I have a questions about chickens. I’m told they attract rats.  Someone told me of how rats came and overtook things, ran around during the day, destroyed the chicken house and caused total catastrophe.  How do I solve the problem of rats!!??

As I read the news of city councils considering the backyard chicken issue, one of the major topics is always the belief that  “chickens attract rats.”    The problem isn’t the chickens — rats exist pretty much everywhere and they were most likely all over the property even before the person had chickens. I’d wager the rats didn’t just show up, but came out of hiding.  The home owners probably weren’t aware of them before as the rodents did their business outside and weren’t congregating.    Rats are primarily nocturnal animals, so if  they are regularly seen  in the day, it probably means there are a lot of them and the extent of the situation is more serious than the existence of chickens. 

Rats in a neighborhood is an issue no one particularly likes.  When they do arrive (or most likely come out of hiding), neighbors and city officials  are quick to try and find someone or something to blame.  Chickens, if present, are usually the first to be blamed.    Dealing with rats can be part of the course when you have chickens but to link the appearance of any rat solely on the keeping of chickens is casting a very broad net of blame.

Rats want food and they will live/breed/nest around the most easily available food source whether it be improperly kept trash cans / dumpsters, dog or cat  kibble in an outside bowl or seed from a bird feeder, etc .  So when chickens are present and there are feeders in the yard and food in the garage or shed, the rats see an all-you-can-eat-open-24-hours-a-day buffet as chicken feed is one of their favorite foods. 

The irresponsible keeping of anything will almost always cause a problem.  Responsible urban chicken farmers will maintain a clean coop, keep food in secure air and water tight containers, pick up spilled feed and yard feeders at night and disposing of any coop clutter (poop, nesting material, etc) quickly and thoroughly.

Rats are not interested in your chickens as such, but they are interested in the food that your chickens are eating. Having said that, really hungry rats will attack (and kill) young chicks or they will take  eggs if they get a chance to.   It’s rare for a  rat to attack a full-grown chicken as an angry hen can be a mighty foe, and it is not unknown for chickens to kill (and eat) rats.

Some steps to take in prevent rats from considering your chicken coop to be rat resort-town are:

  • Food storage. Make sure the area in which you store your feed is clean and all spills are cleaned up.  Feed should not be kept in their original [paper] bags but in airtight containers that can resist the razorsharp teeth of rats.  Some of the more popular and recommended storage containers are metal trash bins with lids that fit snuggly on top. You can find these at your local hardware store.   Large plastic rubbermaids can work as well.  Just make sure it seals well and can’t be chewed through. 
  • Keep the shed or garage where you store your food clean and free of clutter.  Try to close up any avenues of entrances rats can have into your storage area.
  • Don’t feed chickens just by throwing food on the ground for them to peck and scratch at.   They won’t find or eat it all and the rats’ ability to scent food even in the dirt shouldn’t be underestimated.
  • Keep the chicken house/area/pen as clean as possible.   Remove clutter, rake or sweep the area often and shift anything a rat can hide behind often to prevent them from setting up a home or nest (for instance, I have a dog igloo in the coop for the chickens to hang out in — I lift or “disturb” it at least once a week to discourage rats from thinking it’s a good undisturbed place to establish a home sweet home.
  • Keep all bedding raked, dispose of used  nesting material (straw) or store your supply of nesting material in a sealed garbage can, if possible.  Rats like soft nests too and will steal straw to line their own homes. 
  • Collect eggs every day.  Hungry rats will eat them.
  • If you have a compost bin, don’t put any cooked food in
  • Make sure you only feed your chickens what they need, to avoid attracting vermin.  Since most of us don’t have a rat proof coop, the best you can do is create rat proof house and keep the chicken feeders in there when you can close it off at night.  Chickens will go in and out of the house to eat what they need.   The other choice is to pick up feeders at night and store them in a secure garage or shed and then put them out again in the morning.   Leaving feeders out at night is just asking for trouble.
  • Use common sense and be responsible.

