There’s A Rat In My Hen House, What Am I Gonna Do?

No these are not the lyrics to an 80’s reggae tune, but a frequent cry from the poultry keeper.

  • Rats and mice are a common problem when poultry are kept.
  • They are attracted by the poultry food.
  • Rodents are opportunistic eaters.
  • Rats are attracted by the water as well as the food.
  • Rats and mice will burrow their way under the housing.
  • Rodents like to hide under piles of straw or deep litter.
  • It is sometimes difficult to tell if they are present as they often come out at night to feed.

Signs Of Rodents

1) Small holes in the soil around the edge of the housing and inside the hut.

2) Small blackish pellet shaped droppings usually found near the poultry feeder.

3) Feed disappearing too quickly for the amount of poultry kept.

Rodent Control

  • Good housekeeping of the poultry hut and surrounding area.
  • Make sure that spilt food is cleared away so that it doesn’t attract the rodents.
  • Store poultry feed in rodent proof containers.
  • Keep water spills and pools of water cleaned up.
  • Change straw and litter frequently so that the rodents cannot live underneath.
  • Small huts can have small mesh wire netting nailed to the underside of the hut to prevent the rodents entering the housing from underneath.
  • Eliminate hiding places around the poultry housing.
  • Keeping a cat can help control the numbers of rats and mice.
  • Setting traps for rats and mice can be helpful if the rodent population is small.
  • Set up a bait station in a hiding place with rat poison in it.

Feather Picking And Cannibalism In Poultry

Poultry love to peck and spend their day doing so. Toe picking and feather picking (cannibalism) are common vices in chicks and adult birds. Chicks tend to peck at other birds toes whilst adult birds peck at the necks and rumps of other birds.

Causes Of Feather Picking

  • Poor nutrition (lack of protein).
  • Lack of greens in diet.
  • Overcrowding.
  • Over heating the birds.
  • Lack of floor space.
  • Lack of feeding space.
  • Lack of drinking space.
  • Very bright lighting.
  • Increased daylight hours.
  • Boredom and idleness.

Action To Stop Feather Picking

At the first sign of feather picking, take action to stop this bad habit because the birds will continue to feather pick and once blood is drawn the birds will pick even more frequently and this could result in the death of the attacked birds.

  • Change the environmental conditions.
  • Provide more floor space.
  • Provide more feeding space.
  • Provide more drinking space.
  • Ensure better ventilation.
  • Cut back on the amount of light the birds have.
  • Change the lighting in the coop to red as this will make the blood more difficult to see.
  • Improve the birds comfort.
  • Change feed – from crumbs or pellets to a mash feed that will require more time at the feeder.
  • Give the birds more greens in their diet.
  • Free-range the birds as much as possible as this will divert their attention and also allow the victims to get away from their attackers.
  • Provide toys to divert attention such as scraps of food.
  • Hang a cabbage by string from the roof of the run or hut to provide a diversion. The birds pick at the leaves instead of each others feathers.
  • Remove the attacker from the group.

Alternative Methods To Stopping Feather Picking

  • Apply anti-pick ointments or powders to the birds, the taste is supposed to discourage further picking.
  • Mount shields or specs onto the top of the beak to obstruct forward vision – the disadvantage of this is that it can catch on things and come off.
  • Beak trimming.

Beak Trimming

  • Beak trimming is cutting off a proportion of the upper beak (last quarter inch).
  • The lower beak can be blunted but it must never be trimmed along with the upper beak because then the bird would not have anything to scoop grain up with and would starve.
  • The trimming is best done before the birds start to lay, preferably by 16 weeks of age but it can still be done at any age.
  • Chicks can be beak trimmed as early as 1 day old using a beak trimming machine.
  • Incorrect trimming can lead to mortality due to starvation.
  • Most beaks don’t grow back if trimming is done at an early age but in older birds it can grow back after about 6 weeks.
  • A beak trimming machine has an electrically heated blade that cuts and cauterizes at the same time to avoid bleeding.

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Breeds Of Chickens – Egg Layers Or Meat Production

Chickens are bred for different purposes. Some are breed solely for their meat, others their egg production and some for dual purpose.

Dual Purpose Breeds

  • Rhode Island Red
  • New Hampshire
  • Plymouth Rock
  • Wyandotte
  • Orpington
  • Light Sussex
  • Australorp
  • Marans
  • Dominique
  • Houdan
  • Langshan
  • Dorking


  • Leghorn
  • Wyandotte
  • Araucana
  • Minorca
  • Australorp
  • Marans
  • Dorking
  • Langshan
  • Dominique
  • Delaware

Meat Birds

  • Cornish
  • Orpington
  • Cochin
  • Brahma

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Biosecurity – Protect Your Poultry From Bird Flu

With the news of an outbreak of bird flu of the H5N1 strain in Britain, it is important that the UK poultry farmers, small-holders and henkeepers have the correct biosecurity measures in place.

