Discouraging the Rodents
Written in March, 2005.
All keepers of poultry at some time have to deal with infestations of rogue rodents in the poultry house. All seek the better mousetrap. In my experience, the best possible way to deal with rodent problems is: Stop feeding them!
I used to feed my flock free choice. At the same time, the fight with the mice became trench warfare of the most desperate sort. Going into the henhouse after dark, I would see mice “boiling” over the partition wire, nest boxes, etc. A couple of winters ago, I became so incensed that I bought two dozen of those wooden traps with a bait pedal and a spring-wound wire bar that snaps the mouse when it takes the bait. Well, folks, I lost count of the number of times I caught two mice in one trap—but twice I actually caught three mice at once. That’s your basic industrial strength rodent rodeo! But I was enabling that colossal infestation by feeding free choice, saying in effect to the mice, “Come to the feast!” Or in other words, “Be fruitful and multiply.”
This winter I became much more exacting in how I feed and have not seen any mice in the hens’ quarters after dark. The two most significant changes: I started sprouting all the small grains and peas in the mix. In the winter house, I simply toss the sprouted seeds out over the deep litter. Since the sprouts are larger, more discrete pieces than a ground feed, the chooks end up eating every last grain. Also, I weigh out the amount of ground, dry feed I put in the feeders. I calibrate the amount precisely to what they seem to need: I feed enough to ensure that their nutritional needs are met, but that they are always eager enough for food to “clean their plates,” taking up every speck of feed by the end of the day, leaving nothing for the opportunistic rodents.
By the way, my problems have only been with mice. If you become plagued with a serious infestation of rats, you really have problems! Not only can rats eat a lot more of your expensive feed, they are a serious threat to baby chicks, even those with a mother hen. Rats will kill and drag them away, and can decimate a clutch of chicks in short order.
A final note about rodents in your environment: Rodents can carry a serious pathogen called hantavirus, more common in some sections of the country than others. The main vector for the virus is dried rodent urine. If you are cleaning out any dusty environment that is home to rodents, use an effective dust mask. People (including an acquaintance of mine) have died from hantavirus after breathing such dusts while sweeping out warehouses, abandoned houses, etc.