Getting rid of rats if you have them:

  • Some cats and dogs will catch rats for you.
  • Traps  -always the best way.  We have good success by baiting ours with peanutbutter.
  • Poison can be used but is often not a good idea around the chickens if they are likely to find the poison or even the dead rat.  Chickens will eat rodents and it’s not uncommon to find the carcass of a rat with the flesh pecked off.

Chicken owners all deal with rats in different ways so maybe some of our readers can comment and tell us what’s worked for them.

Have questions? Send them to me

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7 COMMENTS

  1. excellent article but i do have a comment and a couple of questions..

    re comment – as i understand it rats can (& have done) chew through cement blocks so storage of food is of PRIME importance & cannot be stressed enough (seems we should think bear proof might be good enough! ?LOL?)

    questions:
    we live in an area there is already a documented Rat problem (& a lot of other rodents as well) they love to nest in palm trees which unfortunately abound here. we also have a large raccoon/coyote population problem.. add the average daytime temp to be over 105 for 3 to 5 months a year.. is it possible this could EVEN be a potential chicken survivable neighborhood?

    (the raccoons come INSIDE houses here through the tiniest of cat doors so you KNOW they aint afraid of no chicken coop!) i have even seen a kit fox (a very rare sighting i might add – it was amazing) in our yard. oh and did i mention the great horned owl that lives by the local walmart – he patrols our area too.. the more i list the less it seems doable..
    would love to hear your feedback or ideas…
    thanks 🙂 rj

    • A chain link dog run, reinforced with hardware wire with small openings. a hardware wire bottom (buried under an inch or so of soil) that wraps up to join the walls. Topped by a reinforced hardware wire ‘roof. This is the “outdoor” pen. A good tool shed with a solid reinforced floor (wire and rebar to prevent tunneling in) can be fitted for a hen house. A roof vent and fans, suitably caged for safety, and some vines trained over the outer run will help the birds deal with the heat – air circulation, passive air conditioning (roof vent), and shade. Add a good dust wallow in a kiddie pool, and a bed of plants they can rest under during the heat (sunflowers, a shrub, or even bean plants). I’ve kept hens in S.Florida heat, and that’s humid!In a dry area, I’d keep a nice damp spot for them, too

  2. We feed our chickens twice a day, in feeders, and they really do seem to get it all up. They are free range, so if all the food is gone, they hunt out bugs, veggies/grass/seeds,…all kinds of stuff, so they never go hungry. Our chicken house is anything but rat proof, but we have 4 barn cats who patrol all the time, so I think that helps keep the mice down. I don’t honestly think I’ve ever seen a rat, but we live in the country.

    Because we live in the country, we are able to put our compost pile in the woods, and yes, we do put everything there except meat. I know it is not recommended, but because we have no immediate neighbors, there is no one being upset by this, the chickens “till” it during the day picking out what they want, and it gives any unwanted critters (raccoons, possums, even foxes) someplace to stop and possibly get a quick meal, before bothering our chickens. I’ve heard of this technique for keeping animals out of the garden also…put a pile of whatever you don’t eat outside to feed the critters, and they’re full before they decide to invade your corn field. Kind of a “If you can’t beat-em, join em” thing. Works for us!

  3. If your chickens are enclosed in a run, take the time to make it rat proof (if they free range, make your henhouse rat proof).

    Our run’s walls are 1/2″ hardware cloth for the bottom 3′, which is too small for rats to get in (but mice probably could). In addition to that, the wire extends down a few inches into the ground and then bends away from the coop, laying horizontally a couple inches below ground, and extending out about a foot. This discourages digging, as most predators or rats aren’t going to think, “Maybe if I start digging TWO feet away from the wall, that’ll work….” I also know someone who buried hardware cloth under the entire run, completely sealing it off with 1/2″ mesh.

    This, combined with not tempting rats to the coop (by following the great tips above), would seem to prevent a rat problem.

    Robin – perhaps you could investigate a simple solar-powered electric wire to run around the outside of a coop. This could prevent climbers while burying hardware cloth could prevent diggers. Lastly, if you have raccoons, absolutely use rigid wire mesh of a small size – they have been known to tear apart “chicken wire” and reach their little hands in to kill chickens, eating them through the fence.

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