I Smell a Rat

Published on Tue, 10/14/2014 - 3:52pm

Contrary to popular belief, chickens don’t attract rodents. Instead, the rodents are attracted to the chickens’ consistent supply of food and water due to the use of feeders and waterers. The question of attracting these pests often comes up at meetings with county commissioners and city council members when trying to pass laws to allow keeping backyard chickens. I tell them that wild bird feeders and potted plants attract more rodents to their community than chickens ever will. Rodents love to eat the wild bird feed that falls to the ground under the feeders, while the catch trays beneath potted plants often hold excess water, providing an excellent drinking source. Rodents like mice and rats are not only an inconvenience, they can be a potential health risk for you and your flock.

Risks

Rodents can carry diseases that can not only harm your flock, but your family as well. Rodents can carry Salmonella, fowlpox and fowl cholera, just to name a few. Rodents can also can carry mites, lice, ticks, and fleas that can pose an additional threat to you and your flock. Rats will eat chicken eggs, baby chicks, and they have been known to chew off the toes of adult chickens while on the roost at night. As soon as you see any evidence of rodents, you need to act fast to control the problem before it gets out of hand. Even if you don’t see any rodents, they can leave behind plenty of signs that they are there. If you see any rodents—or the “tell-tail” signs they leave behind—you have your work cut out for you.

The Solution

There are many ways to eliminate rodents, but the options around the coop are limited. Open snap traps, sticky baits, and poisons can obviously be a risk to your chickens and are not recommended. Your best choice for eliminating rodents in and around the coop include either live traps designed for rodents or enclosed snap traps, which I prefer. The problem with using live traps is that once the rodents are trapped, you have to figure out what to do with them, and some can trap as many as a dozen at a time. I have used enclosed snap traps with success and still use them today when needed. To make your own snap trap, build a small wooden box about the size of a shoe box with a very small opening on either end. Place the snap trap inside the box and then place the box on the floor of the coop along the wall. Traps can also be placed on the ground along the outside of the coop.

Bait and check the box daily and discard any dead rodents—it’s that simple. You may be able to find plastic snap trap boxes at your local feed and farm store if you don’t have the time or tools to build your own. Another option that is safe to use in around the coop is an electronic trap. These are designed like the enclosed live trap and enclosed snap trap units, but once the rodent enters the box, they are electrocuted. They can kill up to three mice at a time and have indicator lights that flash when a mouse has been eliminated and when batteries need replacing. These are very affordable, starting around $25.

An ounce of prevention

Prevention is key when it comes to rodent control. Store feed inside metal trash cans with metal lids since rodents can easily chew through feed bags and plastic feed containers. Use small gauge hardware cloth to prevent rodents from entering through coop windows and vents. Use nipple-type waterers that can be mounted higher than other waterers, eliminating a potential water source. I always do my best to let new chicken owners understand that keeping chickens comes with facing some responsibilities and challenges sooner or later. Preventing and dealing with rodents is one such challenge. Fortunately, in most cases, it’s something that can be handled with minimal effort and expense.