Not a Creature was Stirring - Got Mice in your Coop?

photo source: flickr
This time of year critters of all kinds are looking for a nice safe, warm place to spend the winter.  For many this can lead to field mice or rats in their coops. I mean, what better place for a family of mice to bed down?

Soft bedding on the floor, a convenient food source, a water source, and if your coop is inside an enclosed run, safety from predators. Although chickens will sometimes kill and eat mice if they find them, once the chickens are asleep, the mice are free to come and go at will.

Rodents will not only eat chicken feed and contaminate it with their droppings, they can carry fleas, ticks, mites and lice, will kill baby chicks, eat eggs, chew wires and wood, even chew on sleeping chickens' feet and pull out their feathers. But using traps or poisons around the coop and run isn't smart, so why not try some natural rodent-repellents.

Why are mice in your coop so bad?  

Chickens sleep extremely soundly and it's not unheard of for mice and rats to literally chew on chickens' feathers and feet, or pull out feathers to use for nest bedding while the hens sleep, so for this reason as well as the diseases and parasites rodents can carry, you certainly don't want mice in your coop!

It's a good idea to 'listen' to your flock. The presence of rodents can stress them. That can lead to a drop in egg production - rats will also steal eggs, another tipoff. If all of a sudden your chickens seem to not want to go to roost in the coop at night, there's probably a good reason why not. Never force them in. Instead try and figure out why. Check the corners, raking the bedding away, and also check all the nesting boxes.  If you do find rodents (or evidence of rodents) there are a couple of things you can do. 

Evidence of mice gaining access to the run and feed:

NOTE: I DO NOT recommend putting out traps or poison for obvious reasons.  There's just too much chance of the chickens or another animal being harmed by accident. Hawks and owls have died horrible deaths from eating poisoned mice. Don't use moth balls. They're highly toxic to animals and people.  Instead I recommend taking these preventative measures: 

Tips for Repelling Mice

1) No Openings Larger than 1/2" - Mice, as well as snakes and weasels, can get through a hole as small as one inch. Staple 1/2" hardware cloth over all the windows and vents in your coop and be sure all other holes are plugged.

2) Plant Mint - Mint is thought to be a natural rodent repellent.  They have a very keen sense of smell and don't like strong aromatic scents, so try planting some mint around the coop and run.  Sprinkle fresh or dried mint in the coop and nesting boxes. (I also make an all natural lavender mint spray that I use as a coop refresher and rodent repellent.)

You can't live in New England long before someone recommends putting peppermint oil-soaked cotton balls in your kitchen cabinets or car engine to keep mice from moving in for the winter. Why not try that same thing for your chicken coop?

3) Get a Barn Cat - Our cat does a great job of keeping our barn and chicken yard free of rodents.  He doesn't generally have access to the run, but just his presence around the perimeter is a deterrent.  A dog can have the same effect if it spends time around your chicken yard.

4) Don't Leave Feed in the Coop - Chickens can't see well in the dark anyway, so they don't eat at night.  Remove the feed from the coop to remove rodents' food source, or cover the feeders to prevent access.

5) Make The Roosts Wider - To prevent rodents from chewing on your hens' feet at least, replace your roosting bars with 2x4's with the 4" side facing up. This way the chicken's feet are not exposed - covered by their bodies from the top and the board on the bottom. Having a wider roost also prevents frost bite, so a wider roost is recommended regardless. (Chickens don't necessarily need to curl their feet like wild birds when they sleep, and actually prefer to sleep flat-footed)

6) Use pine needles or shavings or put pine boughs in your coop - Rodents dislike the scent of pine. Pine boughs will be the most effective of course, but pine shavings might help mice decide they don't want to bed down on the floor.

7. Encourage black rat snakes. Although black snakes will eat eggs or baby chicks, they aren't venomous and generally won't bother grown hens and they eat mice. So seeing black snakes around is actually a good thing.

Making these few small changes can make your coop inhospitable for local rodents who hopefully will find another place to call home.

~photo source: pinterest~

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