Poison vs. Rat Traps for Shed Infestation
January 7, 2021 6:51 AM   Subscribe

We have chickens, and a shed where we keep their food. My husband didn't realize how secure the chicken feed needed to be if it was going to be kept outdoors, so now we have rats. I want them gone asap, and am wondering if the community has any suggestions for how.

We have a shed that, until the past 6 weeks or so, had chicken and rabbit feed that was not properly stored. Now we have rats. We're in a suburban area and have a 2 acre semi-wooded lot. We've now secured any outdoor food, I plan to stop using our birdfeeders, and now I'd like to take action to get rid of the rats. I'd prefer to use spring-loaded traps that kill the rats, as opposed to poison, given the other animals that live in our yard. Does anyone have advice or experience with this kind of problem? Especially given that we will still need to feed the chickens, and that there will occasionally there will be food on the ground because of that. Thanks...kind of freaking out over here ;)
posted by lagreen to Pets & Animals (18 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
If you have access, electronic traps that shock the rats to death are by far the most humane and safe for the environment. I had an bad rat problem in my backyard some time ago, and the electric trap killed 21 rats in about a week and a half.
Spring traps often only maim the rats, and can be very cruel.
posted by Zumbador at 6:58 AM on January 7, 2021 [7 favorites]

Don't use poison - you'll end up going up the food chain and killing raptors that feed on rats. Traps are the better option.
posted by leslies at 7:02 AM on January 7, 2021 [17 favorites]

Spring traps work. But you have to stay on top of it. That means daily removal of dead/dying rats and replacing traps. And routine, vigilant cleaning of the coops and surrounding areas. Mice and rats would end up drowning in the chicken water, too, so you have to stay on top of that as well. In my (admittedly small) experience with a friend who keeps chickens, rodents go hand in hand with the chicken keeping process. You can mitigate the amount of rats and mice you'll have, but you cannot eliminate them entirely.
posted by SoberHighland at 7:15 AM on January 7, 2021 [1 favorite]

I've trapped many a rat with classic spring traps and never had a non-kill. It can happen, but I think it's pretty rare when proper technique is used. Don't just place them haphazardly, read about rat behavior and think about where they will be headed. Try to avoid by-kill by placing them in areas only rats will be.

A good way to start is to put out UNset, UNbaited traps in key locations for a few days. Then put peanut butter on UNset traps. Only then introduce baited and set traps. After a few kills you may need to start the process over. Rats are very smart and suspicious of new things, much harder to trap than mice. And if you go straight to novel baited traps you won't catch many unless they are starving, which they probably aren't.

The main thing is to avoid poison and glue traps, those are bad for the world and extremely cruel, respectively.
posted by SaltySalticid at 7:16 AM on January 7, 2021 [4 favorites]

The problem with poison is that it is a threat to other animals, possibly the chickens themselves because I'm pretty sure they would eat any rat they can catch? Poison-sick rats lose their sense of discretion and often just sort of barge out into the middle of everything. I have been in a situation where poison was the only way to even begin to get things under control, and it was fucking gruesome and I am still traumatized.

Traps are also occasionally super gruesome (and incomplete) but they do work, though often slowly because rats are so suspicious. I use the plastic jaw snap trap kind as they are really vicious and also fairly easy to pick up and walk to a trash can and open without having to touch the business end. I don't have the Tomcat brand trap, but I do have better hit rates with the Tomcat Attractant gel. It takes a very long time to dry out, which cheese and PB do pretty quickly, and it doesn't eventually get maggotty like a meat bait will.

I also use the gel in the electric ratzappers - they're good, and I'm a little less grossed out by them even though you have to clean them out (like, you'll need some water and a paper towel, they eliminate when electrocuted and then it cooks) before redeployment. I also feel they're safer, because depending on where you put snap traps you run the risk of a pet getting at them, or stepping on one yourself, or finding a much larger vermin alive and injured by one. It takes a bit of work to get far enough into the ratzapper to be able to make contact with two separate plates and complete the circuit. I particularly like that they beep when they have gone off. They are, of course, not cheap, and you want to be pretty efficient about getting it cleaned up and reset back in exactly the same place because of rats' suspicious nature. On a good run, when things are really active, I can get one a night per trap for several nights straight - but it'll take a week or two to get the first one if I disrupt the scene too much.

