Q: Do chickens attract rats?
A: Chicken feed and droppings will attract rats, yes! That's why it's so important that you do two things: store your feed in metal bins, and carefully prepare your chicken run using a heavy gauge half-inch or less hardware cloth material.
Why rats are a problem
Some people don't much mind the rats lurking around their coop. We get that. It's old school, and we're not here to judge. But there are some very good reasons why you should try to eliminate rats around your chicken coop area.
First, rats carry disease and can make your flock--or you--sick. When rodents eat feed, they tend to defecate in it. Your chickens may ingest the feces and that can make your flock ill with salmonella or other bacteria.
Second, rats will eat eggs and kill young birds. Rats will generally only prey on chicks and eggs, but if you have a serious infestation and food is scarce, they can also raid your coop at night and attack your juvenile and adult birds. Rats kill by biting the head or neck, like those from the weasel family. Like opossums, they will drink the blood of their victims. (Gross!) Parts of your chickens' bodies may be eaten, and the corpses may be pulled into burrows or other concealed locations for feeding. Sometimes they are just dragged into a corner.
Third, you don't want rats stealing your gourmet chicken food.
Finally, you REALLY don't want your neighbors complaining that you're responsible for quadrupling the local rat population. (Complaining neighbors are the worst, but who could really blame them? Rats are ick.)
Signs that you have rats
You may not see any rats unless you have a severe problem. They are shy and usually only come out at night. Here are a few signs that you have rats:
- Chewing damage. If your coop has no ingress for rats, they will make their own. Wood and plastic are no obstacle to rats; they'll chew right through them. Gnawed corners and doors are a telltale sign that you have rats.
- Holes in the floor of your coop or ground of your run. Rats are great burrowers and can enter your coop or run from below. Holes are usually two to three inches in diameter.
- Missing feed. Chickens consume an average of a quarter pound of feed per day. This can vary pretty widely depending on the season (they eat more in winter and less in summer) and the size of your bird (a giant Orpington would, of course, eat more than a tiny bantam like a Silkie), but if you have ten average-size birds and you're going through a fifty-pound bag of feed every week, then you're safe to assume something other than your chickens is feasting when you're not around.
- Missing eggs. If you're getting fewer eggs than you eggspect (sorry, couldn't resist), consider that rats may be the problem. Rats love a fresh egg.
Keeping rats out of your chicken coop and run
As we mentioned above, the first and most important rat deterrent is the common-sense measure of storing feed in metal bins like the ones pictured above. Keep the lids on securely. (You'd want to do the same for any wild bird feed, cat feed, or dog feed, of course.)
Second and equally important: use only quarter-inch or half-inch hardware cloth for your chicken run material. (Sorry, folks! Traditional chicken wire is awful when it comes to rats. They can squeeze right through those openings.)
It's not enough to just use this material for your run's walls and roof, either. You need to secure hardware cloth to the entire underside of your run, attaching strips together and to the walls of your run with zip ties or the like, or bury the wire in a trench at least a foot deep and "apron" it out (as shown below) an unholy three to four feet.
If you have rats already...
...There are a few measures you can take. First, we recommend you remove feeders and waterers each night, and replace them in the morning until the problem is taken care of. While your chickens won't want to eat or drink at night, rats will! Why remove waterers as well? In dry areas or during dry periods, rats may come just for the water. It's just better not to leave anything out for them at night.
If you see gnawing damage on your coop, staple hardware cloth or secure sheet metal to the damaged areas to keep them out.
Of course, trapping rats is another great way to temporarily eliminate an infestation. Don't use poison. There are a number of good reasons why. We've seen chickens and other animals die as a result, among them. Instead, use a rat trap, and make sure it's in a place where your chickens and other animals can't accidentally get hurt by it.
In summary, avoid attracting rats to begin with... and if you do encounter a problem, traps and exclusion are usually the best ideas. Your local Ag or extension office may be able to offer you further advice for this problem.