Chicken owners need to keep rats out of the coop. Rats carry diseases that are harmful to chickens, will attack baby chicks, steal eggs, and have even been known to chew on hens’ feet while they are sleeping. In addition to those serious problems, they will also eat your chicken feed.
Do Chickens attract rats?
Rats are not attracted to chickens. However, they are attracted to chicken feed, and love stealing a freshly laid egg. Rats are also attracted to nice, warm, cozy places to live, especially if there is a reliable food source nearby.
A well-designed coop, good food storage, and rat-proof feeders can all make your chickens home a place that is not attractive to rats. They are opportunistic,and will not go to a lot of effort to obtain their food and home. By making it hard for them to get chicken food, or take up residence in the corner of a coop, you will ensure that rats don’t want to come around.
Do rats attack chickens?
Chickens eat small rodents, which includes small wild rats and rat babies although many rats are too large for them to attack. However, that does not mean it is okay to let rats hang around your chicken coop. Rats will attack and eat baby chickens, and if desperate enough, they will attack adult chickens. They are more likely to eat chicken feed than to attack adult chickens, as that requires more effort and rats are opportunists. A direct attack on an adult chicken by a rat is rare, but it does happen.
If you see a rat around your coop, you need not panic, your chickens are probably not in immediate danger. (Unless you have chicks out there.) However, you need to take it seriously and start making your coop rat proof to get rid of them to avoid future problems like a rogue rat attack.
One reason you need to act quickly to get rid of the rats is that they can reproduce quickly. It only takes 21 days for them to produce a litter, and females will continue to produce another litter, up to 6 litters a year, as long as they have a cozy home and readily available food. So if you see one rat, you need to get rid of it before you are dealing with the 5-12 babies that will reach their reproductive maturity at 4 or 5 weeks.
Diseases and pests that rats can transfer to chickens
Keep in mind that rat attacks and egg stealing are only the beginning of the damage they can inflict upon your flock. Rats carry many diseases such as salmonellosis and leptospirosis that can be transferred to your chickens. They can also carry mites and fleas into the coop, which can then infest your entire flock. The fleas also carry nasty diseases, such as bubonic plague. Keep in mind, all of these diseases can then be transferred from the chickens, to humans. This is another of the reasons to take any sighting of rats or rat droppings around your coop seriously.
How to keep rats from digging
Rats love to dig and can dig several meters deep. They are adept at creating a tunnel system underground to travel safely between their food sources and nests. This means they can easily dig under your fencing. If you place your coop directly on the ground, rats will have an easy time of digging under the wall to get into the coop.
One way to prevent this problem is to put 10mm galvanized hardware cloth on the ground under your coop. If your coop has a study floor, you can cover the floor with the same hardware cloth to prevent rats from getting in by chewing through the floor.
To keep them from digging under your chicken pen fencing, you can place a skirt of the hardware cloth around the pen, going out a few feet. You can either cover this with sod, or staple it into the ground and let the grass grow through it.
There is no way to prevent rats from digging, but you can place barriers in their way to keep their digging from reaching your coop.
Can rats eat through chicken wire?
Rats have hard, sharp teeth. They can chew through many things, including chicken wire, as well as squeeze through the openings. Chicken wire is a great protection from large predators, but if you have a rat problem, you will need more than just wire to stop them.
Steel is about the only thing rats cannot chew through. In addition to chewing through chicken wire they can chew through wood, cinder blocks, and plastic.
How to protect your chickens against rats
There are four things to consider when protecting your chicken coop from rats.
1/ Storing Food
If you store your extra chicken feed outside near the coop make sure that you use a metal container with a tight-fitting lid. This will keep rats from chewing the container to get to the extra feed.
2/ Coop protection
To protect the coop use hardware cloth on the floor, and also to cover any ventilation areas, and existing holes. Most rats can squeeze through a space as small as a quarter, so be thorough as you search for holes and cover even the small ones in hardware cloth, or stuff them with steel wool.
You also need a door that securely closes at night, with no gaps around the frame. Consider using the Chicken Guard Locking Combi, not only is the door secure, but it will open and close automatically. You can choose between using the light sensor to open and close the door or you can manually set the time. If you get home late at night and are concerned that rats or other predators will sneak into your coop before you get home to close the door, this is a great solution.
Rats are attracted to easy sources of water. The best way to limit their access to water is to put water away at night. Either make sure the water is enclosed within the coop, or take it into a shed or garage for the night and put it back out for the chickens when you let them out of the coop in the morning.
