10 January 2009

What if Nell has Rats?

Our friend Nell has a problem. Her chickens are old enough to be laying–and they do that butt shuffle thing when I go to pet them, which ours started to do when they began to lay. My feeling is that these girls have got to be making eggs. Unfortunately, every morning Nell goes out to gather some breakfast the nesting boxes are empty. After Meg and I did some investigating this is what we know is not happening:

1. The chickens are not eating their own eggs. There are no broken shells or yolk on their faces.
2. The chickens are not hiding the eggs. Trust me, we looked.
3. There is no mess.
4. The chickens are unharmed.

This is what is happening:

1. The inside of their pen has a bunch of holes in the ground that are about three inches in diameter. The holes are deep and some look like they lead under the coop and others look like they go under the fence.
2. Nell is getting pissed.

Meg and I figure that it has to be rats. Unfortunately this isn't Templeton we're dealing with, or I would maybe suggest to Nell that she try to reason with him. Neither Meg nor I have ever had to deal with rats so we are pretty short on answers for what to do. All we do know is that something should be done, but the safety of the chickens is a glaring concern. We thought of traps, but I know it wouldn't take long before Nell had a bunch of chickens with broken necks, and I'm worried about poison as well, because for some reason I envision the result would be nothing short of a Greek tragedy.

By gosh and golly what should she do?


Mrs Flam said...

I know its usually a squirell tip but massive mounts of chili pepper , cayanne , paprikka ect keep away squirrels and rabbits in the garden. It affects most Mammals because it burns their eye's while apprently it has no effects against birds. You might want to try that , also if my gram would use smoke bombs. Light it and roll in in the hole. Just a suggestion.

Kate@LivingTheFrugalLife said...

I would suggest you first verify that the girls are laying. You can check their vents to determine that. A layer's vent will be larger, slightly moist looking, and slightly open, while a non-layer's vent will be smaller, drier, and closed. If memory serves, there are pictures illustrating this in Rossier's Living With Chickens.

I suppose getting up early and waiting around for that distinctive labor squawk (if her breed does that), might be a good idea too.

As for dealing with rats if she's got them, sorry, I don't have any advice.

Gaile said...

Can she somehow build a floor for the henhouse, sealing the rodents out? It would have to be kept clean, obviously, but if her girls are spending most of their days outside, seems like a possible solution.

jimmycrackedcorn said...

How far away are compost piles and garbage cans?

Anonymous said...

okay, we called Aba's dad (ex-chief of vector control for San Diego)and he said it sounds like weasels. That rats would have a very hard time taking an egg away because of the placement of their incisors, they would break them. Also if the chickens are unharmed then it is most likely not a raccoon or a skunk.

The only way to get rid of a weasel is shoot it or trap it. Glue a few eggs into the bait section of a have-a-heart trap and break one on top, then wait and see who the guest is. Make sure you get a trap large enough for a skunk ( just in case) board up all holes except one and set the trap at the remaining hole.

If you just board up all the holes and ignore the trapping or the irraticating of the pest they will surely just make a new entry somewhere else which will only make things more difficult

Lauren said...

mommymommy sounds like the answer...

put down some smaller screening across the entire floor area if you don't want to build an actual floor in there.

if it IS rats... you can get special boxes to go around those spring-loaded traps so that your girls wouldn't get mixed up in them (necks, feet, etc), but the rats can still enter and get caught. the trouble with those is that often it gets their mid-section or just hind end, and you have a live, screaming rat in pain :*(.

if you can't handle it on your own, call around to local pest control co's to see who offers what services (especially "organic" or "non-chemical" based).
lots of dairys and commercial farms have control measures, you might call them for advice, too...

Voide said...

As Lauren said, I would go with some hardware cloth. Its not really cloth, its more like light metal fencing with the holes no bigger than a few centimeters. No rodents can get through that. Just weld it on to the bottom of your chicken pen, or even just lie it on the ground and attach it with some zip ties so the rats dont manage to somehow shove their way in between the gap of the floor and walls.

Rick said...

Small animals that can take eggs without breaking them? I would have to strongly consider the possibility of snakes. But no mater what it is you need to close up those holes.

Good luck

Meg said...

Might want to consider plugging the holes up with steel wool. My parents have an old farm house with a dirt floor basement and stacked stone foundation (the foundation has no grout in between the stones). When they bought the house, the home inspector told them to plug up any of the larger holes in foundation with steel wool. It keeps the rodents out because it feels like chewing on tin foil.

Also what about burying some chicken wire into the ground like you would do to keep rabbits from digging under the fence into the veggie garden?

Nell said...

This is Nell, here. Today was an auspicious day. Doug, my husband brought in two eggs, and one of them was blue-green. We've been getting three eggs every 2 days for about a week now. Our arancona (SP?) was daily flying out of the fenced pen, so I assumed she was laying somewhere else. I think all the chickens are laying- though Big Angie might be slacking off.
About 3 weeks ago, after indeed concluding that we had rats, we decided to put a mixture of plaster and cornmeal down the rat holes. (I know, pretty gruesome). We plugged up the holes with large rocks so that the chickens couldn't stick their heads in. The next morning there were a few new holes. I decided to check the nests right before the chickens roost so that I was sure there wouldn't be eggs in the nest overnight. A few days later we began to get eggs- just one, then two now and again, and now we can count on a regular egg harvest. I can't say for sure we had/have rats or that we killed them (if we did, the bodies are frozen and don't yet smell).
Last week we lost another chicken- a New Hampshire Red who was able to get out of the penned yard.
Thanks for all of your comments. I'm learning alot about chickens.

Kelly said...

Thanks for your comments everyone. You are the wind beneath our wings.