Rats and Mice

My grandad once said to me “Where there’s chickens, there’s rats and mice” and how right he was. Over the years, I have had a number of occasions where I’ve had to fight a seemingly never-ending battle with them. There are a few things I have learnt along the way though and (touch wood) over the last few years, being more vigilant and removing food and water at night during the winter has really helped.

Rats

Rats are a serious pain in the bum and I am glad that I have only ever had one serious problem when I caught 10 of them in a week. They chew their way in and gnaw at chickens legs, steal eggs and spread disease.

They have to be near to water – so remove water at night if you get them to discourage them. They will move around so you might be fine in the summer to find them moving in during colder weather. I have found the spring traps to be of mixed success: you need to get them used to them and always wear gloves when setting them so they don’t smell you. Their favourite food seems to be cat food or tuna. Young rats are easier to catch but the older rats can be quite wise when it comes to traps. Place them in runs they are taking and provide cover over the top so they are out of sight and sheltered.

Poison is a very effective way of getting rid of them but do be careful using this, especially if there are cats that hunt rats and mice around the neighbourhood. Stuff bait packs into holes and cover with bricks or use a tubular box feeder with a clear tube so you can see the poison level left.

rat in humane trap

Rat in a humane trap. Dispatch is with an air rifle to the back of the head.

Personally, I prefer humane rat traps – they can be left set permanently near the chicken house. We dispatch the rat with an air rifle shooting through the back of the head. It’s an instant kill.

Always wear gloves when handling rats. They can carry serious diseases. Wear gloves when resetting the trap too since the smell from your hands would put off the next rat from going in there and usually where there’s one.. there’s several others.

Mice

Mice are the most common pest faced by the chicken keeper. They will spoil chicken food by urinating over it (whilst tucking in) and will urinate in water left out which is putting your birds at risk of catching disease.

Fortunately mice are easy to control with traps. I keep a couple of traps set near my feed in the shed where I will soon notice a problem during my daily feeding routine. Mice are usually a problem between October and April when food is scarce outdoors.

cat carrying mouse

Good puss!

An enthusiastic cat is another good control method but remember to praise your cat when she brings a live mouse into the bedroom at 3am and meows at you…. Seriously! She is bringing you a gift and will be very pleased with herself, she cannot understand why you suddenly go mad and scald her!

Remember to remove all feed and water that Rats and Mice can get to at night

73 Responses to Rats and Mice

  1. Jennie says:

    Hi, we’ve had 8 chickens since mid November. They are outdoors surrounded by quite a powerful electric fence, not only to keep them in but mainly to keep predators out. So far, so good. Only today we came home to find one of them had managed to get out and another was still in but dead and being pecked at by another. The other five had gone back indoors into the coop. It seems that the dead one has a broken neck and not much of her head left. We are completely baffled by this. We have no idea what would have attacked her but left her. Or if she fell and broke her neck, but feel it strange that she would have been pecked so badly by the others. Can you help?

    • Jennie says:

      Mystery solved but unfortunately we don’t know what to do about this particular problem. My husband caught the culprit red handed after it had just killed another of our girls and it turns out it’s an eagle! We live up in the mountains in France and have a lot of wildlife around and lots of birds of prey. Apart from keeping them indoors I don’t know what we can do.

      • Keeping Chickens says:

        Oh, just seen this after replying to your earlier comment… That makes sense. I was thinking you were in the UK and suspected a Buzzard… but Eagles will kill chickens too.

        You can hang old CD’s up on strings above the run area or put some fruit netting stretched across part or all of the run – if they don’t have a clear path to swoop in, they won’t usually bother you. Someone I know even used a couple of balls of garden string strung zig-zag with the odd CD across their run and it worked – not the most attractive I admit!

        • Jennie says:

          Thank you for this, we will give it a try as erecting an enclosure isn’t really an option as it’s a large area. Someone else has suggested getting a cockerel as it will act as a look out and get the girls indoors if there’s any danger. Would you agree?

          • Keeping Chickens says:

            Some are better than others. They do tend to keep the pecking order and will alert hens to predators, especially in the sky.

    • Keeping Chickens says:

      Are you sure about the broken neck? Yes, they can peck and draw blood and kill but usually only until the pecking order is established.

