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Stop Rats and Mice Invading Your Chicken Coop - Your Ultimate Guide

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As the cooler months of autumn start to roll in, you may start noticing some unwanted visitors sniffing around your chicken coop - rats and mice on the prowl for an easy meal. These persistent pests can cause all sorts of issues if left unchecked, from contaminating your chickens' food and water supply to spreading diseases. Never fear - we've got your back with this comprehensive guide on how to rodent-proof your backyard chicken coop and keep your feathered friends safe and sound.


The Perils of Rodent Infestations

While you may shrug off a rat or mouse sighting as a mere nuisance, the reality is that these dirty critters pose serious threats to your chickens' health and well-being. Rats and mice are notorious for carrying a whole host of nasty diseases and pathogens, leaving behind a trail of droppings and urine that can make your flock sick.

These living, toxic sponges are also excellent hosts for parasites like fleas, intestinal worms and mites which can easily spread to your chickens. And if that's not enough to make your skin crawl, rodents have a knack for chewing on plastic drinkers and feeders, chicken coops and plastic feed storage bins. We once purchased a heavy-duty, completely “rodent-proof” feed storage bin that had half its lid chewed away by a hungry rat within 6-weeks.

As if you needed another reason to take action, rodents have an insatiable appetite and can devour up to 10% of their body weight each day – that's a hefty chunk of your beloved chook's premium layer feed they're munching on for supper! So, it's clear that these furry freeloaders need to be shown the door. But how can you spot the telltale signs of a rodent infestation before it spirals out of control?


The Dangers Rats and Mice Pose to Chickens

Beyond just eating your chickens' feed, rodents pose some very real health risks if they gain access to your coop. Some of the key diseases that rats and mice can spread include: 

  • Salmonella - This bacterial infection causes diarrhoea, fever and abdominal cramps in chickens and can be fatal in severe cases. Salmonella can also spread to humans through contact with infected rodents or droppings.
  • Pasteurellosis - An infectious respiratory disease caused by the Pasteurella bacteria that rats and mice carry. Extremely contagious and often deadly in backyard chicken flocks.
  • Lymphoid Leukosis - A viral cancer of chickens that rodents can mechanically transmit. It is Incurable and normally fatal once contracted.
  • Meningitis - Rats commonly carry the bacteria that causes this inflammation of the brain and spinal cord membranes. Very dangerous if transmitted to chickens.


So, safeguarding your coop from these disease vectors is absolutely critical for preserving your flock's health and well-being in the long run. Rodents also put your birds at risk of external parasites like: 

  • Mites - Mites that live on rodents, poultry red mites and other types can quickly infest a coop brought in by rodents, causing skin irritation, secondary infections, anemia (in a bad infestation), and general distress in chickens.
  • Fleas - Rats and mice can introduce flea infestations that make chickens extremely uncomfortable and bring in diseases such as Fowl Pox, Mycoplasmosis and Pasteurellosis.  
  • Lice - These annoying pests feed on the dead skin cells and feather dander of backyard chickens and can be brought in by rodents. Lice cause feather damage, skin irritation and spread rapidly through a flock.


With so many diseases, parasites and other risks, it's absolutely crucial to be proactive about deterring rats and mice from entering your chicken coop in the first place. The consequences of an unchecked infestation can be devastating for both the chickens and us, their carers.


The Psychological Toll of Rodents

Beyond just the physical health risks, having a rodent problem can also take a mental toll on keepers of backyard chickens. The frequent gnawing sounds, the discovery of a rat family in the coop, the half-eaten mouse being carried around by a flock member, can all be a bit unnerving and stressful for some.

Many chicken owners develop feelings of anxiety, disgust and even fear when facing a persistent rodent issue in their coop. The thought of these disease-ridden pests contaminating your chickens' environment and putting your beloved flock at risk can be troubling. Getting the situation back under control as quickly as possible is important for your peace of mind and sanity.


Rodent Reproduction 101

Understanding just how quickly rodents can reproduce also helps illustrate why it's so critical to take swift action at the first signs of an infestation. These creatures are very much, reproduction machines!

Mice are an extreme example as a single mature female mouse can give birth to over 30 offspring per year under ideal conditions. With a gestational period of only 19-21 days and able to get pregnant again just hours after giving birth, mice multiply at an alarming rate.

Rats have slightly less frequent breeding cycles but are still extremely productive. A female rat can have up to 12 pups per litter with 2-4 litters annually. So in a single year, one rat could potentially produce over 48 offspring!

What's more, rats and mice reach reproductive maturity very quickly - mice at just 6-10 weeks old, and rats around 3 months. This means multiple generations can be breeding simultaneously from a single original pair.

With stats like these, it's easy to see how a couple outdoor rats or mice sneaking into your coop can rapidly explode into a full-scale infestation in just a matter of months if not controlled quickly. Cutting off the rodent reproductive cycle is key.


Eliminating Rodent Attractants

Stopping rodents from being attracted into your chicken coop is your top priority! I often mention to customers that the reason why chickens have become synonymous with rodents is because of scraps. Historically, scraps have been dumped into the chicken run and left for the chickens to eat. Unfortunately, chickens don’t eat all of the scraps and are very efficient in spreading them all around the coop and run.