  1. Food containers should be kept inside or protected from wild bird contact.
  2. Water containers should be kept indoors and protected from wild bird contact.
  3. Supply fresh water daily to avoid contamination of water.
  4. Make sure feed is clean and not contaminated with soil and bird faeces.
  5. Spilt feed should be cleaned up as it attracts wild birds and vermin.
  6. Buy bagged up feed that has not had contact with wild birds or vermin.
  7. Store feed in containers that are protected from contact with wild birds, vermin and pets.
  8. The wire netting on poultry huts and runs should be small enough to prevent wild birds entering the huts or runs.
  9. Disinfect equipment and machinery regularly to stop the spread of bacteria and infection.
  10. Disinfect footwear and gloves after contact with the poultry and wear clean overalls to reduce the spread of bacteria.
  11. Always wear protective clothing and gloves when cleaning and disinfecting the huts, equipment and machinery.
  12. Always wash your hands when you have contact with the poultry.
  13. Look out for signs of illness in the birds and consult your vet.
  14. Limit and control access to the poultry in order to minimise the risk to visitors and minimise the spread of bacteria.
  15. Protect poultry from contact with vermin, wild birds, pets and other animals.
  16. Keep property and poultry areas clean and tidy at all times.
  17. Clean and disinfect areas before introducing new stock.
  18. Isolate new stock and look out for signs of illness.
  19. Dispose of damaged eggs and dead birds quickly and appropriately.
  20. Free ranging poultry keepers and farmers need to ensure that they have plans in place for isolating poultry from wild bird contact.

For more information about biosecurity, visit the Defra website.

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Reasons Why Poultry Might Not Lay

Hens may stop laying or may not lay for a number of reasons.

  1. The age of the hen – as they get older the amount of eggs may reduce.
  2. The health of the hen – illness or parasites can hinder laying.
  3. The time of year – the length of daylight can affect egg production.
  4. Changes in the type of food given – this may cause problems as the nutritional content of the food may vary.
  5. The introduction of new birds to the flock – this may cause undue stress for the hens as they re-establish a pecking order.
  6. Significant changes in routine – can cause stress for the birds.
  7. Housing conditions – unclean, overcrowded, dark and cold conditions can cause stress and or illness which may affect egg production.
  8. Handling and movement of the poultry – transporting hens, overhandling, incorrect handling and sudden handling may hinder laying if this causes stress for the birds.
  9. Vermin and predators – the presence of rats, mice, cats, dogs and foxes may frighten the poultry or cause undue stress.

Deciding To Keep Poultry

Keeping poultry is my hobby and gives me great pleasure as well as the added bonus of fresh eggs on a daily basis. However looking after poultry, like any livestock or pets for that matter, takes time, effort and commitment.

Things to consider before keeping poultry.

  • Do you have time to feed, water and egg collect daily?
  • Are you at home enough so that the hens can free range?
  • Can you provide the hens with a regular routine?
  • Do you have enough space to house a hut and possibly a run for when you are not able to free range the birds?
  • Do you have enough space for the hens to free range?
  • Is the fencing or boundaries around your house and garden secure enough so that the birds will not escape?
  • Do you have pets that might not mix well with the hens?
  • Are you allowed to keep poultry where you live as some house deeds state that the keeping of livestock is not permitted?
  • If you have neighbours close by, what will they think?
  • Will the noise level be ok since cockerels and guinea fowl are prone to making alot of noise?
  • Can you get reliable help for times when you are away or poorly?
  • Do you know how much it costs to keep the birds and can you afford it?

When you have considered all of these questions and you feel happy that you can provide the right amount of time, effort and commitment needed to keep happy and healthy poultry then you are nearly ready. There are just a few more questions to consider.

  • Do you know enough about the basics of hen keeping?
  • Are you fully prepared for the arrival of the birds?
  • How many birds should you keep?
  • Which type of birds do you want to keep?
  • Where do you get the poultry from?
  • Do you have the correct equipment – feeders and drinkers?
  • Is the housing the correct size for the number of birds?
  • Where can you get the poultry feed from?
  • Will your local vet provide veterinary care for sick or injured poultry?

You must make sure that you understand the basics of poultry keeping and that you have fully prepared for the arrival of your birds. Remember, do your homework and be a fully prepared poultry keeper!

Storey\'s Guide to Raising Poultry (Storey\'s Guides to Raising)






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White Leghorn Chickens



A light breed.

Originally exported from the Italian port of Leghorn.

Good egg layers.

Lay white eggs.

Not recommended for their meat.

At maturity they weigh approximately 1.5/2kg.

Female leghorns have a folded single comb.

Female leghorns can mix with Guinea Fowl.