HomesteadSavvy.com is reader-supported. When you buy through links on our site we may earn a commission.
If there is one thing I have learned from my 20+ years as a chicken keeper it is that rodents are just a part of keeping chickens.
In fact, it almost does not matter what livestock you keep, rats, mice, and other rodents will be a constant problem.
Having rodents does not mean your homestead is dirty, or you keep your birds in unsanitary conditions, it is just part of the hobby.
In this article, I share some of the ways we can reduce the number of rodents that live in and around our chicken coops, and, based on my own personal experiences, I suggest 10 different practices you can implement to make sure your chickens are not adversely affected by rats or mice.
It is a sad fact of life, that no matter where you live, rodents are all around us. It does not matter if you are a city dweller, you live in a small town or your homestead is miles from civilization, the chances are, rats, mice, and other rodents are living close by.
Keeping chickens on your homestead, or for that matter, ducks, geese, or quails, will mean you inadvertently provide rodents with everything they need.
Rats and mice are fairly easy to please. Providing they have shelter, food, and water, they will thrive, and they can multiply fast when conditions are to their liking.
Before you know it, a pair of rats can become 1,250 rats in just 12 months (according to a recent study).
In fact, the biggest problem with rats is not the rate at which they can reproduce, but actually killing off the colony completely so the numbers don’t spiral.
When are Rats and Mice most likely to appear?
Rats and mice can appear at any time of year, but there are some points in the calendar they are more likely to show up.
If you are a town or city dweller, then you are likely surrounded by rats, pretty much all of the time. City rats look for easy meals wherever they can find them, and there is usually not a shortage of trash for them to rummage through. The population of city rats worldwide has increased beyond belief in recent years, and they say these days you are rarely ever more than 6′ (1.83m) from a rat.
If you keep chickens in your town or city backyard, there is a good chance rats will be nearby looking for shelter and an easy meal.
If you live in the country, rats tend to be more of a winter problem. During the spring and summer months, there are usually ample seeds, berries, and nuts available for the rats and mice.
Once winter begins to set in, and the harvest has been collected from the fields, rats and mice tend to look for a new food source, and they will quickly discover your chicken run.
Are Rats and Mice a Problem for chickens?
You may find yourself wondering what all the fuss is about. Are rats and mice really a problem for chickens?
The answer to that question is yes, rats are a genuine problem for chickens, although mice are less so. Rats not only spread diseases that can affect humans, but they also eat chicken food, and they will happily take a chicken egg or a small chick.
I have witnessed small chicks being dragged into underground burrows by rats, and it is not pleasant.
I would highly recommend any homesteader takes whatever actions they can to reduce the chances of rats, mice, or any other rodents for that matter, setting up a home near their chicken enclosure.
10 Ways To Protect Your Chickens From Rats, Mice, And Other Rodents!
Based on many years of experience, I have written a list of 10 ways you can protect your chickens from rats, mice, and other rodents.
You probably won’t need to put all 10 of these ideas into practice, but by implementing a few of them you seriously reduce the chances a rodent infestation takes hold on your homestead.
1. Remove feeders at night
Rats are not actually attracted to your chickens, but rather to their food.
Rats need three things to set up a home, shelter, food, and water. Typically, when a colony of rats lives around your chicken coop, they will take and store vast quantities of the chicken food.
By removing the feeder each night when you lock the chicken coop, you remove that food source, or at least you make it less accessible to the rats.
There will always be an element of food spilled on the floor of the chicken’s enclosure, but even that can be dealt with by removing the feeder two hours before the chickens go to bed, and not replacing it for the first hour the chickens are out in the morning.
Hungry hens will quickly find and eat any bits of leftover food on the floor of their run.
2. Keep feed in rodent-proof containers or metal bins
Chicken feed needs to be stored somewhere, ideally close to where the chickens are living. The best way is to store the food in a metal, rodent-proof trash can.
Many backyard chicken keepers end up leaving the food in the paper sack it comes in from the pet store or tipping the bag into a plastic tote.
Rats have incredibly strong teeth and they will quickly chew through even the most rigid of plastic containers.
