RULING THE ROOST – JANUARY 2019

By Diane Lockspeiser

One of my chickens has the annoying habit of sitting on top of the feed can and, of course, then pooping on the lid. As I was grumbling one day about having to clean off the lid yet again, and that I’ve never had chickens do that before, I suddenly realized that it was my own fault. Last spring when I was integrating the new chicks in with the older hens, I would sit on the feed can while supervising the chickens. Evidently they then came to believe that the one in charge sits on the feed can!

I’ve been fully distracted by visiting grandchildren lately, so I still haven’t built the new section in the coop for adding new chicks in the spring. There is plenty of room for it since my coop is not a traditional one. It is actually a modified old shed. I had seen someone else use a shed for a coop and was happy not to have to build a whole coop. We installed two levels of roosting bars on one side of the shed, and a row of nesting boxes two feet off of the ground on the other side. I store hay bales on the shelf formed by the top of the nesting boxes. A flap door was cut to let the chickens out into the enclosed yard behind the coop, which has a gate for letting them out to free range. There is a plexiglass window for light, as well as the light fixture that was already in the shed. Near the top roosting bar we cut a flap window and covered the hole with screen, to let fresh air in on warm days and nights. On hot days, I prop open one of the “people doors” for even better air flow, but all doorways are closed tightly at night to keep out critters. It all worked well for a while… until the rats came.

First they chewed a hole between the two doors of the “people’s entrance.” I used the slats of an old metal Venetian blind to line the edges of the doors and the doorway to stop them from doing that any more. It worked, so they started chewing on the edges of the “chicken entrance” and I had to line that as well. Things were quiet for a few days. I foolishly thought the problem was solved… until holes started showing up between the planks of the floor!

Almost as soon as I patched up one hole, another would appear. It felt like a battle, and the floor became a mess of wooden patches. I didn’t want to use poison, for fear of accidentally poisoning the chickens or our dogs. We figured out that the rats must have been attracted by the aroma of the feed that fell to the floor from the hanging feeder, even when I swept it up each night. I guess that is why it is usually recommended to have your coop a couple of feet off the ground, out of sniffing range. Since our chickens were not using all of the nesting boxes, I decided to try putting their feed into a large dog dish that I placed inside an emptied nesting box. Any dropped feed goes into the box, not to the floor. I scrubbed the floor and became very careful not to allow any feed to remain on it. It worked. No more holes.

The following summer we replaced the patchwork floor with a new smooth plywood layer, taking the extra precaution of first lining the entire floor with heavy wire mesh, just in case. So far, so good.~