Controlling Rats and Mice in the Coop

Dec 04 , 2019

Controlling Rats and Mice in the Coop

Are you looking for a remedy for a rat problem? We've researched and field tested and have some advice to offer! 

Chances are that if you have a chicken coop, you have a problem with rodent control. Unwelcome rodents are the bane of every chicken keeper's existence! Once you have an infestation, it's tough to get rid of, and you'll have to work hard at it every day. For this reason, an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure. If you're just now getting into chicken keeping, please don't underestimate this problem! Now is a great time to start planning. Here are our best tips on keeping rodents out of your chicken coop! 

There are three fronts on which you'll have to fight these rapacious critters. We will dig deeper into these later in the article. 

First, remove all nearby food and water sources.

Second, take away the safety and comfort of their home.

Third, exterminate the ones that are left. 

Ready? Let's get started! 

Before You Proceed: Know Your Enemy 

Rats and mice are prolific breeders. A small family of rodents can turn into an infestation within a very short amount of time. Mice are very curious, and that curiosity can work to your advantage when trying to trap them. Rats, on the other hand, are very cautious of new things, making elimination quite difficult. 

Rats are extremely hardy, adaptable, and have traits that give them very high survivability. They are incredibly smart, and highly agile. They can dig, jump and climb with surprising ease. Their teeth are incredibly strong, capable of cutting through chicken wire, wood, hard plastic, and even cinderblocks and bricks. 

Rats will readily kill baby chicks and have been known to attack and feed on adults when desperate for food. They may also nest in your neighbor's yard and travel to yours if it is appealing enough. 

Rats carry a variety of nasty diseases that can affect humans and house pets, not to mention fleas and rat mites, which are arguably worse than bed bugs. 

Rats also attract other predators like weasels and snakes, who quickly discover that the chicks/chickens/eggs are a much easier and tastier target. 

While we love all critters here at Critter Boutique, and we know that rats can make great pets, we don't recommend letting this particular variety hang around. 

Pull Food and Water at Night 

This is THE most important step. If you take away only one thing from this article, let it be this: Do not leave out free food for the rats. 

If you know you have a rat problem and you are intentionally leaving your feeders and waterers out at night, rest assured the rats are helping themselves to both. This wastes food and risks spreading disease to your flock and other pets. This easy meal is irresistible to rats and gives them every incentive to stay on your property.

In addition to moving the feeder, you'll also need to make sure the chickens can't make a mess of their food and leave it all scattered throughout the bedding. There are a lot of neat DIY feeders you can make that prevent any messes. Look for a post in the near future on creative DIY feeders and waterers! 

If you aren't able to move the feeder consistently at night, consider a rat-proof feeder. Check reviews first! Many feeders claim to be rat-proof but don't always deliver the intended results. 

Rats can go a long time without water, but easy access makes it easy to stay. Don't make it easy for them to find water. Make sure the water container is pulled at night, along with the food. The farther away rats have to run to find water, the less comfortable it is to stay in your home. 

Protect the Chicks

Protect your baby chicks! Rats are known to eat baby chicks right out from underneath their mother hens. If possible, bring them inside. 

Food Storage 

If your rat infestation is bad enough, you've probably already learned the hard way that rats can chew straight through hard plastic storage bins with ease. The most reasonable solution to this is to store food in metal bins with tight-fitting metal lids. 

Collect Eggs Every Day 

Rats don't normally go straight for the eggs, but they will if they are desperate for food. If they are used to chowing down on the feed left over in the coop at night, or maybe helping themselves to your feed stores, and you suddenly remove those food sources, be aware! When you remove those two options, they will start getting hungry and looking for other food sources. Make sure your eggs are always collected before dusk. 

Don't leave your house trash out 

Chances are your coop is not a far distance to travel from your own house. Your rat colony is aware of this, and likely scouting out the areas in and around your house. They are multiplying and need to expand their domain, and they are likely to find something. Make sure your trash is not left out overnight. 