In my experience, the only way to store chicken food so the rats can not access it is in a metal storage box or trash can. Ideally, the lid should also fasten down, because rats will lift all but the most secure of lids.
3. Inspect your coop regularly for access holes
Rats, mice, and many other small predators can access a coop using the smallest of holes. It is really important that we inspect our coops, both inside and out, on a regular basis.
Coops can develop holes because the rodents have actively chewed their way in, or because the coop has begun to rot, or warped slightly over time.
A small rat can fit through a hole about the same size as a quarter, and a mouse can get through a gap even smaller than that!
This means anywhere on your coop that seams are coming apart or doors don’t fit properly are potential entry points for rodents.
If you find holes or cracks that a rat or mouse might be able to fit through, you should patch the hole immediately, ideally with some thick timber, but hardware cloth can be used if it is a better solution.
4. Cover ventilation holes with hardware cloth
As discussed above, rodents can enter a coop using the smallest of holes, and ventilation holes often provide the perfect entry points for rats and mice.
Chicken coops are often made to look good, with the aesthetic appeal of the coop being considered more important than then functionality.
In the past, I have purchased coops that had huge vents cut into the top of the coop, often just sitting above the nestbox, which provided a platform for the rodents to use to enter the coop.
In my experience, the best thing you can do to improve the rodent-proof nature of your chicken coop is to cover all the air vents in a hardware cloth like this 1/4″ hardware cloth I purchased recently from Amazon.
5. Place coop on a solid foundation
Another fairly simple step we can take to keep rodents away from our chicken coop is to place the coop on a solid, ideally concrete, foundation.
Many people think the solid foundation is to prevent the rats and mice from burrowing into the bottom of the coop, but in fact, the real reason is, if you place the coop directly on the dirt, there is a good chance a family of rats will dig themselves a burrow under the coop, where they will live quite happily.
If you have ever placed a chicken coop or even a small timber outbuilding directly on the dirt, you may have noticed a small hole or series of holes appearing around the perimeter of the coop.
This is where rats have burrowed under the coop and they are living, quite happy with everything they need on tap.
If instead, you pour a concrete foundation, maybe that is 6″ (15cm) deep, and place the coop directly onto that, it is far less likely rats or mice will burrow underneath the concrete to set up home.
6. Remove eggs frequently
Rats are not just after your chicken food, they will also happily take your chicken’s eggs.
If you have ever opened a nestbox to find a rat sitting there eating the yolk of an egg it has just biten into, you will know I am right.
Rats are not only a problem because they eat the eggs, but they also venture into the nestbox, even when the hen is sitting in there. Hens hate rats, and they will soon jump out of the nestbox if a rat comes in.
This can lead to eggs being laid in the main part of the coop, or even in the run.
By removing the chicken’s eggs at least a couple of times a day, you cut down on the opportunities for the rats to discover the eggs. It is really important to remove any eggs before nightfall, as rats are far more prevalent at night.
7. Close coop door tightly at night
One way to stop rats from getting into your chicken coop is to ensure the coop door is firmly closed at night when you close the chickens up.
As mentioned above, rats are far more likely to visit your chicken coop after nightfall, and they will be more than happy to enter the coop through an open door.
On my own coops, I always ensure there is at least one, tight-fitting bolt so the door can not fall open during the night.
A tight-fitting door is also essential when it comes to making sure foxes don’t take one of your chickens.
8. Raise coop on legs
In suggestion number 5, I mentioned placing your coop on a solid, concrete foundation to prevent rats and mice from tunneling under your coop and making their home directly below the chicken coop.
The opposite to that suggestion, which works equally well, is to raise the chicken coop up on legs or stilts.
Providing your coop is raised at least 6″ (15cm) up off the ground, there is little chance a family of rats will make their home beneath it.
Raising a coop up on legs also helps create good airflow around the coop, reducing the chances the bottom of the coop will rot when it gets wet.
9. Use an automatic feeder
If you have never heard of an automatic chicken feeder, you are clearly missing out!