But you can't stop an infestation with one or two dead rats a night. Really the first thing you need to do is get the area as clean as humanly possible and find a foolproof storage for livestock feed. You either need galvanized cans with screw-on or latch-down lids, or if you can get your hands on a non-working chest freezer that's actually the storage bin of choice for a lot of horsey and farmy people I know - leave a cinderblock on the lid and not even the raccoons can get it open, though you may also want to epoxy over the drain if it has one.

Disappointed rats will disperse pretty quickly, and if you're currently in winter you will have the least number of nests nearby, so now is the time. You'll want to sweep daily, not just to make the area smell less ratty but it's much easier to judge what kind of rat traffic you're getting if you can see one day's poops at a time.
posted by Lyn Never at 7:41 AM on January 7, 2021 [12 favorites]

Note: by "as clean as humanly possible" I mean you'll need to get at any possible hidey-hole in the shed with a broom or vacuum nozzle. Rats will move and stockpile food.

You may also want to try to stuff any entrypoints with steel wool, but a large adult rat can get through very small holes, and they'll shove the steel wool out if they're able. I've started stuffing with wool and then holding it in place with expanding foam - which will not actually stop a rat, but when it's foamed into the steel wool is pretty hard for them to destroy.
posted by Lyn Never at 7:45 AM on January 7, 2021 [2 favorites]

Quicker with a dog. A Jack Russell or Border Terrier is a good pet & a great ratcatcher. Why give yourself a nasty job to do when the dog will enjoy it?
posted by rd45 at 8:19 AM on January 7, 2021 [2 favorites]

Yeah, my miniature Schnauzer has shown me that there are more parts and pieces that make up the common rat than I could possibly believe.

All that selective breeding is definitely not just for show.
posted by sideshow at 8:58 AM on January 7, 2021 [2 favorites]

not poison. goes up the food chain to owls; unpredictable (can wind up eaten by other animals); and you really don't want them wandering into a wall of a building to die.

a dog would help a lot if it were trained not to harm the chickens itself.

avoid, avoid glue traps. Horrible. A guy I hired placed one, unbeknownst to me and I... wow I don't even want to think about it. They cry, turns out.

I was going to recommend peanut butter over cheese for spring traps; but the recommendation above for a special gel sounds even better. And ++ for vigilant cleaning; stuffing up entrance routes with anti rodent foam; and sealed up food storage containers.

(And you might want to do a thorough inspection of your own house for tiny little rat egress options - torn vent screens to your crawlspace, tiny cracks anywhere, etc - because when they do disperse they'll be looking for somewhere to go.)
posted by fingersandtoes at 9:10 AM on January 7, 2021 [2 favorites]

Best answer: Cats would probably be a danger if you have chicks/pullets, but otherwise might be something to consider.

Rats can be large, fierce, and smart, so you'd need cats who were similarly endowed. If you have an enclosed/roofed chicken run, though, that would keep cats out fairly easily.

Please be sure you spay/neuter any cats you consider.

You might also look into getting a group of ferals relocated to your property. You would have to commit to feeding them (they need to be juuuust barely hungry enough to go after the rats, but not the local wildlife -- a tricky balance).

Just wanted to float that idea in case you hadn't considered it and it turned out to be a good fit.
posted by amtho at 9:25 AM on January 7, 2021 [2 favorites]

They're absolute suckers for bucket traps.

Also, cats. Borrow some if you have to. The buckets will take care of the bigger ones and the cats will depopulate the rest.

Edit: That may not be the best example of the genre, google around a bit.
posted by IronLizard at 9:34 AM on January 7, 2021

Best answer: My friend lives in a similarly situated property as yours, and keeps chickens. He also had a rat problem, and did indeed find a local rescue group that happily gave him two semi-feral cats that would not ever be suitable as indoor pets. They live in his shed and keep the rats away.