      I would suspect a bird of prey (buzzard or similar) if this was an open area. The chickens will run for cover from birds of prey (in or under the coop) and the other one probably flew to get away and got over the fence. A bird of prey will land on the bird and tear at the back of the neck, ripping it open to kill. Once dead, if it can’t carry the bird, it will tear at the breast but if disturbed will fly off and usually not return.

      Just a guess. Another option is a fox that was disturbed- they will take the heads off and break the neck.

      Check your fence is at least 3000V or more and not shorting (you will hear it click) to ground anywhere on vegetation. The nose height wire can be baited with bacon rind or similar at night to encourage the fox to touch it. Once touched, it should learn.

      • Will mice or rats bother a large Embden goose? I’ve been leaving her dry food and water in her shed each night as she was underweight. She has gained weight now– what do you advise?

        • Keeping Chickens says:

          Put wheat into a bucket of water – she will be able to dip her head in to reach it at the bottom but the rats and mice won’t be able to get to it.

          Secondly – get rid of the rats and mice with traps / bait etc. (there is usually one or the other rats being the bigger problem of course) since they will cause all sorts of problems.

  2. Helen says:

    Hi I think we have a rat/rats, we have 5 chickens,I have not noticed any dropping but have seen digging at the side and back of the shed and run,the chickens cannt get there, also when the snow was here I saw tracks on my path but agin not in the chicken pen, I take all food and water in at night the shed is on concrete,is there anything Else I could do we have set traps but non court as yet.

    • Keeping Chickens says:

      Poison is the easiest but there are disadvantages in using it if you have dogs or cats that catch vermin.

      Traps do work – I have found the cage traps the best but you must get rid of the ‘new’ smell of the trap (bury it for a few days in the garden) and only set it wearing gloves. It can take a month for a rat to go in it but once one has gone in, others tend to follow.

      Get on top of them as soon as you can or they will multiply very quickly. Removing food and water will certainly help. Try to establish what they are eating – there will be something, they need food, shelter and a source of water.

      • New Chicken Owner says:

        Had a seroius problem with mice and rats. Found a great solution 🙂 Bucket traps! Take a 5 gallon bucket and drill a small hole on each side along the top. Run a pop can that has been drilled in the middle at each end. Run a coat hanger(cut the bottom straight end off ) run the coat hanger through one end of bucket and then run it through the pop can and through the other end of the bucket. bend the ends to not to slip out. Smear peanut butter on the can. Make a ramp scrape wood will work up both sides of bucket to top. Mice will climb up bucket then step on pop can. the can spins and mice or rats fall into bucket. You can either release the mice or put water in the bottom of bucket and they will drown. Look up bucket mouse trap on internet. I caught 11 mice in one night.

        • lanaki says:

          I had a rat problem in my coop and think they actually ate more feed than my chickens. I got very tired of seeing them and having to waste the feed.
          I saw a posting on a site that recommended getting a “rat-proof” feeder. I looked at many and almost decided to build my own, but, I decided against that. I am construction challenged.
          I went to “thecarpentershop.net” and ordered the medium feeder which holds around 20lbs of feed. It has a treadle bar that the chickens step on and the door opens and the chickens go at the food. They finish eating and leave and the door closes to prevent the rats from getting to the food. Great results from day one. Well worth it.

          • Keeping Chickens says:

            Thanks for the tip. I use a Grandpas feeder which again seems to be successful.

          • briern says:

            please can you explain why the rats cannot do the same thing? I want to buy one but this question baffles me.

  3. Michelle Stannard says:

    I have 60 chickens, i normally get around 40-45 eggs a day, this number has dropped to about 24 over the last few days, my chicks are free range and lay in my hay barn.
    I notice a small hole in the side of the barn , with a track that ran up 3 bales of hay to a nest where i usually find about 14 eggs, ( 3 the last few days) .
    Is this rats taking the eggs? I do not want to use traps or posion as i have a cat.
    Any advice very welcome, thanks.

    • Keeping Chickens says:

      It’s hard to say. The best thing to do is to look where eggs are laid in the morning (do not touch them or you will leave a scent) and then take another look late in the afternoon to see whether the eggs have been taken.

