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. Sounds like you might need a rat catching dog or cat there Fiona. I didn’t realize about that disease they can carry. Thanks! I always find your blog posts so informative. 🙂 I agree the chicks sure are growing!!!

  2. Scintilla

    Rats are a pest in our house in Italy. They’ll climb up trees and vines eating tomatoes, grapes and oranges and leaving the perfect peel still hanging on the tree.
    In Luxembourg there are plenty of mice, voles and moles, and not just around my compost heaps. Bulbs disappear, roots of any plants are eaten, and even rat poison sitting on the top shelf in the garden shed gets nibbled. The damaged is only visible in spring when plants don’t appear or keel over in their prime.

  3. Belinda

    Our staffordshire terrier does the same thing.. chases anything that moves… including the hen, but they make a game of it & sometimes the hen chases the dog…
    Flocks of smaller birds are in big trouble though.. we dont have a rat issue here (that I know of) but Xena would send them off…

  4. alexandra

    My daughter’s boyfriend’s ex-dog that is now our dog can dispatch a rat in 30 seconds, which includes the time it takes to reach the rat. Chipmunks and squirrels are also on notice. The dog is a jack russell/foxhound/whippet type thing and the rodents tremble in fear.Has climbed trees to pester cats too.

  5. Will – if the squirrel were at ground level my mum’s Shitzu would have it (he keeps the garden free of cats for her) but Grey is crafty and stays on the 5′ high wall or up the trees. But one day he will make a mistake and then it will be curtains and the Reds will rule again!

  6. I live in South West London where we have major rat problems, particularly since the council has pushed re cycling of food. The bins can be chewed through easily and most sport 2″ wide holes. We keep our house and garden rat free by having a Norfolk Terrier who terrorizes the local rat population, she would get rid of that squirrel too.

  7. Haven’t Dixie Chick and Beatyl grown? The changes in just a month are incredible and their feathers and colouring are just lovely. Dealing with pests as big as rats is horrible but at least they mostly just disappear to die elsewhere having gorged on the poison. My mum’s neighbour Frank (he of the bird-watching story)currently has a squirrel trap on the wall at the bottom of his garden as a large grey squirrel has been seen around on a regular basis which puts the reds (Timmy and Creosote) off feeding. Dave from the Key Park, who supplied the trap, advised Frank to bait it with Mars Bar, although my nephew G thought that a Snickers might be more tempting! To date Grey has been seen sitting and dancing on top of the trap surveying the gardens and Creosote has been caught twice. On release Creosote shoots up the tree and, according to my Mum, swears at them. If Grey does eventually get trapped he will be going to the Key Park for Dave to deal with as Frank doesn’t think he could to the deed. Apparently if you trap a grey squirrel it is illegal to release it alive.

  8. We have put patio slabs down in our run to stop rats from digging under. I have seen one rat and found the tunnel and door, but touch wood he/she has not managed to get into the chicken’s run.

  9. Lindsay

    When we kept chickens our problem were the rooks (crows). They would fly into chicken house and eat food and gave the chickens some kind of disease where they would slowly shrivel up, not eat and eventually die (not fowl pest). Vet was consulted. In the end we fooled the rooks by building a different maze with old petrol cans next to the pophole before the chickens were let out in the morning. The chickens found their way out but the rooks could never figure their way in quick enough.

  10. Diane Epps

    I too have rats that love to eat my chicken food but I have thwarted them by laying a a layer of concrete slabs under the chicken house and the short run where their food is kept. This has stopped them digging in underneath and saved me the trouble of poison. I will still keep an eye out for further activity but my next move will be an air rifle which will serve the dual purpose of dealing with the wood pigeons which decimate my crops.

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