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