Rats and Chickens are Not Inevitable

Posted by Al on 12/9/2016 to News
Rats and Chickens are Not Inevitable
Rats!  I remember the day I decided to do something about the rats in my coop.  I had been testing a homemade egg incubator, hatching chicks every few days, keeping them inside till they feathered out before putting them in the coop, and at some point I realized the chicks were disappearing faster than I was hatching them.  I had one of the old style round hanging feeders that I had lowered to ground level so the chicks could eat and one afternoon I picked the feeder up.  There was a basketball size hole dug under the feeder and a basketball sized ball of rats flooded over my feet and escaped to their tunnels under the shed.

The coop had hardware cloth around it, a concrete floor under the litter, and tight fitting doors but I found out that it is impossible to fence out mice and rats.  They chewed holes in the concrete and 3/4" plywood can be gnawed through overnight.  Rat's teeth grow continually, they either gnaw on something to keep them worn down or the teeth curl into the rat's jaw and they die.  They don't mind spending hour chewing through something, they need to spend hours chewing through something.

It isn’t chickens that attract rats though, it is the feed that is available.  Some say that a water source is a draw but few locations in the U.S. are so dry that water is the main attraction.  The “experts” are going to say that you need a multi-faceted approach to eliminating the rats.

Rats are a problem; they eat the feed, kill baby chicks and eat eggs, contaminate feed and water with their feces and urine, carry lice, fleas, and mites, and can transmit around 50 different diseases including plague and salmonella.  They will tunnel everywhere, chew on wiring, chew on the bird’s toes as they roost, and generally cause stress that lowers feed conversion and egg production.

So the “experts” warn that you must remove the feed at night, modify the feeders to prevent the raking of feed onto the ground, clean up any spilled feed before nightfall, use pellets instead of crumbles to lower the feed raking, remove all eggs before nightfall, and store your feed away from the coop.  Does anyone have time for all of this?

You are supposed to wrap the entire coop in hardware cloth including burying it a foot into the ground and laying it under the litter.   Buy bobcat urine and essential oils to spray around the coop.  And poison, lots and lots of poison and traps.  And find a barnyard cat…good luck adopting a cat if you tell the shelter it will be a barnyard cat.

You could do all of that and still have rats.

What you need to do is to buy a rat proof chicken feeder.  No feed available, no rats.

Rats will begin to starve in a few days after they have consumed the feed they have stored from previous raids on your feeder.  Once you start seeing them forage for food in the daylight other predators and family pets will whittle their numbers down quickly and within a week any remaining rats will leave the area to find another food source.

But few chicken feeders, even the treadle type, are truly rat proof.  The prettiest one on the market right now is made by Olba in Norway and they are dumping thousands of them on the U.S. market through re-sellers after the European market sales evaporated due to poor reviews online.  One of the re-sellers was honest enough to post this warning in bright red text:

Once you begin reading other re-seller's online reviews you find they are warning you for good reasons.  Nearly one third of the reviews are negative or critical and many of their earliest reviews were compensated reviews where the product was given to the consumer in return for a positive review!   Some of the reviews will state that they received the item at a reduced price or for free, other reviews don't say so you are left wondering how many of the reviews are real.  Here is a link to one set of critical reviews on the product.

The Amazon reviews warn that the feeder will leak and cause the feed to mold and how hard it is to clean the rotting feed out of the narrow channels.   One review mentioned that the price had dropped over $30.00 since she had bought the feeder, a sure sign of declining sales and a re-seller wanting to move his inventory before they are stuck with it.  Another review warns that full size birds like Rhode Island Reds won’t use the feeder because the feed tray is very low and way back under the feeder.   Some reviews point out that the feeder clogs constantly and they have to push the feed down through the narrow channels.  Here is one review that summed up the clogging problem well:

“This product is not viable. The feeding trough are is SO narrow and does not allow the feed to fill it. It’s always getting jammed and clogged meaning my chickens went hungry for like 2 days without my realizing the problem. The feeder needs modification so that it fills without getting jammed up . i will be returning this nom functional product.  Feeder tray gets jammed with the crumbs and dust from the food which doesn't allow the pellets to pass into the feeding tray. Waste of $100! Top is full of food so you don't realize your chickens are hungry until you realize what's happening”.

People don't want a new chicken feeder; they want the rats gone.  Pretty green plastic sure looks and sounds good but in the real world you need a robust, proven design that won't clog, that rats can't chew through, and that is actually waterproof if intended for out door use.  We have both interior and exterior versions and while the big honking treadle looks nice and comfortable for the birds it is also the reason why rats and wild birds can just push the door open and help themselves.  Wide treadles also jam after litter builds up under the treadle from the slotted treadle or other birds have scratched litter around and under the treadle.  Making a bird stretch for their dinner with a distant treadle means they aren't going to be raking for treats but if you do find a raking hen, and they are pretty rare, we have a treadle lip extension that will fix her wagon for the cost of shipping the part to you.


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