This creates a large amount of organic material to build-up over time and get into gaps, nooks and crannies. This material becomes a rodent “magnet” that they feast on at night while the chickens are roosting. If left unchecked, increasing numbers of rodents cause a lot of stress to chickens from their nocturnal feeding activities.

This problem is compounded with traditional, uncovered chicken runs exposed to the weather so that scraps, chicken feed and chook droppings, can’t break-down into non-smelling compost. By covering the run area of a chicken coop so that it has no exposure to rain, we can then place a 100mm layer of wood shavings that provides the perfect substrate for droppings etc to rapidly compost.

Always feed scraps on a scrap tray in the afternoon and well away from the chicken coop and run. Too many scraps given in the morning can reduce the chooks appetite for their tailored chicken feed necessary for best health and laying. Keeping scraps away from the coop means that you have no chance of organic material getting into the coop and run to attract rodents. Any leftover scraps should go back onto the scrap tray then into the compost bin.

The other, key attractant for rodents is of course, their chicken feed. If your chicken coop and run isn’t totally sealed to rodents, a good step-on or tread-on feeder is a useful way to keep them out and avoid rodent infestations.

The feeding method used for chickens is also critical to prevent messy and wasteful eating behaviours. We recommend letting the feed run out completely before replenishing, which stops chickens from cherry-picking their favourite feed components. This also trains chickens to eat all of the components in their feed including the powder or “fines” which contain the vital micronutrients (vitamins, trace elements and minerals), needed for long-term health and egg laying.


Rodent-Proofing Your Chicken Run

While exclusion and trapping rodents currently visiting or living inside the coop itself is important, you'll also want to rodent-proof your entire chicken run and surrounding areas to create a protective perimeter.

Start by sealing any gaps or holes in the run fencing with narrow-gauge mesh no larger than 10mm. Also, either bury this mesh vertically around the perimeter to a depth of 200mm to prevent rodent tunnelling and burrowing. You can also peg-down a continuous, 200 to 400mm horizontal strip of this mesh out from the perimeter to reduce rodent activity. My favourite is to use a good quality mesh on the entire floor area of the coop and run so that it doesn’t matter where a rodent digs they will never be able to surface inside the coop or run.

Remove any debris, weeds, woodpiles or clutter from around the run that could create hiding spots or pathways for rodents to travel. A clean, vegetation-free perimeter makes it harder for them to go unnoticed or to approach with confidence.

Finally, seal any gaps or crevices in the run fencing, walls or structures that may provide entry points. Commonly exploited areas are the junctions between the coop’s roof sheets and walls. Mice can squeeze through amazingly tiny spaces so you’ll need to pay attention to the small details!

By creating this protective double-layer of exclusion with the sealed coop and reinforced run area, you'll make it extremely difficult for any new rodents to gain access once you've trapped and removed any existing infiltrators.


Trapping Tips and Techniques

When it comes to actually trapping and removing rats and mice, being strategic is key. Here are some professional tips for optimising your trapping success: 

  • Use as many traps as possible. Rats and mice have established trails and territories so distributing a high number of traps maximises interception.
  • Focus on corners, edges, and along walls where rodents travel and pay particular attention to any chicken coop entry points. Rodents don’t like to be exposed so tend to avoid open areas.
    • Secure traps firmly so they can't be dragged away if triggered. Zip/cable ties work well.
      • Bait traps with enticing fresh foods like peanut butter, bacon or dried fruit rather than just plain feed.
      • Avoid using rodenticides or poisons if at all possible as these put your chickens, owls, kookaburras and other wildlife at risk if they consume the poisoned rodent.
      • If suitable, consider humane traps that catch rodents alive so you can release them in a remote bush area well away from your property.
      • Pre-feed traps by tying the bait on for a week or so before setting them to get rodents accustomed to the trap without a near miss frightening them-off too soon. 
      • Focus your efforts in late evening/overnight when rodents are most active.
      • Be persistent! It can take days or weeks of consistent trapping to get a bad infestation under control. The key to keeping backyard chickens is creating an environment that is difficult and undesirable for rodents.


      Protecting your backyard chicken coop from rodent infestations is crucial for maintaining the health, well-being and happiness of your feathered friends along with you, their owner. By understanding the dangers posed by rats and mice, such as disease transmission, external parasites and psychological stress, you can take proactive steps to create a secure, rodent-proof environment.

      The key strategies include eliminating rodent attractants like scraps and spilled feed, using tread-on feeders and using the right method in training your chickens to eat all components of their feed. Additionally, sealing gaps and holes in the coop and run, burying mesh around the perimeter and keeping the surrounding area clean and clutter-free will create a strong defensive barrier against these persistent pests.

      When dealing with an active infestation, employing effective trapping techniques such as using multiple traps, focusing on high-traffic areas and baiting with enticing fresh foods, can help you regain control of the situation. Remember, consistency and persistence are essential in the battle against rodents.

      By implementing these rodent-proofing measures, staying vigilant and creating an environment that is difficult and undesirable for rats and mice, you can ensure that your backyard chicken-keeping experience remains enjoyable, rewarding and free from the stress and worries caused by these unwelcome visitors.

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