Revamp Your Compost Strategy 

We know... this one sounds like a lot of work. And it is. But it's important, because compost is the ideal place for rats to live! It is bedding, shelter, and food all in one place. What could be more attractive? Food items should be composted in a closed metal bin (just like what you should be storing your chicken food in) with small holes poked in the sides for ventilation. Make sure the holes are smaller in diameter than your finger, otherwise mice can get in. You can continue to compost non-food items as you have been, but the pile needs to be turned with a pitchfork every few days to discourage any new would-be residents from getting too comfortable. Rodent resistant composters exist, so this may be an option you prefer to look into. 

Secure Your Coop 

Make sure your coop is secure and in good shape! Bedding should be changed with some frequency, or at least shuffled around every few days to make sure no rats are making a nest inside. There should be no holes or hideaways that the rats can access. If there are holes in the structure, you can fill them with steel wool and cover with a patch of hardware cloth. You'll likely find holes dug in the ground around your coop. Fill them with dirt and continue to monitor them every day. You will have to work hard and consistently to convince your resident rats that this is no longer a convenient place to live. Fill in the holes as soon as you find new ones. Rat proofing is difficult to do! 

Clean Around the Coop 

Clutter around the coop might as well be a magnet for rats. Things lying around offer great hiding places and escape routes, making getting from point A to point B much easier. If the route is safe, they are likely to take it! If the clutter is picked up and getting to and from the coop requires a route with no cover, they will be less inclined to travel that path. 

Get a cat (or two!) 

Consider getting a cat! But not just any cat. If you start with a kitten and raise it in the house, there is a good chance that it may get used to the easy life and not want to be a mouser. For this reason, we suggest adopting a feral cat! Many organizations around the country work to trap, spay/neuter, then release or adopt out resident feral cats. This helps to curb overpopulation and keep cat colonies healthy. Feral cats are harder to find homes for than domestic cats. These cats are considered "feral" because they have reverted to their wild instincts, and have likely learned to hunt out of necessity, where many house cats have not. Generally speaking, these cats are too skittish to be cuddly house pets. However, once acclimated to your property and their new surroundings, they are likely to do very well at their job hunting unwelcome critters. Just make sure they can't get after your chickens or baby chicks! 

Snap and Glue Traps 

Snap traps are far and away the best way to eliminate rats from your household and surrounding areas. You'll want to make absolutely certain that no other animals (cats, dogs, chickens, etc.) can accidentally get caught in the traps. Best placement is usually along a wall where they already have a path. Remember that rats are exceedingly cautious of new things. When they see a new object strategically placed with a new food, they recognize it as a danger, and the trap is less likely to work. Skip whatever baits are suggested and use what they're already used to: chicken food. Bait the area first and let them get used to the food being there. Then place the trap and put bait on and around it, but don't set it yet. Let them get used to safely eating the bait. Then set the trap and bait it, but do not leave food out around the trap anymore. This can cause the rats to trigger the trap, get scared, and learn never to go near it again. Thus, decreasing the effectiveness of your trapping strategy, sometimes to the point of complete failure. Rats are very smart animals. 

A Note About Poison 

For the record, we DO NOT recommend using poison. It is the most dangerous method of rodent removal, and to be used only as a last resort. Rats could eat the poison and then die out in the open. Any animal that eats it, whether it be wildlife, a beloved house pet, or even your chickens, could be poisoned in turn. Rats can also take poison from the original location back to the nest, and there's no guarantee that they'll take it all the way back to the nest! There's always a chance that they can drop it off somewhere else, accessible to other animals. Not good. Another possibility is that they don't die in the open and instead die in the space between your walls. This is not dangerous to your pets, but your house will smell like decay for about ten days. We've heard of folks making their own non-toxic poison by mixing corn meal or grits with a substance like bagged concrete or plaster of Paris. This will kill mice and rats, and if they die in the open, it won't hurt other animals. We think this is a safer option, but it still has its downsides. We recommend snap and glue traps over poison if possible. The risk to other animals is just too great. 

Call a Pro 

This is the most expensive option, and not necessarily a guarantee. Even if you do call in a professional, you'll still have to do some work. Much of that work has already been described in the above paragraphs. Professionals usually make use of poisons, of which we've just discussed the downsides at length. 

Have you used any of these tactics to eliminate a rodent problem? We'd love to hear your story! Share with us on our social media pages!


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