I got my first cat 15 years ago when I had an indoor rat infestation, and will always have a cat not only because they are awesome but because it means I never have to deal with my terrible fear of rodents. If you can swing taking care of an outdoor cat or two, it's an easy and hands off solution.
posted by nancynickerson at 9:50 AM on January 7, 2021 [4 favorites]

One other thought - please do not expect a little kitten to face down a rat! You need a full-grown cat for rat duty.

Also - after the first few cat/rat encounters, the rest of the rats might relocate.
posted by amtho at 10:25 AM on January 7, 2021 [2 favorites]

I was going to suggest a cat but was worried about them attacking the chickens. However nancynickerson shows it can be done. My cat is well loved by neighbours because of his rat killing prowess. If not that, I recommend a spring trap.

However, despite my cat's prowess, I recommend learning to coexist with rats - lower numbers via better storage, etc
posted by biggreenplant at 10:26 AM on January 7, 2021 [2 favorites]

You're also going to have to exclude them from the shed, which can be a tedious, iterative process depending on its design and condition. In my experience w/rats, there are always many more of them than you might think, and killing individuals is the easiest part of solving the problem (and that's often challenging - they are very good at what they do).
posted by ryanshepard at 11:07 AM on January 7, 2021 [1 favorite]

Besides using either well-designed snap traps or electric traps, make sure you go beyond securing the food to also making sure that there's no way for a rat to get into the chicken enclosure. Rats can get through very coin-sized spaces and they now know that there's food near the chickens. Metal is the only thing that will stop them (steel wool in cracks, wire hardware cloth with very small holes, etc).
posted by quince at 11:53 AM on January 7, 2021 [1 favorite]

Response by poster: Thank you so much everyone for your help with this. And for helping me think through all of this. I really appreciate this community.

We were most attracted to the cat options above, and looked into it a bit more...and it turns out the PA SPCA has a working cats program for situations just like this. We're contacting them today to discuss and potentially put in an adoption application.

Does anyone who's still following this have any thoughts about keeping the cats safe from local foxes, and keeping our chickens and rabbits (who live together in an outdoor enclosure with 2-ft-deep trenches filled with stone) safe from the cats?
posted by lagreen at 10:02 AM on January 8, 2021 [2 favorites]

Best answer: Keeping the chickens and rabbits safe: See if the SPCA has info or connections. Someone or someones with experience will be your best bet.

My main thought as someone with no chicken experience is making their enclosures super safe, and paying attention to the _top_ of the fences (maybe putting on a roof). There are also special products available for keeping cats safe inside fences - attachments that go on top of tall railings/walls - that might help.

Secondly, don't keep them super hungry. They will hunt because they naturally like hunting.

As for the coyotes and foxes: you could maybe consider a big enclosure fence to keep everyone inside (main yard with cats, and inside that, the chicken/rabbit enclosure), but DO learn as much as you can about dealing with foxes and coyotes from people who know those animals. The SPCA and other feral cat keepers are options for info.

Some kind of shelter that will let the cats in and keep the coyotes out is where I'd start. You might want a large enough shelter, or inaccessible somehow, that coyotes couldn't easily reach inside. Again, I'm not an expert, and I don't know if a small enough door or twisty/airlocky entry will provide what you need.

Height might be helpful also - if you make the cat entry tall enough, and stable enough, the cats might be relatively safe in there.

If your new cats can be collared (safely), you could provide them with a safe retreat with a collar-activated cat door.

I personally would find it pretty cool to try to build a nice cat tree house (but make sure you can climb up to it if you need to). Maybe several so they have a ready retreat in several locations.

I'm pretty sure coyotes don't climb trees. Apparently foxes can climb trees, but they're small enough that they're not a huge threat to big cats.

Here's a page I found by searching [keeping outdoor cats safe from coyotes]. It actually looks fairly interesting.
posted by amtho at 12:38 AM on January 9, 2021

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