We all know what it is like to have unwanted house guests show up at our door. Even if we turn off all the lights and hide behind the couch, somehow they know when we are home and persist until let inside to join us. Then, once there, they make themselves comfortable, refusing to leave and making a mess. Having a house guest you do not want is enough to drive you batty, but worse than that are having unwanted guests, or more like pests, making themselves comfortable after gaining entry into your coop or feed storage.
Rodents seem to have an uncanny ability to find food. It could be that they are blessed with an amazing sense of smell or that they have special food radar and maybe it is even a sheer sense of luck, but if you have stored food, you are sure to have rodents. In our barn this year, we left nothing to chance, yet several rats have still been spotted. All animal feed is stored in metal containers and removed when not in use but the unwanted visitors still insist on trying their luck. Those rare grains of feed that get dropped out of sight are probably all the incentive, and sustenance, they need.
Preventing rodents from having access to feed and other areas is very important when it comes to fighting the spread of disease. Sure, some rodents might be cute to you based on what tickles your fancy but the diseases they carry are most definitely not cute by any stretch. In addition to carrying and transmitting disease and parasites, some rodents will feed on eggs and even newly hatched chicks in addition to any accessible chicken feed and drinking from waterers, contaminating everything they touch. They are also capable of causing injury and stress to adult birds in addition to killing the young ones.
To deal with rodents, an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure. The best way to solve a rodent problem is remove that which tempts them to visit. This means storing feeders overnight and cleaning up any excess that hits the ground, which is unfortunately easier said than done. Unused feed should be stored in metal containers with lids as rats can chew through plastic and feed sacks. Removing water sources is not really an option since chickens need water, too, but using a waterer with chicken nipples as opposed to a bowl type of waterer will do more to keep your chickens' water from becoming contaminated. Also necessary is securing coop access from all angles, such as by burying hardware cloth about a foot into the ground surrounding your coop to prevent dig-ins. If the source of temptation is removed and rodents are going hungry, they will ultimately have no choice but to move on to another place. Be warned, however, that rodents do not give up easily. I made the mistake of storing shampoo for the horses as well as tubes of wormer and first aid sprays outside of a steel container and rodents ate their way into those items. With that in mind, you might want to make it a point to store everything you can, not just stopping at what you think a rodent will eat because it seems like most everything is on the menu.
If rodents persist once all possible food sources are eliminated, it may be time to step up your game even more by using things that will repel rodents. One such item is Bobcat urine which science has proven to drive rodents away due to the threat a Bobcat presents to them. Some individuals use essential oils but this is not a great idea due to the dangers they pose to chickens. Also not wise to use are poisons and traps due to potential for chicken harm. What is good, however, is a barn cat. There are plenty of them waiting for homes in animal shelters; it is just a matter of picking out the one that will hunt for prey rather than pray you will keep doling out mass quantities of kitty chow.
Since it is absolutely essential to keep rodents at bay, you may find yourself having to implore one or more of these techniques to solve your problems. If that still doesn't get the job done, you might want to try devices that deliver electric shocks to rodents, such as the Rat Zapper. Barring that, perhaps your chickens will take care of the problem themselves. Stranger things have happened, after all.