Controlling Rats in the Chicken Coop with a Weasel Box

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Eventually, unless your chicken pen/coop is built like a fortress, you will have rats. Especially in an urban setting like mine, where rats already exist due to human presence, the lure of eggs, chicken feed and sometimes even young chicks is too much for them to resist. A desperate rat will even munch on feathers and chicken poop.

The best rat control of course is always a good cat or dog, but some rats are too tough for the average farm cat or too wily for the average dog. My cat Parsley is usually the RCO around here (Rat Control Officer), but she will often come home very beat up from a rat fight, with scratches on her little face, neck and ears from the battle.

My dog will kill a rat if she can catch one, but she comes inside at night and that’s when they’re most active. Between them we’ve kept our minor rat issue under control until now, but now we have a special rat who refuses to be caught.

This extra intelligent rodent has decided to dig a maze of burrows underneath my chicken pen. It knows that the cat and dog can’t get at it if it comes out only inside the chicken pen at night, which is fully enclosed but does not have a wire mesh floor. It stays cozy and snug in its burrow by day, and raids the chicken and duck feed at night. The area around the pen looks like swiss cheese, and I never know when the ground beneath my boot will sink into a rat hole. Parsley has come home more than once with torn ears from battling this menace.

Now this particular rat has also developed the audacity to begin stealing eggs. Even though there is always an abundance of feed and grain inside the coop, this rat has cultivated more refined tastes. I have a basket hanging on the outside of my coop that I use to collect quail eggs. I usually bring them inside but some nights I forget. Just the other day, I noticed two quail egg shells laying on the ground that looked peculiarly like they had been nibbled open. He had climbed up, stolen two eggs out of the basket and eaten them at his leisure. Time to get serious!

The issue with catching rats inside a coop full of birds or in a yard with a lot of small pets around, is that you don’t want one of your cats or chickens getting injured by mistake. Rat traps are serious business and they could easily crush a delicate paw or feathered neck. I won’t even get into using poisons, as that can be even more dangerous for pets or wildlife who may later consume a poisoned mouse or rat. No, I want to use a good old fashioned Victor rat trap, but it needs to be used safely.

After doing a little research I came across the idea of the weasel box. A weasel box is a little wooden box about the size of a large birdhouse, that is used with bait and a trap inside to catch weasels. It has a hole at one end for the weasel to enter, and a smaller hole at the back covered with wire mesh, so air can flow through the trap, wafting the scent of the bait out and also reassuring the weasel that there is an escape route.

 

Now I’m lucky enough to not to have weasels where I am, but one day I plan to get a larger and more rural piece of property where they will no doubt be an issue. Until then, this seemed like a perfect solution for my rat problem. I built it in one evening, purchased my rat trap and set it up near the base of the coop, baited with two fresh quail eggs.

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I made mine with scraps left over from my fence construction, but you can easily build one with a single 1″ by 6″ wide , 6 foot long cedar fence board. Simply cut 3, 12″ pieces for the bottom and sides, one 17″ piece for the lid, and two 6.25″ pieces for the front and back. (Mine needed to be 7″ as my lumber was actually a full inch thick and 6″ wide instead of 3/4″ by 5.5″ like most dimensional lumber.)

The front piece should have a 2″ hole drilled slightly above center, and the back should have a 1.5″ hole drilled in the center, and covered with a square of 1/4″ wire mesh. I attached mine with a heavy duty staple gun.

It’s the perfect size to fit one of the large Victor rat traps. Put your bait next the mesh end of the box, and set your trap so the yellow or copper bait pad is next to it. This is so the rat doesn’t jump over the pad when entering the box, and also to keep the dangerous part of the trap as far away as possible from curious cat paws. If you have the kind of cats who like to stick their hands into hidey holes, you may have to attach an extender to the front entrance hole so they can’t injure themselves.