An automatic chicken feeder is essentially a metal box that keeps the food locked away from predators. However, when the chicken steps onto the plate in front of the feeder, the chicken’s weight causes the doors to the feeder to open, allowing the chicken to feed.
When the chicken walks away, the trapdoor closes again, keeping the food both dry and out of the reach of rats and mice.
The video below goes into some detail about the Grandpas Automatic Chicken Feeder.
10. Trim grass and shrubs growing around the enclosure
The final tip on my list of 10 ways to keep rats and mice away from your chickens is to keep long grass, weeds, and shrubs growing around the perimeter of your chicken’s enclosure to a minimum. Rats hate to be out in the open.
They like to travel under cover and they choose to move from one patch of overgrown grass or shrubbery to another. If you actively strim down overgrown areas, you reduce that cover, making it less likely that rats and mice will want to travel to your chicken run.
Areas which are overgrown also tend to be disturbed less by us humans. We walk around patches of long grass and weeds, and that makes it an ideal place for rats to build their homes.
By removing the overgrown areas, we reduce the number of places the rats choose to call home.
What To Do If You Already Have Rats or Mice?
This list above is designed to help stop rats from coming to your chicken coop in the first place. If you already have rats, many of the steps above should still be implemented, but you will be wondering how best to get rid of the rats you already have.
First off, do not put down any grain-based rat poison.
Many of the commercially available rat and mouse poisons are essentially pieces of grain covered in a blue powder. The powder poisons the rats and kills them within a couple of days.
All very well, except your chickens are just as likely to eat the grain as the rats are. Even if you place the rat poison outside the coop, the rats will transport it from the bait point to their nest, which could mean they travel through your chicken run with a mouthful of poison grain. Any pieces they drop may well be eaten by your chickens.
The other issue with poison is the rat takes a few days to die, and if the rats dies somewhere in reach of your chickens, there is a good chance the chickens will eat the dead rat or mouse. This in turn will lead to the chickens consuming the poison via the dead rodent.
Snap traps are one of the most effective ways to catch both rats and mice, with the idea behind a snap trap being it is baited with a small piece of food. When the mouse or rat takes the food, they trigger the snap mechanism, which dispatches the rodent instantly.
Snap traps are quick, however, they need to be emptied and reset each time they kill a rodent, which is not a very pleasant job.
As an alternative, you could make a DIY water bucket rat trap. Here you essentially sink a 5-gallon bucket into the ground, and then using either a roller or a flap, you entice the rodent to food, and when they reach it, they fall in the bucket and drown.
The video below shows how to make a DIY bucket rat trap.
If killing the rodents does not appeal to you, there are countless humane traps on the market that allow you to capture the offending rodent, but not actually kill it. Instead, you can take the rodent that is caught in the trap and release it as far from your property as possible.
Even speaking as an animal lover, a humane trap does not work for me, as I know, that no matter how far from my property I take the rodent I have caught, he will be back!
Adopt a cat
The way I managed to finally solve my own rodent problem was to employ the services of a barn cat. In fact, we have three of them.
Barn cats typically are agile hunters, and they will relish the challenge of catching both mice and rats.
One of my cats will actually eat what ever she kills (another reason not to use poisions), whereas the other two insist on leaving the dead rodents on the doorstep as gifts for my wife and I.
Cats are not an instant solution to rodents, and if you have a heavy infestation, they will not be able to solve the issue alone. Rather cats are part of the solution. One piece of the jigsaw as it were.
It is a sad fact of life that we are constantly surrounded by rodents. Rats, mice, and other furry critters are experts at taking advantage of scenarios that we create.
Keeping half a dozen chickens in your backyard provides everything a family of rats needs, including shelter, food, and water.
In my experience, nothing good can come from having rats and mice living near a chicken coop, so it is best to follow as many of the points listed above in an attempt to protect your flock from rodents.
It is not a battle that will be won easily, but the sooner you start, the greater the chance you will win.
If you found this article interesting, why not check out another one I wrote recently titled ‘Are my Chickens Bored?’.
- How quickly can rats multiply in your facility? Rentokil
- Do Rats Have Bones? How Can They Fit In Such Small Holes? wildlife-removal.com