Poultry and rats go together. The rats are attracted by the supplies of food and fresh water. We live in fat rat country. The village is surrounded by farms and studs that are a haven for rats.
Rats carry disease, in particular Wiles Disease. This is a killer. The disease is spread through contact with the excrement and urine of carrier rats. A garden pond can attract rats as they need access to water.
The disease can infect the tiniest scratch. So I always wear decent waterproof gloves when dealing with the chickens or pond and wash my hands well when I come indoors.
As soon as you spot evidence of rats around your chicken run, deal with them immediately. They breed rapidly and the longer that you ignore the problem the harder it will be to get rid of them as you will be trying to deal with many, many rats.
We don't lock our hens in during the summer so that they can come and go as they please. The rats are generally out in the field around the village so are not a problem. After harvest, the rats will start to return to the village so we lock the flock in the hen house for the night to deter the rat invasion.
The hen's grain feeder is permanently in the chicken house, to discourage small birds stealing the food. The hens also have a water fountain in the house. The rats are at their most active after dark. Hopefully the restaurant is closed when they decide to tootle out for dinner.
All this seems to work well but this year I have found tale tell gnawing of the wood at the base of the chicken run. These excavations can be repaired with flattened tin cans or fine mesh chicken wire (easily stapled in place).
We set the hen house on fine chicken wire so the rats can't burrow in through the open floor. The canny vermin dug some open trenches under the wire and then shifted the grain from the feeder through the wire and into the trenches. I have stopped this handy drive-through by laying roof tiles over the floor. Bounty from a skip in Saffron Walden. The best tiles are slate as you can overlap them neatly.
We have used rat traps in the past (the ones designed for rats are a giant version of the mouse traps). We have caught a few rats but if you need to kill more than one or two it could be an extended waiting game as rats are intelligent.
Now we use the most effective rat poison that we can buy to control the rats. It's expensive but does the trick. If you are going to go down this route you need to plan your strategy carefully. Laying down loads of poison once will not kill at your rats at once.
I put poison in every rat hole that I can find and cover the entrance with a brick or heavy tile. The bricks serve two purposes, they avert the disaster of the chickens or dogs eating the poison and also indicate whether the rats are still active as they will try and dig a new hole beside the brick. I keep on feeding the poison every day until the happy moment when I find that my tempting meal has been left untouched.
I wait a bit longer before I hang up my poisoning gloves. I check every rat hole each day for at least a week. If the poison is still untouched I have contained the problem. New rats will move in so it's worth checking every week or so to keep on top of the problem.
Always wear gloves when you are handling poison. Store the gloves out of the way of dogs and cats. After pulling off your poisoning gloves always wash your hands at least twice. It's lethal stuff.
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