I was so excited. In fact, I did a little happy dance around the yard. I skipped, I whistled, I sang, I danced my jig with glee (and with no human witnesses, thank you). Today, I went to let the chickens out, and went into the coop to first pull Blanche out of the nest. It has been my routine to pull her out, carry her around the outside to the door of the run, let everyone out into the grass and then I put her down with them. Today, the nests were empty. Wait – what? Empty?! Where was Blanche? Was she dead? Then I saw her outside, dustbathing in the afternoon sun. She was fine – and she was not sitting in a nest! Oh, happy day!!!
I skipped merrily around to the run and opened the door to let them out. All 9 ladies and 3 gentlemen poured out into the grass. Problem solved! She had abandoned her nest and was back to normal! Hurray!
Like it could last.
After a few blissful moments of letting me believe my broody problems were over, Blanche nipped back into the coop as I watched from the field in dismay. Everyone else was busy cleaning the leftover tomatoes and weeds from the garden and pulling earthworms from the rain-wet grass. Blanche went inside. By the time I put everyone away and I checked on her, she was hunkered down in her favorite nest, that familiar look of defiance in her eye. “Buck. Buck. Buck. Buck,” said Blanche. As she puffed herself up over her empty nest, I felt myself deflate. She was just kidding. She is still plenty broody.
And so our saga continues. Sad.
Sad, Sad, Sad
Stupid frost. Dead pumpkin vines so that the fruits cannot mature? Sad. Frozen then thawed immature pumpkins whose insides turned to mush so that they rot even faster? Sad. Attempting to eat said immature pumpkins so that they wouldn’t totally go to waste, only to find that they are bland and mushy when immature? Sad.
53 pounds of ripe, ripening, and unripe tomatoes that all rotted because of the frost that I KNEW we had while gone at our wedding and had to be thrown into the compost? Sad.
Bye bye, homegrown, homemade, home-canned tomatoes and sauce to last us all winter. Bye bye.
Sadder Than All That
This evening after work, but before sundown, I took the opportunity to let the chickadees out again. I knew Blanche was back in the nest, so I automatically went into the coop to get her before letting everyone out. Except for Blanche, everyone was outside in the run… enjoying the sunshine, I thought. I did a quick scan of the floor for rogue eggs (I find one now and again, though Shelley mostly lays in the nests these days) and suddenly noticed something odd in the back corner under the perches. It was distinctly egg-shaped. But it was too big… like a little bigger than a human fist. And it was brown… and, the light was failing, but… was it… furry? I took a step forward to look more closely and HOLY CRAP! It LEAPT into the air about a foot and a half then dashed out the chicken door and into the run. All eleven chickens in the run did a collective jump and squawk and then it was gone.
It was furry alright. It was a rat. A hunched-over rat that is trying to hide from you by not moving looks remarkably egg-shaped from behind. And it holds remarkably still. So THAT’S why all the chickens were outside.
I dashed back out the people-doors to the run to see where it went. That place is like a fortress… welded 1/2-inch wire mesh sunken into 18-inch deep, 6-inch thick concrete in the ground. Sealed to the ground on all sides. There was nowhere for the bugger to go. But like I said… it was gone. I opened the run to let the chickens out while I pondered this. How could he be gone? I mean… it could have gotten in while I had the door open sometime and I wasn’t looking, right? But that would mean he was trapped… like a rat, right? Puzzled, I recruited Brian to come out and babysit the chickens while I did some sleuthing.
And I discovered this:
I know it’s a terrible picture, but the deal is that in this bottom corner where the run attaches to the coop, the wire is not attached. There is a gap. This means that something the size of a rat (or a mouse, of course) could easily come from under the coop into the run through this gap. The reason we had the wire mesh installed to the ground everywhere was to avoid exactly this sort of thing. Rodents are a real problem with poultry. They’re attracted to the feed and smells, etc. Anyway, I checked the other corner and same deal… a small gap between the wire on the run walls and the wire that’s covering the space under the coop.
