The second in our series on backyard chicken predators will focus on rats. While the barnyard rat, Templeton, in Charlotte’s Web(a book written and based in Maine by the way)is a friend, albeit somewhat begrudging, to Wilbur and the other animals in the fictional farm, the truth is a far cry from that placid arrangement. Rats are a nuisance, to say the least, and in the worst circumstances a great danger to chicks, eggs, even to hens themselves. The danger these rodents pose comes not only from direct attack and carnage but also from often disease ridden droppings that can remain a threat long after the actual rats have gone.
So, aside from actually spotting the creatures themselves, how do you identify the presence of rats? Well, their little feet will hardly leave any distinguishable tracks in the midst of coop bedding, etc. If eggs are missing, or chicks or your hens appear to have been attacked but not necessarily killed(they can fight off rats fairly effectively)you might have rats. But, the best way to definitely identify the Rattus rattus(scientist who came up with that name must have been a real genius)is by its droppings. Yep, poop. We talk about pee all the time in this blog, why not poop? I know my eight year old grandson would heartily approve. Anyway, the droppings of a rat can pretty easily be distinguished from that of its smaller cousin the mouse. They are much larger and apparently, the rat has more of a sense of hygiene than the mouse. So, rather than finding the droppings scattered everywhere, you will more likely find them in groups.
Once you have identified the threat, it is time to take action. Rats love food. So, it is important to always keep food sources contained and free from outside access. Self contained feeders and firmly closed food storage containers are options for this. Once you have shored up your food security, then you must work to keep the rats away from the coop completely. The traditional use of rat poisons can be dangerous to your flock, so this is where a natural, non-pesticidal repellent can be very useful. Enter coyote urine. What? Coyote Urine? How? It might not be the first thing you think of but, a coyote is one of several natural rat predators. Based on our experience and understanding of the predator-prey concept, rats never have to have been within 100 miles of a coyote to possess an instinctual fear of the wily predator. Rats fear coyotes, they sense the coyote is present because of the urine, and they leave your chickens, chicks and eggs alone – it is as simple as that.
Until I find more words. . .The PeeMan