Most people consider rats to be more of a pest than a predator in the chicken coop. We have unfortunately experienced first hand how awful it can be when rats attack your chickens.
I’m telling you, this most recent batch of chicks seems to have been doomed from the start. Before this batch we’ve never ever had problems raising chicks. We’ve raised them in brooders and outdoors in the coop with their momma. We’ve hatched them in incubators, we’ve hatched them under broodies. Maybe we’ve just had extremely good luck. Then this newest batch of chicks comes along and everything seems to be going wrong. Two weeks ago one of our babies almost choked to death, and now this.
A few nights ago we were sitting on the couch, watching a movie and eating popcorn. I heard what sounded like a child screaming at the top of her lungs and our dog Nico went berserk. She ran to the back door and was frantically trying to get out to the backyard. Nico works hard to protect our chickens and always knows when something is going down in the coop.
We went back to investigate. Mokey was out in the run with two out of six babies. She had recently taken on the role as second Mom to the babies, and I knew that if she was outside with some of them, there must be a probem inside.
We always keep the door between the run and the coop open, and since both enclosures are well protected, we didn’t think it was a problem. Seeing a momma and two babies out in the run in the middle of the night spelled trouble. Mokey was freaking out, pacing back and forth and squawking like crazy.
When we opened the coop to check on everyone else, we found one of the babies laying in the middle of the floor, apparently dead. The rest of the adults were roosting and we counted to make sure the rest of the babies were safe under Little Carl, their other mom.
I rushed over and picked up the wounded chick and found that she was still breathing but seemed to be unconscious. She was completely limp in my hands and it looked like she had only minutes left.
Speaking softly and soothingly I took her inside to check her out while my husband when on a rat rampage with the machete. He was hell bent on destroying any vermin that crossed his path. We knew it was rats that did this because our coop is very well protected against most predators, but rats chew their way right through the wood and chicken wire. We’d always known rats to be a pest, but never had problems with them being predators, until now.
The baby seemed to be breathing fine but was clearly very weak. I gently cleaned out her wounds, they didn’t seem to go too deep, and I was puzzled why she was so debilitated from such small wounds. I figured she must be in shock from the attack and needed some time to rest. She was placed in a box with a towel to rest on while I went outside to deal with another big issue, the rest of the chicks were still out in the coop, exposed to the rat demons.
We keep a rabbit cage on hand for just such scenarios, so I set it up in our back porch, and one by one, brought the confused babies inside. When I went out to get the last one, Little Carl (their primary mother) was freaking out because she could hear them peeping frantically from the porch. I picked her and the last little one up and brought them inside where they settled down quickly.
There was one chicken who wasn’t settling down. Mokey. I had taken her family away and she was freaking out.
In case you haven’t been keeping up, this batch of chicks is lucky enough to have two moms. You can read that story here.
In my panic to get everything squared away I hadn’t even thought about how it would affect her. She was pacing through the coop, making low clucking sounds and searching everywhere for the babies.
I teared up at the sight of it.
I couldn’t take the thought that she’d be up all night looking for them so I grabbed her and brought her inside too. I thought there would be some problems with her and Little Carl since they were isolated in a small space, but Mokey settled right down next to her with no troubles. A few of the babies squeezed underneath her and everyone was happy.
Once everyone was settled, we set our minds to the rat problem. It was 11 o’clock at night and we weren’t going to get it all figured out that late at night, but we had to at least find out where the little monsters were getting in.
We’d seen a few rat holes in the coop and spotted a rat a few days ago. From previous experience we know that starving them out will force them to move on. Three days ago we started taking the chicken food indoors at night, leaving nothing for the rats to eat. Instead of moving on, they got desperate enough to attack one of our chicks and try to eat her instead. In retrospect, we should have expected this, but since the chicks were fully feathered and six weeks old, we figured they were big enough to not tempt a rat.
The next day we spent 4 hours working on the coop, cleaning out every bit of it to find the holes, filling them with rocks and covering them with hardware cloth, and setting rat traps around the perimeter of their nesting sites. Nico was quite convinced that they were nesting in the compost box and the potato box, and she was right.
As for our little injured chick… only time will tell. It’s been several days since the attack and she has been getting stronger every day. The story on her is yet to be told, so we’ll postpone the ending of this story until we know.