But, of course, this still begs the question – how did the rat get under the coop (and then through the gap and into the run and then into the coop) in the first place? We had the concrete laid all the way around the coop AND run. It’s a circle… no gaps in the concrete… it should be impenetrable. So I started walking around the coop and, to my horror, I found this:
It looks like the bastards are burrowing UNDER the concrete. As far as I can tell, that’s the only option. There is no hole in the dirt in the run, so they are tunneling down under 18 inches of concrete, coming up under the coop (which is on pylons and about 6 inches off the ground), and then squeezing through the gaps in the wire mesh to get into the run.
To be honest, I’ve always liked rats. It’s true. They are incredible animals… smart as all heck. And clean, relative to mice. They actually make good pets. And they are true survivors. I’ve been around them my whole life in several ways. I grew up with a dad with a serious herpetology habit. At one point in my life my dad owned over 1000 snakes. True story. To feed the snakes, he bred mice and rats, among other things. I’ve seen them pregnant, as babies, as adults… as pets and as food. I appreciate them in all roles. We also had huge wood rats and Norway rats that got into our garage and basement in my house when I was growing up. Our house was built in an oak grove on the edge of thousands of acres of park land. Rats were unavoidable. We trapped them, my dogs caught them, I even had a pet snake that had a knack for getting out and catching and eating ones in the walls of the house.
I say all this because I have to admit, I am stunned. You have to respect it a little. I mean… these guys solved a seriously complicated and difficult problem to figure out how to get into my coop. It took brains… and probably teamwork. But, respect and amazement aside, this is a serious problem for us. Rats carry disease. And they are opportunists. Not only will they eat (and potentially poop and pee in) the chickens’ feed and drink (and foul) their water, but they can potentially steal, break, and eat eggs, and also they can potentially chew on or even kill a chicken. Like I said – rats are smart. And they are bold and fearless. Unless we had a particularly aggressive snake, it was always a better idea to stun or kill a rat before putting it in a cage with a snake… even a really big one. Rats are notorious for killing snakes. They get behind them and bite them on the head, breaking through the skull. A rat killed my pet snake, Jake, a 5-foot long Ball Python. Believe me when I say… they can be a threat to a chicken if they feel like it.
So, I covered the gaps with more hardware cloth (wire mesh) and here I sit, devising a plan. The question is offense or defense? Defense = just covering up the holes and hoping that does the trick. Rats are known for chewing their way in through wooden floors and walls too, but ours are of double thickness… so hopefully that won’t happen. Also, with that approach, I would have to hope that they don’t eventually tunnel directly into the run itself… in which case, the wire mesh would do no good.
Offense = figuring out how to physically get rid of the rats that have made this their home. I read a great, environmentally-safe way to kill rats. Mix plaster of Paris, olive oil, and peanut butter into a thick paste. Roll into little bite-sized balls and scatter them around where the rats are. I know that rats can’t resist peanut butter. It’s one of the most effective baits for rat-traps. And apparently the plaster of Paris causes rapid calcium overdose and a fast death. As a back-up, it also hardens in the digestive tract and stops up the rat, which would also kill it. This is appealing because it is safe for whatever other creatures might eat the dead rats. It only kills the rat… not all the rest of the animals up the food chain like poison does. Anyway, I could make these balls and scatter them around and in the hole one the outside of the coop/run. That way the chickens won’t eat the by accident.
I will be honest and say that I really don’t like the idea of killing them. They are just being rats. It’s not their fault. And I don’t really believe they deserve to die. But, I have to think of my chickens. I have to protect my investment, and I have to make sure that I have the ability to provide a clean and safe home for chickens for years to come. Something has to be done. So, defense it is…. and maybe a little offense thrown in there. I’ll keep you posted.
Things That Are Not Sad
The chickens have started phase two of their garden-cleanup project: eating pumpkins and melons. They really seem to be enjoying them.
If we humans can’t enjoy them for food or decoration, at least they aren’t being wasted :)
The maples in our yard are lovely!
With the wedding out of the way, I finally have time to go to the farmers’ market every weekend again. I missed it so much this summer.
The sky this evening was spectacular. Have I mentioned I love Fall?