So you have a rat problem? We’ve been there, and even when it seems hopeless, know that there is a light at the end of the tunnel. Follow this step-by-step guide and you’ll get rid of rats for good within a few weeks!
Step 1: Know your enemy
Before we head right into how to get rid of these little buggers, it’s important to know some basic facts about your problem. You can’t defeat your enemy if you don’t know them, right?
Fun and Disgusting Rat Facts:
A pair of rats can produce up to 2,000 descendants per year, which means a couple of rats around your chicken coop can quickly lead to a rat infestation if it goes unchecked.
Rats are creatures of the night. If you’re seeing them during the day, you have a major problem. Either you’re looking at an infestation or they’re starving and so desperate for food they’ll do anything to get it.
Rats have teeth harder than iron and can chew through a number of things they shouldn’t logically be able to such as:
- Chicken wire
- Cinder blocks & bricks
- Plastic totes and garbage cans
- Lead pipes
- Wood, regardless of thickness
Basically, anything that’s not thick steel is susceptible to rat teeth.
Rats can squeeze through spaces as small as the diameter of a quarter. Some can even squeeze through the holes in chicken wire. This fact combined with chewing is why chicken wire is not your best defense.
Rats will kill and eat baby chicks and in desperation will also attack grown chickens.
Rats are known to be carriers of a number of horrific things such as fleas, mites, plague, salmonella, hantavirus and hemorrhagic fever.
Rats can dig several feet deep and jump up to eight feet high. They are also expert climbers and can access your coop or run from above if it’s not protected.
Rats can go a longer time without water than a camel can, and they can survive a long time in water- they’ve been known to be able to tread water for three days and swim a quarter of a mile.
Rats will eat practically anything, including your garden veggies and your livestock
Now that you know all about them, how in the world do you get rid of rats?
Getting rid of rats in the chicken coop requires a three pronged approach. You’ll need to take away their home, starve them out, and go to war on any rats that are left.
First off, you’ll need to take several steps to make your property as unappealing as possible to a couple of rats looking to eat, sleep, and mate.
Step 2: Take away their home
If you’re giving rodents a wonderful place to live, why would they want to leave? Your first task is to make your property a terrible place for a rodent to live. This will not eliminate every last rat, but it will help to get them out in the open and discourage them from nesting and making thousands of rat babies in and around your coop.
Clean up clutter
Rats love to live and hide in cluttered areas. If you have piles of tools, bricks, wood, or junk on your property, you can bet the rats are living in it. Get everything up off the ground and put it on shelves or hang it from walls to discourage rats from making a home there.
Make an effort to keep grass trim around the coop as well, don’t give those rats anywhere to hide.
Rat proof the coop
Let me start by saying this is incredibly hard to do. When it comes to rats, if there’s a will there’s a way. If your coop is made of wood or has a dirt floor, you’re likely to get rats chewing or digging their way into your coop at night. If you have the option to build the coop from scratch, build it up off the ground at least a foot to make it harder for rats to hide and enter the coop. Alternately, make your coop floor out of poured cement.
If your floor is wood or dirt, cover it with hardware cloth and be sure to cover corners and edges well. If you can, fold the hardware cloth where it meets the wall and staple it into the wall a few inches up as well. Rats are most likely to enter through corners or places where the walls meet the floor or ceiling.
Fill and cover holes
If rats have chewed holes into your coop or underneath it, fill the holes with steel wool and cover them with hardware cloth. Fill any holes in the soil around your coop as well, as rats love to tunnel. Be adamant about filling holes, if they make new ones the next day, fill those too. Remember, you’re trying to convince their tiny brains that this is not an ideal place to live, and it’s going to take some work.
Rat proof the compost
Many people that raise chickens also have compost piles. If you don’t, feel free to move along to the next tip, but if you do, you’re going to need to get that pile on lock down.
Rats and mice love to live in compost. It has everything they need, comfy bedding, a safe place to breed, and plenty of food. If you don’t want rats living in your compost you’ll have to make it as uncomfortable for them as possible.
First off, stop putting food scraps into an open bin. Instead, put them into a steel garbage can with small holes drilled into it. This will allow the matter to compost until it’s sufficiently broken down without rodents being able to get to it. When we were dealing with rats we read over and over that rats only go after cooked food in the compost. This is not true, if they’re hungry, they’ll eat anything in there that’s edible. Put every bit of food scraps into the steel bins or you’ll be feeding the rats.
You can still compost yard trimmings, leaves, straw, and livestock poo in an open pile, but keep in mind, it’s the perfect place for a rat to nest. To keep them out of there, soak the pile frequently with water and turn it over with a pitchfork every few days to disrupt any would-be rodent dwellings.
Step 3: Starve them out
The number one reason you have rats is because you’re feeding them. I know you’re not standing in the backyard tossing food on the ground and calling all the rodents of the neighborhood over, but if they’re on your property it’s because you’ve got the goods and you’re handing it right to them. The one and only way to get rid of rats forever is to stop feeding them. In order to do this, you’re going to have to cover all bases.
They will never, and I mean never leave if you continue to provide food for them. You can trap and poison them by the thousands, but more will come if there’s still food. If you feed them, they will come.
Did I get that point across? Okay, now lets investigate how you’re feeding the rats.
