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 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 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


  1. If you have rats just leave some feed a few meters from the run at night, set up a low level light source so that it shines on the food and stand behind it so that the rats cannot see and be very quiet as the have a very acute sense of hearing and then shoot them with a .22 air rifle.
    Not only does this get rid of the rats but it but it is quite satisfying as well!

    • I am pretty sure shooting rats is not a humane way to deal with them because if you do not kill them quickly you are causing suffering to animals and I believe hunting which this is is now illeagel in the UK

      • I think you’ll find it was hunting with dogs that was made illegal Rosie.

        Shooting is legal with the correct license (and airguns do not require a license providing they meet certain requirements and you are a certain age). Rats are classed as vermin and may be shot with an airgun. Foxes can also be shot in the UK (in order to protect livestock) but this must be done with the correct sort of weapon. A 12 bore shotgun or .223 calibre firearm for example that can kill humanely.

        I understand it is not for everyone but I can assure you that it is kinder to shoot a rat than to put down poison which is indescriminate and will cause a much slower death.

        One other thing to keep in mind is that you have a legal responsibility to control vermin on your premises – so not doing anything would actually be illegal.

  2. Hi (again) got my coop & electric fencing Just need to get the chickens now!! + food & accessories etc. Re vermin I read that ‘treadle’ feeders can reduce if not eradicate this problem Any comments/advice? Thanks

    • Treadle feeders work really well – however, a couple of cautions.
      1. Not all of them are truely waterproof. A 20Kg galvanised feeder leaked at the corners / joins and wasted alot of food for me once. Keep them under cover if possible.
      2. Chickens need quite a bit of training to use them. First, put a bolt in place so it is permanently open, then, after a week or two, move it so the lid moves a small amount. Once hens are used to this, move it further so it half opens and eventually, remove the bolt and have it open / close completely. Granpas Feeders are the best I’ve seen but make sure you get the newest model (Available Jan 2012) that has an anti-flick grid in place to stop hens flicking corn everywhere.

  3. Hi, I have a rat problem at the moment. I noticed a few weeks back burrows in the chicken run. Got myself a snap trap and read up on the best bait, you know the ones chocolate, nuts, fruit etc etc, I decided for the best of both worlds and baited with nutella. The rat avoided it. Changed tack on the weekend and baited with peanut butter, bingo! Saturday night trap set off 2 lovely teeth marks in the bait but no rat. Reset and left, now it gets weird, yesterday the rat trap was covered in soil same this morning, cleared the trap this evening and within an hour it was covered in stones-one clever little blighter.

    • They will do that sometimes – it has your smell on it. I bury my traps for a couple of weeks to get rid of the new smell, then, use old garden gloves to handle and set it. If the trap has spooked the rat, it won’t go in it again so I would try a different kind or give it a break for a week before resetting in a different place.

      • Good news! Got my rat last night, it had yet again set of the snap trap but I dont think it was bargaining for the scissor type mole trap (had moles at one point also) i had placed on the ground over one of the exit holes on the other side of my wall, one large rat too, about 15″ nose to tail. How long do you reckon i should keep the traps down? Im guessing where theres one there is more.

        • As a pest control officer myself with 14 years experience, I regularly get called to people who keep chickens and other poultry. Some of my colleagues feel that people with chickens have  only themselves to blame for the occasional rat infestation as they are ground feeders and often fed too much (enter mr rat and his family to polish off what the chickens don’t). I however believe it’s quite possible to own chickens and still control the occasional influx of rats. It’s not the chickens themselves that attract the rats (despite what some non chicken people suggest) but rats are constantly out forraging for food and if they come across a garden which has both food and water supplied, they are in heaven. Remember that rats only need three things to live, 1, food 2, water and 3, somewhere to burrow. 
          Although you can get limited success with traps, rats and mice are very smart animals and they will either avoid the traps completely or they will learn how to remove the bait without setting off the traps. Rodenticide is by far the best way to kill a colony of rats (yes there is always more than one) as they don’t associate the bait with feeling unwell and will continue to feed. Bait boxes are fine if you have to place the bait where the chickens are but rats by far prefer tubes with bait inside. This option is far more effective for the treatments of the rat problem but care needs to be taken when placing the tube down to ensure it’s well out of the chickens access. Bauted in this manner, the bait need only be down around 10 days to get complete eradication and minimal risk to other animals as opposed to plastic boxes which although appearing slightly safer, need to be left in situe far longer. Rats need to drink every day so removing the water overnight or making it as inaccessible as possible will also help. 
          David Lowe and Kate – I think the pest controller you spoke to has confused you. I suspect he was talking about vitamin k1 which is found readily in grass and other vegetation and if ingested by mice, will combat the anticoagulant in the rodenticide. This will not happen however, with any rodenticide bought for rats. 
          Whilst it’s true that air rifles do not require licenses, and used within your own property boundary would be legal, like trapping, shooting is not the most effective method of treating a colony of rats and any shot but not killed outright would need to be despatched in a humane way. This is no more humane than baiting which is in fact not indiscriminate when done correctly. 
          Rats are not particularly bothered by scents from humans, the are however extremely neophobic. This means that any trap or bait placed into their environment will probably be investigated from a safe distance but is likely to be largely ignored for several days and any movement of the equipment will render it a new object again even if only moved slightly. Leave your equipment down untouched for a couple of days and the rats will overcome their initial shyness and begin to feed. Even with this though, you are unlikely to completely eradicate a complete colony with trapping alone. Some people attempt the ‘humane’ live catch traps and release them elsewhere, but rats have a very strong colony orientation and will find their way back to the group (as will a relocated mouse). 
          Finally Rats and mice don’t tend to live in the same environment at the same time as rats are particularly dominant. So if/when you notice mouse activity, you can be sure your rats are gone. 
          My advice would always be to contact your local authority as most councils don’t charge for rats and this way, not only will the authority be aware of any rodent problems within their borough, but they can sort the problem for you with little to no intervention from you aside from some advice re:proofing etc. Bear in mind that a lot of rodenticides sold for amateur use are not as good as those for professionals but can be just as harmful if not moreso when used incorrectly and are of great concern to those interested in monitoring the levels if rodenticide found within non target species such as foxes and birds of prey. 
          Remember folks, killing the rodents is the easy part, keeping them from coming back even with decent proofing is the hard but not impossible bit. 🙂

          • Fantastic advice. Thank you, very interesting and I’ve learned from this. Appreciate you taking the time.

  4. Great advise. Caught another this morning, this time in the snap trap baited with a mixture of cotton wool and peanut butter (they cleaned the trap of bait last week without setting it off). I remove the food container and empty the water at night and I have seen a great decrease in activity such as new burrow holes etc. Will contact local council and see what they say.

  5. Hi, we are looking at getting a couple of chickens, I am worried about the vermin that come with that. I will remove the food and water at night, I also have 2 cats which will hopefully keep the rats at bay, what do you think?


    • Chickens don’t cause rats or mice… their food and water does. If you take sensible precautions, you shouldn’t have any problems…

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