Avian Aqua Miser: Automatic, poop-free chicken waterers

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Protecting chicks from rats

Young chicks on pastureJust about every carnivore likes to eat chickens, but chicks most often fall prey to only one --- rats.  Rats won't harm an adult chicken, but chicks up to about six weeks old are easy pickings, especially at night before they learn to perch out of reach.  Sometimes, rats will drag the unlucky chick away to eat it and you'll only notice the problem when you count heads, but you might also find a dead chick abandoned on the coop floor.

Success With Baby Chicks and Raising Poultry on Pasture both mentioned that rats are the biggest cause of chick losses for many operations.  We never had a problem until we lost a quarter of our chicks to rats during our first two hatches of 2011.  We let a broody hen raise our third batch and she did a good job of keeping rats at bay, but our last batch had to be motherless --- how to protect them?

Rat killerIf you can't find any other way to get rid of rats, poison is supposed to be a very effective solution.  This farmer killed 83,450 rats in nine months (and won a new TV to reward his prowess.)  On the other hand, although poison definitely works, I wouldn't want to risk killing our chickens, cats, or dog.

Another option is to keep your chicks in the house as long as possible.  However, by the time good foraging breeds are three weeks old, they've heartily outgrown their brooder and want to hunt down bugs.  Mark went to work chinking in all of the gaps in their coop, which helped a lot, but I think the biggest Sealing gaps in chicken coopreason our month old chicks are all still alive is that I stopped making a stupid mistake --- leaving food out in the coop.

Rats are attracted to chicken feed, not to chicks.  Sure, they'll take those tender morsels if the opportunity arises, but you won't have rats in your coop in the first place if they have nothing to eat when chicks aren't present.  I made the rookie mistake earlier this year of leaving the chick feed unprotected in the coop --- after all, chicks were too small to break into the bag.  But once I sealed the feed away in a metal trash can and spread the day's ration out on the ground in the pasture, there was nothing to attract rats to the coop.  Within a few days, our chicks will have passed the six week trouble period with no predation --- maybe we'll have 100% survival this time around?

Diseases spread by fouled drinking water are another cause of chick losses, but our POOP-free chicken waterer protects chicks.

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I remember a somewhat squicksome News Of The Weird story about some village somewhere (Africa?) who dealt with their rat problem by catching rats and sewing their anuses shut with a stitch or two of thread. Unable to defecate, the rats would go insane, and attack and kill many other rats before dying themselves.

I would not necessarily recommend this approach. :^p

Comment by irilyth [livejournal.com] late Thursday evening, September 29th, 2011
Wow, that's...gruesome. I think we non-farmers tend to underestimate the devastating effects of rats if people have been driven that far to control them!
Comment by anna early Friday morning, September 30th, 2011

That's a pretty cruel control measure. While I'd have no problem taking out the rats, I wouldn't be able to do it so cruelly.

But anyway, thanks for this info. I always thought that chicks would need to NOT be outside for the first 6 months or so. That they can go out at 3 weeks would really make keeping them inside go over better with the wife.

Comment by Greg S mid-morning Tuesday, October 4th, 2011
You might be a good candidate for an outside brooder. I was thinking of making one this year after raising so many batches --- we basically had chicks in the house for four months this year. Something right outside your front door that is predator-proof, warm, and dry would be great, especially if you planned it so that you could add a run to let the chicks start exploring the outdoors early. A mother hen will actually take her chickens out to forage on day 2 or 3, and the earlier you get them out there, the healthier they are!
Comment by anna at noon on Sunday, October 9th, 2011

You are correct about leaving food out. The rats are looking for food and are good at doing that. You have to keep the food away from their reach.

I did that by getting a "rat-free chicken feeder". I got mine out of Oklahoma City thru the internet at "thecarpentershop.net". One of the best decisions I ever made. My chickens took only a day or two to become masters at stepping on the treadle bar and then the door just swings open and when they finish feeding they just leave and the door swings shut sealing off the food access.I was amazed how well it worked.

Comment by kekaha early Wednesday morning, July 3rd, 2013

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