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.

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  1. What about the fact that the poison takes a few days to work.? If a cat or dog catches a sluggish dying rat they also get poisoned ,or the chickens that may eat the poisoned rat. I can’t think of any way of getting round this especially as there may be more than one exit to the rat nest so they may get out or just push past a brick , I’ve seen them pushed aside to get into the hen house.

  2. Michael

    We have a rat problem. I grow a lot of plants including herbs, flowers and vegetables on my property. Rats have gotten into our house and we have put out poison in peanut butter, also various types of traps. They get into the dry dog food. Rats got on the kitchen counter last night and ate a hole in the plastic bag containing the dog food, 2 plums a potato and WORST OF ALL the sourdough bread starter we had for making bread. They left foot prints in the flour and dough. WE HAVE RODENT INFESTATION…..

  3. Hi there
    just found rats in my chicken run husband not happy we have had chickens for two years and have had mice no problem don’t mind them. However, no rats noticed however this year there have been two houses with very large overgrown gardens which have been cleared very near to us we think they may have migrated
    I have read all the information and I am afraid poison is going to be the only way as we have spotted at least three which according to your blogs mean at least thirty

  4. I think the risk from Wiels disease is being exaggerated slightly.

    “Each year an average of 3 canoeists contract Leptospirosis. It is very rare and it™s deterioration into Weil™s disease even more rare. Weil™s disease is however, a serious ilness and must be swiftly diagnosed and treated. Death may occur in about 15% of Weil™s disease cases (i.e. jaundiced patients) but death without jaundice is virtually unknown. Antibiotics during the first few days help in limiting infection. Many cases recover without specific treatment.”

    Yes you should be careful but it doesn’t seem to me to be the main issue with having rats.

    • Fiona Nevile

      Hi Toby

      Thanks for leaving a comment. Perhaps it depends on where you live in the UK. Weil’s disease like tetanus is rife around here – Newmarket, Suffolk. People do die every year.

  5. sorry but in need of some help….
    i have rats but i have tried allsorts to stop them the chicks now have a self feeder outside self watering the coop is very clean and tidy have put rat poison down and rat traps everywere with no success. egg removal laying boxes but the little gits keep taking the eggs out of the boxs and eating them i have now run out of idea’s. gary

  6. Thanks very much for the advice I’m off to get some now.

  7. Fiona Nevile

    Hi Lezli

    Sprung rat traps are best – our local Homebase stocks them. If you use poison it takes a few days for the rat to die and it’s quite likely that it will be eaten by a cat or dog and poison that as well.

    Bait the trap with bacon. Good luck.

  8. Hi, I desperately need some advice, unfortunately I do not have chickens (wonderful fresh eggs) but have a rat! We live in a town & have a yard & a garage attached to the house. I saw the rat after hearing scratching noises in my kitchen cupboard under the sink, which has pipes leading into our garage. Strangely the rat wasn’t the brown or black colour but light grey not that it makes any difference it’s still a rat. I have a 6 year old son & need to solve this problem as fast as possible, would traps be the quickest way & what kind would you recomend spring glue etc. I am not squeemish & will not hesitate to finish the job myself especially with my young son being at risk. Thank you in advance & I envy you having those fresh eggs.

  9. Fiona Nevile

    Hello MuleMarm

    Thank you so much for taking the time to give us all this information. Wow you have to put up with a whole tranch of beasts!

    Thank you so much for the link to the book – great stuff.

  10. MuleMarm

    Dear Chick/Cyber-Friends,

    Re-reading my note to you on RATS! Maybe I should clarify a couple of things… SORRY about the typos — If you can’t figure out what I meant please post a question, and I’ll clarify!

    But I should have made it clear that on this Stock-farm, we have HUNDREDS (maybe thousands) of Rats — I don’t want to KNOW how many are in that canyon, eager to find some chicken-feed; mule-grain; goat-feed; dog-food, and cat-food — so as to make themselves at home!!!!

    (Leaving dog and cat food out overnight will also invite skunks and porcupines here… and of COURSE would invite the rats!!!!!)

    Since 1935, when my father bought this little stock-farm, then after we built the new home in 1942 at this site, the methods I described in the earlier post have made all those rats of little concern for us.

    You may have different circumstances — but the rats around my area in West Texas, are usually discovered to live in piles of rubbish, etc. (as described earlier). Rather than in holes… So if you have found them in holes, some of Tvelden’s non-toxic poisons poured in — maybe some ‘quick-lime’ — then a bit of poured cement might seal them off.

    I’ve only found one rat in the Rock Hen-house, (only this year). There are several holes through which one could get in. This fat guy was hiding under the center of a cinder-block I had used for a “step-stool.” But I could see his hind end — pinned him with my snake-hook, and dispatched him with my daddy’s cherished — handy — old pocket-knife.

    From Summer through the Fall months, several times a week, I will find one or 2 dead rats in the “Cat House” feed stall, where an old mama cat “ratter” leaves them. So maybe she’s my main ammo against the nasty critters.

    So our system seems to be working — at least for our area.

    I’m pretty sure all of us would do well to just focus on how to control infestation in our own environs, and in a friendly manner share with our neighbors how we’ve been — at least partially — victorious.

    It is highly likely our neighbors don’t want them any more than we do.

    Blessings to all of you…

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