shelter and food. At present we must have getting on for 200, that’s a lot of birds who all need food. So from the rat’s viewpoint it’s the place to be. You can’t go wrong, food remains where ever you look.
We have been doing our best to reduce our rat population, using various methods with mixed results. Having two cats helps a little. Molly (the bird professional) and Oliver (the rodent expert) are brother and sister. Oliver is the one who has made his mark with the rats. During a single week recently he managed to kill a sizable rat and two weasels. All were left at or near our front door, kind of him!
Our other line of attack have been with traps. We decided a while back that using poisoned pellets was not an option, too indiscriminate, a danger to wildlife, our birds and cats. To start with we used an electronic rat trap, this has been the only method that has worked. This was placed right against the gaping hole in the shed. We caught quite a number (adults as well as youngsters) during this past summer. Our handyman takes the corpses for his pet owl, who is very grateful I’m sure.
As we entered autumn and then winter the trap stopped catching. Wrongly, we left it there in the vain hope we would eventually start catching them again. What we didn’t know was the trap had been rendered useless. After close examination, we found it had stopped working some time back. The batteries had lost any charge some time ago and as a result, the rats it did attract had peed on it and eaten through wiring. So we’ve now ordered another different model.
In the mean time we have been liberally placed spring traps in various place in the shed and elsewhere. Also spring traps inside plastic tunnels scattered around outside. When using spring traps make sure they out of the way of wildlife and domestic pets. For baiting spring traps, we use peanut butter, cheese and occasionally meat of some sort. However, the results so far has been nothing, well apart from a single weasel. Weasels whilst being a real threat to chickens, also eat rats. So we are basically hanging on for the new electronic trap to arrive.
Quite apart from the hole in the shed, the rats has also been nibbling some of the chicken housing. We have a few very small coops with wooden sliding pop hole doors. On three coops they have eaten part of the doors, leaving a significant gap through which they and probably weasels could get through. We have had to fix metal plates on the outside of these doors to plug the gaps and also to stop any more damage to the all important sliding doors.
It’s easy to forget the danger rats pose to the birds themselves. They will take small chicks. even nibble chickens legs and feet. Rats making a comfortable nest in a corner of a coop (INSIDE!) is an experience some hen keepers have had. The thought makes me shudder!
We can see rat holes and runs all over the place, far more than previously, so our rat problem is in danger of spiralling out of control. The prospect of rats ruling the roost is one we cannot allow, so we’ve go to get to grips with the problem and soon.
Rats are intelligent creatures, they know their surroundings well, so well that they will notice any changes immediately. This poses a problem when setting traps and other devices. It will usually take a while (weeks) before they get used to seeing them in their environment. So catching or killing rats is a time consuming business requiring patience and above all, determination.
We will report back on our success or otherwise soon, so watch this space.
Update April 2015
The traps eventually caught several young rats, but one of our cats caught two large adults. The adult females are the ones we need to catch. Breeding females come with a bounty on their heads.
Further Update August 2015
We decided our rat problem was on a scale that needed professional help. So we engaged the services of Graham Pest Control based in Blairgowrie. Having had 3 visits now by George, who has set baited traps around the place and placed trays of baited wheat underground in rat burrows, we have noticed all the daytime sightings of rats are no more. I have also found 2 bodies outside which I quickly incinerated. So there is hope at the end of the tunnel. This will of course not eliminate the problem, but rather get it down to manageable proportions. It should be pointed out that George was very careful where the poison bait was placed taking into account the hens, our cats and the local wildlife.