The Cottage Smallholder

stumbling self sufficiency in a small space

We have rats in our chicken run

rat poisonPoultry 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.

  Leave a reply


  1. Fiona Nevile

    Hi Anne,

    This is great news!

    Metal grain bins are the answer. Even if it is an old metal dustbin. Poison is expensive. No wonder we have the rat problems that we have now.

    We have found that chicken wire (small gauge) under thechicken house works well (still keeping them out after four years!). I reckon that your chickens are resting (vis a vie egg laying) after two years this happens when the days get shorter.

    I wish I had an Aga, so do the Min Pins and Great Aunt Daisy Beatle.

    Thanks for the update. Much appreciatedA. All is going well with us on the rat poisoning front – now getting baby rats. Doom for a generation.

  2. anne waller

    at last! finally i am seeing the results of my rat poisoning. 2 dead rats on the lawn last week and today one in the shed and one actually in a feed bin. i have replaced the old feed bin now – coz it had eaten a hole in it. i know all of my bins should be metal but the cost means that i only buy one as and when i can afford it. mind you by the time i add up the cost of the poison and the lost feed it would probably be cheaper to buy the metal bin in the first place!
    i only hope that my success is continued somewhere underground – i know they are out there somewhere………… the battle will continue.
    no more losses in the chicken department. my other bantams are being moved around the plot every 2/3 days to prevent rats invading from under the house.
    still a zero on the egg laying, though they are all feathering up and starting to redden in the comb department.
    i’m loving these sunny autumn days, though i wish the grass would stop growing. the cold, dark evenings are not so special though. i’ve cranked up the aga and the cats are attached to its sides on a semi-permanent basis.
    november is the month in which the spring seems so very far away……………

  3. Fiona Nevile

    Hi Richard,

    Ahh! Agricultural rat poison is golden stuff. I was given some once by a sympathetic farmer (who in fact taught me all that I know about controlling rats). It worked a treat. As he has gone to meet the great rat hunters in the sky, the bounty is no longer available to us rat ridden folk.

    Spotting 7 in your garden probably means 7 X 10 in surrounding nests!!

    Hi Kate (uk),

    I love the idea of the water pistol deterrent. Rats are so cunning but I think that we are just that bit more cunning and patient too!

    Hi Anne,

    I was so sorry to hear about your Golden Seabright. What a shame.

    I rather agree with you about the traps. We use them in the house for mice and 10% of the time they do not kill the mouse. And then what do you do? I have killed rats with a shovel when they had been poisoned and had dragged themselves to the pond (the poison makes them very thirsty) and were being taunted by the dogs. It isn’t easy.

    We have been without eggs for ages but ours are elderly maidens. Roll on January when egg laying begins for our flock.

  4. anne waller

    this year seems to be the worst ever for rats. i bait regularly throughout the year but am having real trouble keeping up with them. yesterday i found one of my golden sebrights dead in the run – she had been half dragged under the house in an attempt to take her back to the rats nest i presume. she was well chewed and it was extremely distressing. i am re-doubling my efforts. a friend has given me some strong warfarin tablets that i have crushed them and put the grains into some cake. i have stuffed this into the visible holes and bricked them up. i also use the expensive rat poison but i’m hoping the tablets will work more quickly. my friend reckons they have a very quick effect- lets hope so. i have moved my other small birds into a different house and run – one that i can relocate daily if necessary. i wish i was a better shot with the airgun. my dad used to sit out at dusk and blast any vermin – instant results!
    i too am afraid to use rat traps just in case they don’t actually kill the rat at once. i do not fancy dispatching a rat with a shovel on the head. all a bit grisly for me – though at the moment i found my sebright i could have killed one with my bare hands……………..
    i always wear rubber gloves in the chicken run and when dealing with the poisons.
    it is all such a worry….. and to cap it all the girls are on a go slow with the eggs. come on girls! make it all worth my while.

  5. I once got my (gloved) hands on some agricultural rat poison (I shall protect my source…). This took the form of blocks of solid bait rather like a blue/green barbeque brickette. The benefit of these is that the rats don’t eat them in situ but take them back to the nest where they get shared around.

    We used to suffer from rats when we lived next to a railway embankment – I once woke-up to find seven of the sods in my postage-stamp sized garden.

  6. Kate(uk)

    We had a rat in the summer after the river and the drains flooded, he was wandering about nearby gardens aimlessly for a couple of days,then realised that my neighbour fed the birds daily and so settled in under her shed to enjoy the regular free meals.After a week of putting the food out at the same time of day so he got cheeky and used to appearing and taking it off under the shed, she put poison in a piece of bread and put it out for him. Her grandson then positioned himself on the patio with a water pistol and scared off any birds to ensure that only Monsieur Rat took the deadly bread.Total success, we never saw him again after he made off with the poison and watching the water pistol bird scaring was rather entertaining!

  7. Fiona Nevile

    Hi Sara,

    Rats are such a problem around here that the local council used to offer a free rat poisoning service. The rat catcher told me that most people are loathe to admit that they have rats, even if extermination is free.

    The council now offer a subsidised service that cost the householder £30 (this was a couple of years ago). Needless to say the rat problem has exploded. I would prefer to spend my £30 on a lot of poison and deal with the problem myself.

    Apparently the rats move up the village in waves. Once a few are poisoned the rest shift up to another good location.

    Hi Amanda,

    There are masses of dead rats on the roads around here! Most people don’t know that they have rats. We’ve had the problem for years and the dogs always alert us if they move under the house. It’s just a matter of keeping on top of the problem and trying to keep them at bay.

    Hi Mildred,

    Yes I agree that the poison is the most effective route. However, you need to take so much care to ensure that other creatures are safe.

    I don’t favour the traps although I have friends who have had great success with them.

    Years ago, when this was a weekend retreat, rats ate through the larder walls and I opened the door one Friday night to find 3 rats feasting. Every packet had to be thrown out and the entire room sterilised from top to bottom.

    • something to use instead of poison is a mix of builders plaster and sugar 50/50 with a bowl of water near by….

  8. What excellent advice regarding the use of rat poison – rats can cause a lot of damage and as you say, the risk of weil’s disease can be a real problem (when I was very small, many moons ago, someone in our village died from it).
    When using poison real care must be taken. Your excellent advice of putting it down the actual rat hole, Fi, and placing a brick on top surely must be the best method! Just the thought of poison being sprinkled about ‘any old where’ makes me shudder, a dog/cat/hedgehog or anything could eat it.
    Personally, I hate traps. A neighbour once caught a rat in a trap but it wasn’t actually dead . . . . that was awful. Also traps can catch other small animals, or even birds, if their positioning isn’t carefull thought out.
    Ugh! The thought of rats make me shudder!! I had one inside once, it had dug under the shallow cottage foundations and popped up in the boxed in bit under the bath! Yuk!

  9. Oh! As much as we live with fields all around us and a river nearyby I try and tell myself that rats wouldn’t visit us. Having said that someone must have been putting poison down because in the summer I found a very dead one just the other side of our gate.

  10. farmingfriends

    What an excellent article. I have had problems with rats lately. My five cats don’t seem to like catching them!!!Sara from farmingfriends


      Thank you for this article.

      The rats are in my hen run……..holes sprouting everywhere…The cats dont get them…

      My hens are out of the run most days but these rats are the biggest I have seen….putting poison down in the hen run is a worry.

Leave a Reply to Reece Cancel reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

HTML tags are not allowed.

2,243,458 Spambots Blocked by Simple Comments

Copyright © 2006-2012 Cottage Smallholder      Our Privacy Policy      Advertise on Cottage Smallholder