  4. mandi says:

    we have a serious problem with rats, we have hens, ducks and geese, and we never leave there food or water outside (the only water outside is the pond for the geese), the geese and hens have the run of the field and horses paddocks, we have the ducks fenced off in a large open run with there pond and shed. We have tried everything possible but there seems to be more and more runs appearing daily. oh by the way our field is a path width away from the RIVER, we also have problems with moles, foxes, stoats, wild polecats(ferrets), sparrow hawks, kestrels and then not forgetting poachers, but our line of defense is security, make sure all your coops are secure daily (check floors, doors and vents) making sure they are undamaged. We also try to fill in all new runs daily with hard core and soil, and as for rat poison, well their that evil (the rats) they were dragging the bait out from under the coops and leaving it in the runs, where the hens could get it,

    • Keeping Chickens says:

      It is hard to get on top of a rat problem being so close to a river, although I do know of a poultry keeper who lived near a canal and after a year of trapping, baiting, shooting and so on managed to reduce their numbers enough to be in control.

      I would consider making a concrete base for any coops and sheds or raising them off the ground – also keep feed stored in galvanised containers, I would set up several traps and continue to bait. There are also people who will bring in a modified chainsaw without the blade with a mix of oil in the fuel to smoke them out of the holes.

      You could use an electric fence with a wire running a couple of inches from the wire of the runs to stop rats running up and over and bury wire in the ground to stop digging.

  5. PAUL says:

    I keep chickens thank to fine ginger tom and a tabby cat both good ratters . They have driven all the rats away.

  6. Phil says:

    Hi. We have chickens and a pond with fish. We have to be very careful with any poison as we also run a dog home boarding business. The rats seem to appear out of nowhere and we’re now inundated with them. We remove all the food at night but they’ve tunnelled into the coop and have even caused a step to collapse. As I’ve said, we have to be very careful with poison; is there any other tips you could give us? I’ve just seen 3 huge rats running around the pond towards the coop but they then go to ground. Last winter we did get packets of poison & stuffed it down the holes we could find but it didn’t appear to make any difference! Help, please!

    • Keeping Chickens says:

      You can trap them with a cage trap, then shoot them with an air rifle, or use a snap trap. It takes a while for them to start to go in there and you need to handle it with gloves so as not to put your scent on it when resetting.
      The trouble is, it sounds as if you have a serious amount of rats and catching them all is going to be hard. Personally I would still use poison but ensure it is away from areas that the dogs use. Choose a couple of weeks when you haven’t got dogs staying or walk them outside of your home so they cannot catch the rats or go near the poison. It would be worth closing the business for a couple of weeks just to get on top of the rats.

      You need to put down a lot of poison and keep topping it up until they stop eating it and there are no more signs of rats. You perhaps didn’t put down enough poison for long enough although sometimes you have to a try different kind if it isn’t working. Most will die in burrows and hidden away.

      Alternatively get the council in, they will come in and remove rats for a reasonable fee (it also involves poison).

      Finally, once they have gone, as an ongoing preventative measure, I would consider having a few cage traps baited at all times to nip it in the bud if they come back.

  7. Lin Brown says:

    Use rat boxes with solid bate?

    • Keeping Chickens says:

      Yes, I think it depends on the design of the box – I have one with plastic tubes that hold the poison and feed a small feeder inside but I’ve seen boxes with small compartments that need solid bait.

  8. michael says:

    Hi, I have rats getting into my duck run of a night eating her food.. If they urinate in her food bowl and she then eats from it can the urine affect her eggs as I want to eat the eggs but am worried about disease in the eggs due to rats

  9. Graham Teece says:

    Really interesting site. Regarding the rats; as kids we kept about a 1000 layers free range in the orchard and housed in a big shed at night and during the winter. The rats would burrow and nest under the litter. We had great sport finding these nests and digging them up. The hens used to attack and eat as many young rats as we could dig. Caused a frenzy in the shed!

  10. Hollie says:

    I found a dead mouse in my chicken’s water bucket. Is it ok to eat their eggs?

    • Keeping Chickens says:

      Yes, I don’t think there will be any problems. If a chicken becomes ill (which yours aren’t…) there are very few diseases that are Zoonotic (disease of animals communicable to humans).
      Chickens will also eat mice if they can catch them!

      Have a look at this blog post on poultrykeeper.com which shows a chicken eating a mouse (towards the bottom of the page).

      https://poultrykeeper.com/blog/the-moult-and-animal-protein/

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