The Cottage Smallholder

stumbling self sufficiency in a small space

Rats in the chicken run

Beatyl and Dixie chickThe rats are back. The harvests are in and they are looking for a decent source of food and water for the winter. What better than a spacious run with layers’ pellets, fresh vegetable scraps in the morning, and the possibility of bagging two plump one month old chicks.

Mice are around all year but rats are generally seasonal visitors in our run.
“Let’s winter at that cosy cottage down the village,” must be the Rat Master’s cry when the threshers arrive to harvest the corn.
“Yes, but after our annual sojourn in the grain store, we’ll move on before the terriers arrive,” is probably the response. They always arrive now. Even though they don’t get clean towels and all that I would expect from a top class hotel they are gnawing through the chicken house walls to get in.

If I don’t keep up to speed on the killing stakes, the small waves that infiltrate our place quickly become a flood that can easily take over. Past rat invasions have turned winters into a nightmare of rat like bumps in the night and a massive expenditure on poison.

I have a giant bin of rat poison, enough to polish off coach loads of enemies. These are always rats. Why treble your investment when a short sharp shock to the first holidaymakers can do the trick?

Act immediately when you spot the first evidence of rats in the chicken run. Dead or dying rats in the maze of runs beneath the soil tend to turn back the marauding hoards. Rats, like us, prefer not to live in a morgue.

Evidence of rat winter tourists is pretty obvious. Soft earth indicates that runs are being built. Small front doors appear, generally near the hen house or grain bins. This is when you have to move fast. Rats are canny, living near a good source of food with a nifty underground run for speedy access without traffic lights.

Take great care if you are laying down rat poison in a chicken run. Always wear gloves. I have a special pair of poisoning gloves that live on top of the poison barrel. Always protect your stock. Pour rat poison down through Rattie’s front door(s) and prevent any possibility of a chicken eating the poisoned grain with a heavy brick or tile. The rats are attracted to the poison and so far haven’t twigged that a tasty free meal and an immovable brick over their front door might not constitute a wonderful gift from a mystery admirer.

Mice are pests. They are around all year and can do a lot of damage in the chicken run. Even though the doors are open to the main chicken house they spend weeks trying to gnaw through the wooden walls. This can be accelerated by rats who continue the excavation with meatier jaws and burst through with alarming speed.

Remember that Rats can kill you. They carry the deadly Wiles Disease in their urine. They pee a little all the time. So even if there is no evidence that they are prospective winter residents, always wear gloves (24/7 and all year) when dealing with your chickens, their food and water. It could save your life.

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  1. Sanda Ecimovic

    The run is 2m (6ft)wide and 6m (18ft) long. There is a large robinia (deciduous tree) in the middle,to provide shade in summer and two bushes, and some perches but apart from that it’s a garden bed – no gravel. I have been putting straw down to counteract mud. I recognize I may just need to a good muck out.


  2. Fiona Nevile

    Hi Sanda

    How big is the run? Ours doesn’t smell at all even in summer. The flock runs on gravel.

  3. Sanda Ecimovic


    I have had burrowing rats in Adelaide South Australia too but think I have them under control. Now it’s the chicken run that is smelling to high heaven (3 bantams two larger rhode island type birds). They have been in this new run for two months. I can’t believe thewre’s that much poo in thaty time to stink so much. It’s winter and we’ve had a lot of rain. I have been putting straw down to stop the muddy conditions but am worried about my neighbours who are on the other side of the fence.


  4. Willo Ravenswood

    I too had a rat problem which was made worse when we had chickens. It was a real problem to solve here in Australia as poisoned rats are ingested by our local wild birds with disasterous results.
    When we moved I vowed to try and stop the problem before it started again as I knew it was connected to my scattering seed to the poultry and always giving too much just in case.
    Now I have an automatic metal feeder which has proved very effective. We trained our young chicks to stand on the foot pedal which causes the lid to swing open so they have access to the pellets. When they stand off it closes.
    Our 3 ducks use it too and it means we can go away for a day or 2 without having anyone come to feed them.
    Best of all, there is minimum left over grain to attract sparrows, mice and rats.
    I still scatter seed each day but only enough that it will all be consumed knowing if a bird needs more it has access to it at all times.

  5. TIP. I decant rat poison into small (6×4) plastic bags and seal the top. These sachets can then be forced down the rat holes, our thrown into inaccessible places such as behind the wood pile or under pallets, where normally it is practically impossible to lay bait safely and the bags keep the bait dry..
    The big win is that the sachets in the rat holes disappear. I am told the bag is used as nesting litter, so the ‘stay at homes’ get a takeaway brought in, and a new pillow.

  6. Jo @ LittleFfarm Dairy

    Have you tried Eradirat, rather than poison? We’ve used it with a good success rate. The great thing about it is it ONLY kills rodents & is harmless to all other species so if your chickens or the dogs picked it up, it wouldn’t harm them. Also, because it works as an internal dessicant once the rat dies the corpse doesn’t smell so much as there’s less liquid decomposition.

    We also have the added advantage of Moriarty the Merciless – our massive Maine Coon cat who is a fearsome killer & single-handedly (or should I say pawdedly) keeps the farm’s rat population in check.

    In all the time we’ve been here I’ve only seen a live rat, once (in the poultry shed, typically) but have found a fair few despatched by Moz’s mighty jaws. Ironically when I saw the rat Moz was hanging around the door of the Dairy Complex in the upper yard, hoping to beg some goats’ milk from the evening milking, which he loves to the point of obsession. If he’d been with me at the time I suspect the rat would no longer be alive….if indeed it still is, as hopefully he’s already despatched it.

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