Collect eggs frequently
Rats don’t love raw eggs, they prefer for you to cook them first, but they will steal and eat them if they have nothing else to eat. Keep up on egg collection and never leave eggs in the coop overnight. A friend of mine was wondering why her eggs were disappearing from her nesting boxes every day and was just about to blame the chickens when she dug around in the box and found a whole nest of baby rats living there. What a perfect place for a rat to live!
Contain your animal feed
This is a big one. Most chicken folk keep their chicken feed outside, where it’s convenient. Most of them also keep the feed in plastic bins. Rats can chew through a plastic bin in an hour and feed from it all night. Instead, keep your livestock and pet food in steel garbage cans with a tight fitting lid. Any other type of container can (and will) be chewed through in a matter of hours.
Don’t leave the trash out
Rats will chew through plastic trash bins and fatten themselves up on your garbage every night. Either store your outdoor trash in a steel garbage can with a tight lid, in a garage or shed, or wait until garbage day to take it outside. This doesn’t have to be a forever thing, but until you get this situation under control you have to starve the rats out in every way possible.
Don’t leave the chicken feeder or water fount out at night
If the chicken feeder and fount are sitting out all night, that means there are rats eating and drinking from them all night. This is not only providing sustenance to the rats, but risking the health of your flock if the rats pass on their diseases and parasites through food and water.
You have three options here:
- Bring the feeder inside every night and take it back out every morning.
- Figure out exactly how much food your chickens need and only feed them that amount every day.
- Or get a rat proof chicken feeder. If you go this route we suggest going through Grandpa’s Feeders, as they’re the only ones we’ve found to work.
Another note: If you’re feeding the chickens snacks and table scraps throughout the day, clean any leftovers up before night as well. This includes boredom buster blocks, which will keep a family of rats fed for months. The point of this step is to leave absolutely no trace of anything edible on your property at night.
Keep small chicks inside at night
Desperate rats will do anything for food, including killing and eating a baby chick. We’ve had rats steal six week old chicks right out from under their mom at night and by the time Momma hen noticed, it was too late.
Step 4: Go to War
The final step to getting rid of rats in the chicken coop is to flat-out go to war on any rats that are sticking around after the previous steps.
Get a cat
A good mouser is your best defense against a looming rat population. Not only do cats hunt and kill rats, but the scent of cats on your property will help to convince rodents not to make a home there. Now, if you’re like us, and your lazy good-for-nothing cat would rather play with rats than hunt them, move onto the next step.
We’ve found only found one type of trap that works really well. It’s fast and effective, killing the rat by breaking its neck. The Snap E Rat Trap is made from sturdy plastic and we’ve used them and lent them to others to use for two years and they still haven’t broken.
We bait the rats with chicken feed. Seriously. It’s what they’re after anyway, and when we realized they had no interest in peanut butter or meat, we tried chicken feed. Worked like a charm. When we had a rat problem we would set ten traps per night and usually catch 2-6 rats every night.
Some tips for these traps:
- Rats love to travel along the edges of walls as it feels safer, so this is the best place to put your traps.
- Make sure you only put the bait inside the little cup, not on the plate and not anywhere around the outside of the trap. If a rat accidentally sets it off by eating food spilled next to the trap and doesn’t get caught in it, it will remember not to go near it again.
- Please be careful not to leave traps anywhere that other unsuspecting animals could get to them, such as your dog or the neighborhood cat. We usually block off the traps leaving only a small space for a rodent to get through.
If you’re willing to shell out a little more cash for a more humane method of rat extermination, try out the Rat Zapper to take care of your problem. You still have a body to clean up, but these are notoriously less messy than snap traps.
If you can’t handle the idea of cleaning up dead rats at all, you can always get a Havahart Trap. Then of course, you have the problem of handling a live rat, and finding somewhere else for it to go.
I’m going to say this right at the start: beware the use of poisons. This should be your last resort if nothing else is working. I know it seems like an easy fix to a big problem, but using poison to get rid of rodents could lead to bigger problems down the road. If a poisoned rodent were to die anywhere out in the open, it could be eaten by your chickens, your cat, your dog, or neighborhood wildlife. This means poisoning the rat is effectively poisoning other animals as well.
Another downside to poison is that over the years rats have developed immunity to many poisons, and others they’ve just learned not to eat it. This means you’ll have to frequently change the type of poison as one won’t work for long.
Even if you do manage to get the rats to eat the poison and they do die from it, they will likely die in a very hard to reach place, such as underneath the coop or within its walls, and you’ll be reminded daily of this horrible mistake by the stench.
If you do decide to use poisons, I highly suggest getting a Rat Bait Station to dispense the poison so you don’t have to worry about your chickens or any other animal accidentally getting poisoned.
One alternative to poison that many chicken keepers have found to work is to mix up corn meal with plaster of paris. The rats will eat the mixture but not be able to digest the plaster and will die. Again, this may result in rats dying in hard to reach places, but it does eliminate the possibility of your animals or wildlife getting poisoned if they find and eat the rat.
Call a professional
If you still have a rat problem after all of the previous steps, you need more help than I can give you. I’m a big fan of doing things myself, and if you’re reading this, you probably are too, but sometimes you have to throw in the towel and bow down to your new rat overlords. Just kidding! Call in the professionals and pay the big bucks to clean up this mess for you.
Good luck and God speed!