Saturday, September 3, 2011

Do urban chickens attract urban rats?

#$! rats?

The sudden arrival of rodents in the neighborhood is an issue no one particularly likes. And when they do arrive (or simply come out of hiding), folks are quick to try and find someone or something to blame.

Enter urban chickens to take the blame.

I fear some urban chicken proponents might be too quick to state that urban chickens are NOT the reason rats show up in a neighborhood.

Let's look at the rat facts as related by Judy Haley in her article, "Urban chickens bring urban rats":
rats flock to food sources; they remain close to the food source and breed; rats are attracted to bird seed and chicken feed; if rats were already present, they multiply once a new food source is introduced; and areas of clutter also provide nesting spots for rats.I won't argue with any of the above facts (I had a pet rat in college and can see each of these as true). Moreover, I can see where irresponsible storage of food or upkeep of one's yard could contribute to many of the attractions for rats.

However, to link the appearance of urban rats solely on the keeping of chickens in an urban setting seems to be using a bit too broad a brush to paint the blame. There are many food sources, not the least of which is improper keeping of trash in between pickups, leaving kibble in a bowl for "outdoor cats" or yard-kept dogs, seeds and pellets in a bird feeder, etc.

Responsible urban chicken farmers know to keep a clean coop, to only put as much feed as necessary out for the chooks while storing the rest in an air- and water-tight container, and disposing of any coop clutter (poop, nesting material, etc) quickly and thoroughly.

So, yes, the opportunity is there for irresponsible urban chicken keeping to attract rats, but common sense (which unfortunately seems in short supply in some places) should help keep rats from becoming a problem.

Have you noticed rats around your hen house? How have you taken care of the problem?

UPDATE (2/22): Following a discussion on rats on a listserv, I found this great resource from UC IPM on how to "manage" rats: Rat Management Guidelines.

Photo Credit: Matthieu A. on Flickr

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