4/ Special Feeders
Invest in a rodent proof chicken feeder so that rats cannot get into the chicken feed. This is a great way to prevent rat problems from starting since chicken feed is the primary reason that rats are attracted to areas with chickens. Keep all bulk feed securely stored away from the Coop, so that any spillages do not leave food in the open.
The best rodent proof chicken feeders
The treadle feeder is a metal box with a levered lid. The lever that controls the lid is attached to a metal plate. When a chicken steps on the metal plate in front of the feeder, the metal lid raises, and the hen has access to the food. When they are not eating, the lid will remain closed. This type of feeder can also keep your feed dry, as long as the chickens are not eating while it is raining.
There are many different brands, sizes and styles of treadle feeders. They are sometimes called automatic chicken feeders.
Hanging Feeder with Weight Sensitive Closure
This is similar to squirrel proof wild bird feeders. You hang the feeder at chicken shoulder height. If a rat tries to reach up, they will put weight onto a step that will pull a closure down over the opening to the food.
DIY Rat Proof Feeder
If you prefer to make your own feeder, or need a low cost solution, you can build your own rat proof feeder with a five gallon bucket and an eyebolt. This will be a hanging style feeder so make sure you have a sturdy place to attach it if you are considering this option.
How do you get rid of rats if you already have them?
If you are already dealing with a rat infestation, you need to follow the preventive measures suggested above, remove current rats, and ensure that there are no other rat friendly areas around your home that are hosting families. Popular places they like to live are in compost piles, open trash bins or piles, in sheds or inside piles or bundles of hay. Do a thorough check of your property and treat all areas where you find evidence of them.
Poison is not the best option for getting rid of rats that have made a home in your coop. Any poison that is strong enough to kill a rat will also kill a chicken. Chickens can also ingest secondary poisoning by pecking at dead rats.
There are several different kinds of traps for rats. Snap traps are an inexpensive and commonly used type of trap. They need to be placed in areas where the rats travel, but away from places where chickens, children, or other animals could be caught in them. If these traps are the correct size for rats, (not the smaller ones made for mice), they should kill instantly. You will then need to dispose of the rat.
You can also use an electric style trap, sometimes called rat zappers.. This trap is more expensive but considered a more humane option, and less messy to clean up than the classic snap traps.
You can also go for a live trap, a cage that will close when that rat goes in for the bait. The biggest problem with these traps is that you then have a live rat to deal with. Letting them go in another area is not a good idea, as they will often make their way back to your property, or you will simply be transferring the rat problem to another person’s property.
Glue traps are a final option, but often not a good choice, like snap traps you will have to keep chickens, children, and other animals away. The glue trap simply makes the rats feet stick to it so it cannot get away. The rat then either dies from panic or starvation, this is one of the least humane options.
Rat terrier clubs
If you can find a local rat terrier dog club, you have another option. This may seem inhumane on the surface, but these dogs will quickly hunt and kill all the rats on your property. Rat terriers have been used for centuries to keep rat populations in check, keeping rat diseases away from both humans and farm animals. The dogs will not find the nests of babies, so you will still need to search your coop and property and dispose of any nests.
Will cats or dogs keep rats away?
While you may be keeping chickens in the city and not on a farm, farmers have had to deal with the problem of rats for centuries. There are many great places on a farm for them to find the food and shelter they seek. This is one of the reasons farms tend to have cats and dogs.
Cats will hunt and kill rats. Having the scent of a feline around your property also discourages rats from moving in, because they know there are predators in the area. Some people are worried about cats attacking chickens, but adult chickens are too large for them.
They will, however, be tempted to go after baby chicks. If you have a cat, keep it away from your chicks. Once the birds are a couple months old, your cat should leave them alone. Keep in mind if you are getting a cat for this purpose you need one with good hunting skills. Local farms are a good place to look, as they have often been taught how to hunt by the mother. Some pet breeds no longer have a strong hunting instinct.
Dogs can be another helpful protection for your flock. You need to make sure that you train your dog to protect, and not attack, the chickens. If they know a basic command, like ‘gentle’ you can use this when they are around the birds. Some breeds will hunt and kill rats, but others will just ignore them. Look for breeds that have strong prey instincts but that are easily trainable so you can train them not to attack your chickens.
It’s important to keep rats away from your chickens, but by adopting preventive measures and getting rid of any rats as soon as you see them, you can keep your coop safe from disease, save money on feed, and keep all those delicious eggs.