Wednesday, June 1, 2011

#19 - Chicken Lesson with Rodent and Panic

Recently, I read an article about chickens and problems with the feed attracting mice and rats. Before I go further, you must understand that I have a phobia of these little critters. I don't panic around snakes, coyotes or even a skunk passing by within two feet of me, but I do go into a jumble of crazed thoughts when I see a mouse or rat. I've had bad experiences with rodents. Rats are the worse.

Last night my husband went outside to let the dogs have a final potty break and to check on the chickens. We were exhausted after a long, fun evening of playing cards with Deputy Dave's parents - until near midnight, way past our 9pm bedtime. Deputy Dave is standing in the backyard and the next thing I know, he pokes his head inside the open back door and yells, "Hey...hand me my flashlight."

Uh oh...

Now, as I am heading for the flashlight on the kitchen counter the first thing I am thinking is that one of the chickens is laying in bits and pieces on the ground from an attack by a neighbor's cat. I hesitantly bring him the flashlight because I'm a little scared to see what the problem in the dark might be. Deputy Dave hurriedly grabs the flashlight and closes the back door, but I can't stop myself, I look through the glass panes of the back door to half-heartedly see what the commotion is about.

Right at this moment, I see the bright beam of the flashlight shine on top of the hatch door for the chicken coop and it highlights, like a Broadway dancer, a MOUSE frozen by stage fright. Immediately, my brain starts to send out jumbled signals that ping and pong off each other, and none of it makes any sense, so I simply turn in frantic circles inside the house by myself as I try to decide what direction my feet should be going.

I was responding to the mouse like a chicken with its head cut off.
Since we are currently not living on our acreage full-time, we are enjoying the life of being a backyard farmer in the city. But, I do NOT want to unnecessarily attract disgusting little creatures so close to our house! I always remembered people saying that if you see one rat or mouse, then there is probably 100 more you aren't seeing. One rodent can give birth to 50 more in a year's time. That is horrifying.

I'm not getting rid of my chickens. I love having chickens more than I could have imagined, but these issues are Farm Life Issues that come with the territory. We can't have a feral cat in our backyard, so that's not an option. I've spoken with my husband about us not leaving the chicken feed out 24 hours per day, every day. I will GLADLY hand-sprinkle feed a few times per day to reduce spillage and to not have convenient rat food left out all night long.

Just one of the wonderful times we've had with our chickens.
I have been getting such wonderful advice and feedback on comments and for those I am truly grateful. I have seven chickens, as of today. It looks like we'll be finding a new home this week for two of them that turned out to be roosters, so I need to know if it is realistic and healthy to spread chicken feed out by hand a couple of times per day for the five chickens that will remain in the backyard?

My husband suggested that we sprinkle some chicken feed on the back patio every day as it seems that this would help the feed to be easily spotted and eaten so grains would not be left over by accident in the backyard grass. But, I was concerned that the back patio concrete surface might be bad for their beaks as they are pecking the grains. Then again, maybe it will help to dull a sharp beak?

I know that living on a farm will mean that I am confronting wildlife, but any time I can reduce the likelihood of rats and mice, I'd be on top of it. I've lived a life that has been heavily involved with wilderness and confronting many different creatures, however, I get mush-brain when I see a rodent. This will be a main hurdle for me to keep jumping.

My husband taking a photo of me painting the chicken tractor
as he stands inside the house. It's so hot outside that I am taking a break.
The comparison that I have with country mice and rats is that the city sure does have their fair share of those disease ridden creepies. Actually, I believe that our acreage in the country has enough wildlife that will naturally assist us in taking care of any rodent problem. Just as we have significantly less mosquitoes in the country than in the Houston area, I hope the rodents will be controlled as well by country equalizers.

In over 90 degree heat, full sun in Texas, painting the chicken coop.
However, for the moment, we are city backyard farmers, so we have to find appropriate solutions.

For chicken bedding in the coop, we are currently using hay. We switched from pine bark mulch to hay because of cost.

We discussed the possibility of setting rat traps on the outer sides of the coop at night-time, while the chickens are enclosed in their chicken tractor, to see if this helps reduce rodent traffic, then remove them every morning before they are let out to roam around the yard.

Chicken tractor during construction by Deputy Dave.
Since our house is within a few feet of the chicken coop, this is a serious issue for us. I knew there were already rodents running around because I saw them (infrequently) prior to the chickens, and I think the rodents are partially living off bird seed that our neighbors put out so heavily and the other neighbor's dog food, but now we're adding to the problem with chicken feed left out all night. I just don't want these critters moving into our homes or into our walls so that they can enjoy chewing our wiring along with the rest of the house.

Suggestions are certainly welcomed. We are learning and I am concerned that I will starve my chickens to death by accident. I am a Mama at heart and the chickens look so healthy and sturdy, so I want to make sure that spreading the feed by hand every day is done in adequate amounts for continued health and to promote good laying hens. The coop is directly on the grass and we move it to a new spot once weekly, plus they get to roam free in the vegetable garden most days for a few hours. Still, I don't want to starve the little things.

I am going to be pro-active and try to think clearly about handling these yucky rodents being so close to my home.

My husband joked with me and told me that rats LOVE bright red toe-nails. He is not always so funny.

After exploring unique ideas that my weird brain conjures,
I decided upon my Masculine Bird to decorate the coop door.
I free-hand sketched, then painted this beefed up version
of Tweety - mine has muscles and chest hair.


LindaG said...

We go to bed at 9, too.

I don't like anything that creeps or crawls. :/
The chickens will feed themselves in your yard, too. My hubby's grandmother had dozens of chickens, and she threw feed by the handfuls, too. You want them to finish it before night time. And yes, no food at night. Pick it up when you put them up for the night.

Sometimes they'll kill mice, but not often, I think. I don't have any experience. Just read a bit.

Good luck!

Lana from Farm Life Lessons said...

I would LOVE it if these chickens would kill those mice!! We did bring in the feed yesterday and we're not leaving it out there any more. I'll be happy to hand feed them daily to lessen food spillage for the mice to find.

Rae said...

Yuck. Not a fan at all of rodents. We haven't seen any mice or rats, but the chipmunks try to steal food. If the girls see a chipmunk in their run, they go after it. I'm pretty sure they'd kill and eat it if they could. I've seen them eat snakes, and chase small birds. Vicious chickens! :)