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Chicken keeping Part two: Rodent control

The following article was submitted by guest blogger Robert, and is titled “Chicken keeping Part two: Rodent control”.

Rodent control is a necessary evil for those living in an urban environment who choose to keep animals such as chickens.  Rats and mice will quickly move into your yard once they find that obtaining food from your chicken’s feed dish is a relatively easy chore.  Most urbanites tend to use store purchased chicken feed and supplement that with oats and scratch.  Mice and rats will take advantage of this opportunity by stealing this food from your chickens or chewing the feed bags open and consuming it.

Mice will be first on the scene setting up shop close to your chicken coop.  They will find any location in which they can easily dig an underground nest.  This will quickly develop into a community with underground tunnels stretching for tremendous distances.  Since the mice tend to remain underground during the day, your chickens will have little opportunity to hunt them.  So it will be up to you to keep the population under control.  You will never completely eliminate the population but you can keep them to a manageable level if you are diligent.

Rats will show up shortly after the mice.  Mice serve as an additional source of protein for the rats who will hunt them mercilessly.  While this will seem, at first, to be an acceptable situation, like mice, rats are prolific breeders and will soon overwhelm your yard if not controlled.  Rats have a voracious appetite and seem to never stop eating.  They will find the location of your stored feed and rapidly consume it.  When the population of rats reaches a certain level, many will become brave enough to risk daytime exposure to consume your chicken’s food straight from their feed dish.  Since chickens will not hunt rats, the rodents have little to fear.

There are several methods of controlling the rodent population and the urban chicken keeper must make the determination as to which is most appropriate for his situation.  For example, the chicken keeper who also keeps other pets such as dogs or cats will want to refrain from using poison to control the population as it may also cause sickness or death to the other animals.  Dogs, especially, will often take advantage of a free meal of rat if they find it already dead in the yard.  In the case of cats, they may choose to play with a dead mouse they find and possibly chew on it.  These are instinctual behaviors of cats and dogs and you are unlikely to be able to train those behaviors out of them.

Poison should only be considered if the population has reached levels that cannot be controlled by other methods like live traps or the more traditional and deadly spring traps.

If one chooses to use poison, it should be distributed very carefully and only in locations where the chickens or other animals cannot accidentally consume it before the rodents.  This is easily enough accomplished by locating the entrance and exit holes they use for their tunnel systems.  Place the poison pellets as deep into the holes as you can.  If you can get them deep enough into the hole to keep them out of sight of your animals, this is best.  If you cannot, consider covering the hole with some yard debris like leaves or twigs.

In four to five days you may begin to find rodent carcasses around your yard.  It is important you are diligent in removing and disposing of these carcasses immediately to prevent any other animals from accidentally ingesting them and the poison contained within.

[important]If you object to making any animal, even a mouse or rat, suffer for any reason, you probably do not want to use poison.  Poison causes a drawn out and painful death.   If one of your pets should accidentally ingest the poison or one of the rats which has consumed the poison, seek veterinary attention immediately.  If this is not possible, immediately begin a regimen of vitamin K1 and continue this regimen until you can get assistance from a qualified veterinarian.  Most mouse and rat poisons are anticoagulants which will induce internal bleeding within a few days of ingestion.  Vitamin K1 assists in blood clotting and could very well save your pet’s life. [/important]

If you are one who objects to killing any animal, there are a couple of options you have for elimination of the rodents of a non-lethal variety.  The first, and most obvious, is a live trap.  Many people can take this opportunity to make a bit of money, also.  There are people who purchase rats and mice to use as feed for their snakes or other rodent consuming pets.  This is something to consider only if you have a place to store the live animals and feed them without fear of them escaping.  Some people will use dry ice to freeze the animals, though this can get expensive if you don’t have any customers for a lengthy period of time.

A less obtrusive method of eliminating the pests is by using sound.  There are devices which can be placed into the ground that emit high frequency sound.  This sound is painful to the beasties forcing them to find another location in which to take up residency.  There are two problems with using this method, though.  The first is this method may cause your dogs to refrain from using the bathroom outside as the sound emitted from these devices will sometimes also affect dogs.  If you keep other animals, such as rabbits, as pets, this device may also have adverse effects on them. The other problem is that the rodents will most likely take up residency in your neighbors’ yards making them a bit upset with you for infesting their yards.

Finally, there is the time honored and tested, spring trap.  This device is deadly and very effective accounting for its widespread use and market longevity.  The pro to using this device is that it will kill any rat it traps very quickly, if not instantly.  There are problems with using this type of trap though.  The biggest problem is your chickens.  They are very curious animals and will want to investigate your trap almost as soon as you place it.  This requires that you not place your rat trap anywhere your birds can get at it.

Another problem is mice.  Rats are fairly intelligent animals.  Often, a rat can be found walking all around and on a trap without ever tripping it.  It is not uncommon for a rat to wait for a mouse to attempt to take the bait, springing the trap with no harm to the mouse due to its small size.  This will scare the mouse into hiding leaving the rat free to consume the bait without danger of harming itself.  For this reason, it is necessary to use a food item rats cannot refuse.  Cheese is NOT good bait nor are nuts or seeds.  While these are foods rats truly enjoy, they can resist them.  Peanut butter is the bait of choice to capture rats as they find it irresistible.  Many people will roll a peanut butter ball in seeds or oats as an additional temptation.

A piece of raw meat is another bait which rats find irresistible.  Raw meat rolled in peanut butter is likely to create a bait which the yard invading pests will consider to be an “offer they can’t refuse.”  Chicken, rabbit and turkey are meats which rats will readily consume though ground beef will work just fine.

It is likely that as long as you keep chickens, you will have to battle mouse and rat infestations.  It is a battle that will never end but if you continue to pursue the pesky little critters, you will find that keeping the population down to a manageable level is not a difficult task.

Contrary to myth, these creatures seldom carry diseases that are transferable to humans.  The fleas and mites which feed on them are the real culprits for the spread of disease.  Rats do carry rabies so caution is required if you find yourself handling a live animal.  Heavy leather gloves are recommended, though it is possible for a rat to bite through leather if it is thin enough as most mass produced gloves are these days.  Flea control methods are just as important as rodent control methods, which is a topic for a future article.

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