Monday, 9 April 2007

Know Your Enemy : Rats

Here is a little introduction to Rats (and a few ideas of how to get rid of them).

Rats are primarily nocturnal animals, so if you are regularly seeing them in the day, it probably means that you have a lot of them. They are not interested in your chickens as such, but they are interested in the food that your chickens are eating. Having said that, they will attack (and kill) chicks, and they will take your eggs if they get a chance to. A rat might attack a chicken, but an angry chicken can be a mighty foe, and it is not unknown for chickens to kill (and eat) rats.

What attracts rats: Food!

* Make sure you only feed your chickens what they need, to avoid attracting vermin.
* Keep your chicken area clean.
* Collect any eggs as often as possible (as rats will try to steal them).
* If you have a compost bin, don't put any cooked food in it.

How they are likely to get in if they are attracted:

Rats have razor sharp teeth and have been known to nibble through wire, but they are most likely to try and burrow in, or nibble away at the chicken house itself (if they can get to it).

One solution is to use weld mesh instead of chicken wire, as weld mesh is far stronger and cannot be pulled out of shape or bitten through as easily as chicken wire can be. For added security you could continue the wire fencing down another 12 inches (or more) buried into the ground and then turn it outward 6 inches to help prevent burrowing underneath.

Some people also recommend making sure there's at least a 4" gap between the floor of the shed and the ground as apparently rats can't stand upright and chew.

Getting rid of rats if you have them:

Some cats and dogs will catch rats for you.
Poison and Traps (available at diy store etc.) - Poison is not a good idea around the chickens if they are likely to find the dead rat or the poison (as they will eat them).

Two old-fashioned methods you might like to try:

1. Mix equal parts of corn meal and plaster of paris and place it in the rat holes. The plaster of paris hardens in the stomach of the rat and is sure death.

2. Old-Fashioned Rat Trap

* Dig a hole and bury a large fruit jug or jar.
* The top part of the jar should be left uncovered, and a hole should be broken in it just above the ground.
*Place some shelled corn in the bottom, put a board on top, and weigh it down.

Check it every few days

(an illustration of the above trap can be found here

Rat Facts:

A female can produce up to twelve litters of twenty rats a year.
It is estimated that one-fifth of the world's total food output is eaten, spoiled or destroyed by rats. Around 26% of all electrical cable breaks are caused by rats, and they are thought to be responsible for around 25% of all unexplained fires.


Audrey said...

Hi, thanks for all the tips and info on chickens, ive only had my girls a couple of weeks, they are freerange in my back garden. look forward to your e-mails, thanks again, regards Audrey

Heather said...

Hi, Gina

You can also get rid of rats with coca cola. Apparently they can't burp and it kills them. One problem though, if they get into walls or other inaccessible places and die they stink terribly.

Interesting that they can't stand up to chew. I've heard of a rat chewing through a solid sheet metal barrier. Didn't see it myself, but I heard about it from a woman who saw it.

Laura Bortolin said...

Glad to read that chickens sometimes fight back!

Andrea Shearn said...

Thanks for the info. I just moved my girls outside as the weather has gotten warmer. I still have the heat lamp in their shed. Unfortunately, their shed does not have a bottom. I am going to try burying the wire 12 inches underground. Foxes, now rats, another worry. I don't think I will sleep well anymore!

Mike said...

Thank you for that info. I found it real useful.

Adam said...

Many thanks it was interesting,

Jill said...

rats!!! Sorry but I'll have to explode the myth about these not standing up and chewing. My small house is at least 7" off ground (2 blocks on the flat at each corner) and evidence of chewing the floorboards is there, I have since weld-meshed the floor inside with a plywood removeable cover = no entry.

I'll try the plaster-of-paris trick though - cheers,


Anonymous said...

Hi, I have been keeping chickens in my large suburban yard for about 5 years. We have had a minimum of tragedy and so when I found Jane dead in the coop on Monday I was really shocked! I called my husband out to look at the situation. He came out and picked her up. We looked her over and didn't see any sign of struggle with a predator. In the coop though, two eggs were outside of the nest and one had been completely consumed through a gash in the shell and the other one was cracked, as if someone had tried to break it, but the membrane had not been pierced. This made me wonder whether something had gotten in the coop and tried to get the eggs, prompting Jane to defend them and whatever it was killed her!!?? Last summer my daughter’s pet rat killed her cockatiel and there was no blood either, and not much feather disruption. Yet, I can't imagine what would be large enough to kill Jane (who is a scrappy medium sized Rhode Island Red) that could get in through our fencing ... and wouldn’t make a bloody mess of her. Could a rat actually choke/kill a chicken that goes after it while it’s raiding the nesting box? The other explanation my husband proposed was that Jane got sick and went berserk and pecked the eggs herself ... hens sometimes do peck at eggs, though ours have never done it. The illness idea is just as scary as the predator idea (maybe more) because then there's a chance that it could spread through the flock, including our daughter’s beloved Charlie (a little frizzle house rooster), who goes outside to hang with the hens on nice days. Jane had been showing no obvious signs of disease. Is there any disease that can come on so fast and make them do something like egg pecking? The last two days everyone has been fine, but I don’t think we're out of the woods yet. Any ideas?

Gina said...


I'm really sorry to hear that.
The combination of a dead but apparently untouched hen, an empty egg shell, and a cracked egg doesn't sound like a predator that I can think of. Perhaps others reading this will have a better idea(?) Predators such as rats and snakes will normally take the whole egg and are likely to come off worst if they take on a full-size hen. Predators that would kill a hen normally leave some kind of signs, such as the innards or a head missing - or total carnage(!) If something had gotten into the coop, then your rooster would almost certainly have taken it on / raised the alarm (if so maybe he has signs of a struggle).

