Monday, January 5, 2015


Templeton the rat, from Charlotte's Web. Click for Source
We've been lucky so far, I suppose. In the four or five years that we've been keeping chickens and rabbits, we haven't had any real rodent issues. We keep our feed in bins, clean up any spills promptly, and in general keep as tidy a chicken coop as is possible (without being OCD about it.)
So, I'm a little surprised and disappointed that we're seeing a bit of a rat problem right now.

At first, I didn't know it was rats. The chickens started acting oddly, roosting as high up off the ground as they could possibly get. This meant off the roost bars and up onto my stacked cubbies, where I store some of my garden supplies and tools. Sleeping up there means poop in places that I can't easily clean up- I really need a dry day to pull everything out of the coop and do a deep clean. Usually I do one in the spring, but they're not leaving me much of a choice.  Egg production got a little off-kilter as well. They refuse to lay inside the coop now, instead preferring to make a nest in Steve's hutch. We've also had some really thin-shelled eggs, which in my experience are a really good indicator of disturbances in the coop.*

Initially, I thought it was a predator issue: we've seen some more coyotes on the game camera, the neighbors have a new dachshund, and I'm still seeing our eagle, hawk and owl on a regular basis.  So, I started paying a little more attention during the day, and that's when I saw it... the rat. Not the biggest one I've ever seen, thankfully, but a rather aggressive one. I watched as it chased more than one squirrel out of the chicken run, nipping at it's heels while it scrambled up a tree to escape. I went out with the pellet gun, but between the fencing, Steve and the girls, a clear shot just wasn't happening.

I don't like traps. I'll just put that out there right now. I got my hand caught in a mousetrap when I was maybe 4 or 5, and I can still picture it, clear as day. OUCH. However, I like poisons even less, so I do think that traps have their place. I went out and picked one up from Lowes; a molded plastic job with teeth and a really heavy spring. The thing gives me the willies just looking at it. I baited it with peanut butter and set it up outside one of their holes, and placed a plastic milk crate, upside down and weighted down with a couple of bricks over the top of it to keep Steve and the chickens out of trouble.

I didn't have to wait long, and we've probably caught one mouse and four rats total, so far. I say total, because we've had a few odds and ends in the trap, which were creepy as well as gross, so I'm not going into too much detail on that. Suffice it to say, I still don't like traps, and I sure as heck don't like rats. Not one bit. (Oddly, pet rats don't bother me. Also, Templeton up there was one of my favorites in Charlotte's Web... but let me see a rat outside and I go into full-blown home defense mode.)

In speaking with some of the other neighbors over the holidays, it seems that everyone on our "block" is seeing rats this year. We have at least two houses that I know of, within a quarter mile of us, that just started keeping chickens and/or other barnyard birds since this past spring, so I suspect that has something to do with it. On one hand, I'm relieved that it's not just my coop that's having problems, but on the other hand, this is a pretty widespread issue and we can't control what happens anywhere but here... so they're going to be tough to get rid of completely.

For now, we'll keep the trap baited and set, until the problem seems to dissipate, but I don't see that happening any time soon. Fortunately, we do have the hawk and owl in residence, who I'm sure will lend their talons to helping us get the problem under control. I'm also keeping an eye on feeders and our grain bins to make sure there aren't any rats getting a free meal.

What about you? Have you experienced rodent issues in your coop or barn? What did you do?

*Thin-shelled eggs are sometimes referred to as "fear eggs". If you feed your birds a well balanced layer feed plus whole grains, and have oyster shell always available for them, and you occasionally see thin shelled eggs, look for something bothering your birds. 

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