Dealing With Rats & Mice In a Hen House

“Any suggestions on dealing with rats in the hen house?” ~ Mary Ann Westendorf

Hi Mary Anne, thanks for the question.

Here’s the thing about rodents, they don’t have any bones. The frame of a rodent is supported rather by cartilage. This allows the rodent to fit into spaces we would never assume they would be able to gain access.

Did you know that a rat can compress itself to fit through an opening only ½ inch wide? A mouse can fit through a space of only ¼ inch! Obviously traditional chicken wire will not keep a rodent out of the hen house.

If the rodents are tunneling under you have a couple of options;

You could line the bottom of the coop with hardware cloth or heavy metal screening. Be sure to cover the hardware cloth with a good layer of dirt or liter material.

You could also cover the bottom portion of the outside of your coop with the hardware cloth, burying it up to 18 inches into the ground. Most rats aren’t fond of tunneling and to have to dig under the cloth might deter them.

Another alternative would be to make a concrete floor in your coop.

Although rodents have the ability to gain entrance through very small cracks, often times they prefer to gnaw a hole instead. The large front teeth of a rat grow at about ½ inch per month. Because of all the gnawing they do, they keep them warn down. Their jaws can exert pressure of 7,000 pounds per square inch. So you see, gnawing a hole in wood is no problem.

Plugging any existing holes or gaps is important. Try using steel wool first as opposed to caulk. If this doesn’t keep them out, cover the existing holes with a piece of sheet metal.

Are you seeing a pattern here? Metal is much more effective than other materials in keeping rodents out.

If you are having a problem with rodents gaining access to your coop through the fencing material in your run, you’ll need to cover the whole thing with hardware cloth. Do not assume that covering the bottom portion will suffice because rodents are excellent climbers. Again, burying a portion into the ground will discourage tunneling.

Rodents have very poor eyesight but they more than make up for it by using their sense of touch, smell and hearing. They tend to stick to paths that are familiar and avoid new obstacles, for a few days anyway. Do not be surprised if something works for a few days ceases to work once the rodent overcomes its fear of the change and gathers the courage to start exploring.

It’s important to understand why the rats want to get in the hen house in the first place. They are after food and water.  Because rodents are most active in the evening and during the night, feed your chickens in the morning and late afternoon just enough so that the food lasts 30 minutes and then is gone, the rats will not be so inclined to visit the hen house if there is no food source. (Do remember that chickens need more feed in the winter just to maintain their health.)

By the way, hanging or suspending a feeder is not going to deter the rats because some rodents have a vertical jump of up to two feet.

In addition to preventing access to the hen house, your goal is also to drive the rodents from your property. Rats thrive in an environment where they receive 3 things; food, water and shelter. We’ve addressed how to deter them from entering the hen house looking for food by feeding your flock in a manner that there is no food available for the rats at night.

Do not store feed outside for any animals unless it has a tight fitting lid.

Garbage cans and trash receptacles should also have tight fitting lids.

You cannot eliminate your chicken’s water supply for any length of time but you can make sure there is not another water source available in the vicinity of the coop.

Eliminate hiding places for the rodents to nest and any harborage areas. This includes haphazardly piled wood, pipes etc. Keep vegetation trimmed back as well.

Finally, it is important to remember that rats carry diseases that can be transmitted through their urine and feces. These diseases are a concern to both your flock and to you. If you suspect rodents are getting into your coop, clean out the coop more often but be sure to wear a dust mask when doing so.

Another excellent reason to eliminate rats is the prevalence of mites and lice they carry. See Vol 2: Issue: 6 – Wednesday 25th February 2009 of this newsletter for an in depth discussion on that topic.

Mary Anne thanks again for the question and I hope this has been helpful.