Like humans, hens can die for no obvious reason. Common causes (apart from old age) are stress, shock, straining too hard to lay an egg / 'egg bound', fatty liver (most commonly seen in obese hens who eat a lot of corn etc.), aortic rupture, acute lack of water, overheating. If she had been having trouble laying an egg then she may have tried to eat the egg yolk to help get things moving. Or perhaps the eggs were knocked out of the nest accidentally (a broken egg will often be consumed by a hen - this can sometimes give them a taste for eggs). I have never heard of an illness that would cause a hen to go into an egg-pecking frenzy, but maybe it is possible. An autopsy by a vet would probably be the only sure way of knowing what was the cause of death, but may not be worthwhile unless you have a large flock and/or others are dying.

Best Wishes

Anonymous said...

Thanks for your response Gina.
I just saw this Q and A on the “Keeping Chickens” site and thought that maybe she died during a violent frenzy protecting the eggs from a rat. On the other hand, your thought about straining to lay an egg, or being egg bound is possible. She laid GIGANTIC eggs, often with 2 yolks. I had noticed that we'd been getting fewer of her eggs lately ... perhaps hadn't had one for about 4 days. Maybe the pecking was trying to "get things moving." By the way, our rooster lives in the house. He is a pet. He's a banty frizzle with curly feathers that don't provide much insulation. He only goes out to visit the girls for a few hours at a time on sunny days. We tried roosters outside but got complaints for a certain crabby neighbor. Their feed has been constant for years ... layer pellets with occasional scratch as a treat.

Another person I heard from through a local chicken group (Seattle) said that she once had an apparently perfectly healthy cockatiel drop dead during a frenzy of fear when it escaped in a room and she was trying to catch it. It didn't hit anything, just dropped out of the air ... aortic rupture?

Here's the Q and A I found on the site ....

QUESTION What could cause apparently healthy birds to die suddenly without any ascertainable cause?
ANSWER - It is usually apoplexy. It is the result of a rupture of one of the blood vessels of the brain, and may be caused by over-feeding, or too stimulating food, or injuries. It may also result from violent exertion or straining in laying eggs. Hens are often found dead in the nest or under the perches from this cause. There is no remedy, as the bird dies before the trouble is discovered.

Gina said...


Rats don't normally eat the eggs in situe, but you could be right and she was trying to fend off a rat. It is hard to say with chickens anything for sure, but some kind of stroke whether it be because of straining or because of fear / excitement is more likely than an illness. Let's hope so anyway! :-)

Best Wishes

Anonymous said...

Please Help!! I keep 2 hens and 2 cockerels ( the cockerels get on) and I do have rats about a fair amount. The last two nights I have heard one of the chickens making a blood curderling noise and when we went out couldnt see anything. Today I have noticed that both the hens are in a right mess and have huge wounds under there wings. The skin is split open and you can see the flesh, it looks very sore. Could a rat of done this. The cocks have huge 2 inch spurs could this have done it?

Gina said...

Feather loss / feather pecking in general can have many causes from boredom to a nutritional deficiency.

Roosters can cause a lot of damage to their hens - most usually to their backs, but it could be other areas aswell. One rooster is enough for 10 hens so you do currently have quite a high rooster to hen ratio at the moment.

Another thing that can cause a great deal of irritation and soreness are mites. In the day mites live on the perches and in cracks in the coop. At night (if you can take a flash light out with you), you may be able to see them crawling over the chickens if they are there. The mites themselves can cause damage but the irritation also could make the hens pick at themselves.

If it were predator related I think you may see other signs (entry, struggle, fur etc.) but I am not an expert on this sort of thing, so you could be right.

Whatever the cause, if the wounds are nasty, you may be better to see the vet for treatment to prevent infection.

Anonymous said...

My husband noticed my hen had a sore and blood on her today. We went out and noticed some of the eggs she had been laying on gone and broken on the ground. We lifted up the nest and I found a mother rat (HUGE) with several babies. there were eggs burried under the edge of the wood pen in tunnels that this rat had dug. We noticed some eggs being moved and thought that one of the hens were moving her eggs separate from the other hen. It was not. It clearly was the rat. We destroyed the nest and removed the babies, the mother got away.

Anonymous said...

Hi. I don't know where to find the answer of what happened to my chickens. One morning I found one chicken dead laying on her beck with the head in the hole under some wood we have in the yard. Like some animal was trying to pull her under the wood. Then I went to the garden and found one peace of another small chicken. Only the leg part with feders. No trace of blood or other parts of the chicken, no feders laying around. My duck which is sleeping with chinckens had blood on her neck and she does not want to sleep in the chicken house anymore. One lady told me that the rat can do this. I am searching the internet for the similar case, but can not find it. Is it possibille that a rat would tear apart the chicken with no trace and kill the big one and tried to pull her under the wood? Sceary.. What can I do to protect other chickens?

Gina Read said...

Rats can be behind missing smaller birds such as pullets, bantams and chicks etc. They also could take eggs and nibble away at toes and legs etc. The main way to prevent any predators is to have a pen fully enclosed with strong wire (including going down underground a bit to stop diggers) and to make sure there are no gaps anywhere in the coop. There needs to be ventilation though so those kinds of gaps can be covered by hardware cloth.