 

The rear of the lid should be attached with hinges, and the front can be fastened with a hook and loop type closure. I don’t have these parts ready yet, so for now my lid is held closed with a bungee cord. The trap is set up tonight for the first time, and hopefully I’ll be able to report its success very soon.

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Raised Beds Day 2

DSC_0002Technically it hasn’t taken me two full days to get this far along, I’ve only worked a total of about 6 hours and that includes driving to pick up materials. I need more daylight hours!

The first bed is nearly complete, it just needs the triangular bottom board on the far side put in and a couple of bracing boards installed to keep the sides from bowing out. I’ve decided on 2 foot wide pathways between the beds instead of 3.

I have been discovering renegade potatoes as I excavate, as well as a lot of grubs and cutworms, which are quickly dispatched by my two-chicken clean-up crew. I even managed to get 3 or 4 wheelbarrow loads worth of chicken pen flooring dumped in, just the spots that were soggiest and had compacted down. I’m leaving the nice, dry and crumbly earth for a top dressing.

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Next I’ll start emptying my overflowing compost pile and dump in most of the fresh stuff consisting mostly of rabbit manure, urine-soaked sawdust and cat litter (I use chick crumble for kitty litter) so it will rest deep on the bottom and continue to break down with the help of the worms.

I’m not concerned about putting cat waste into the bottoms of the raised beds since my cats are parasite free and they’ll most likely use the gardens as a litter box anyway. Heck, the chickens think the clumps of cat pee/chick crumble are special treats.

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A Gift

DSC_0004I came home last week to a small gift left for me outside my back door. It was obviously left by Parsley the cat, who is the resident small game hunter around here.

DSC_0003I’m not overjoyed that this Stellar’s Jay had to die, but I’m grateful for the opportunity to see one up close as I like them a lot. I don’t remember ever seeing one back east when I was growing up so they are a little bit special to me. I heard somewhere recently that no birds have blue pigmented feathers, they just have tiny random structures on them that scatter light and appear blue to our eyes. Well this guy sure appears to be pretty darn blue.

DSC_0006I’ve decided that I’m going to try to preserve this little bird with taxidermy. It will be my first try at this interesting art, and I hope I do him justice. He’s in pretty good shape since Parsley usually tries to keep gift birds alive for me, but I guess I came home a little too late for this dude. I’m sure he put up a good fight. He will be relaxing at the ever-popular Freezer Camp until I’m ready to process him.

I think knowing how to taxidermy will be a fun and rewarding skill. I’m planning to teach myself via Youtube, like I learn how to do most things. Wish me luck!

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My Boys

DSC_0007Although I’ve had cats all my life, I always had girl cats. I don’t know why, I guess I didn’t want to deal with spraying or cystitis. Of course now I have three girl cats who spray and Fred, the former stray, who has cystitis issues.

Then mama cat and her kittens showed up, and Fred moved in and all of a sudden I had three boy cats.

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DSC_0034I love my boys. The two kittens, Jeffie and Fluffy One, are almost a year old now. They are a constant source of joy for me and are always by my side. Fluffy One will start up a meowing fit if there is ever a door between us, and can basically jump about five feet into the air if he sees a bug. He is strange little cat, and insists on eating all my cucumber peelings when I make a salad. He gets excited when I call him for his “green spaghetti”. If I forget to give them to him in a bowl he will sneak on the counter and eat them when I’m not looking.

DSC_0025DSC_0027Jeffie sleeps with me every night, and when I wake up and lean on one shoulder to check my iPad, he climbs up and lies down on the other one with his paws hanging down, touching my cheek. If I have been playing too long he will come down and try to eat my fingers. I will also get my fingers eaten if I have been typing at my desk too long when I should be playing with him. He doesn’t really meow, instead he just has a high-pitched “meeeeeeee”.

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DSC_0030The two brothers love each other very much. Aren’t they sweet?

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Backyard and Container Garden Progress + Cats

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Parsley (the cat) in the container garden

I was a little on edge using the pure organic fish compost I had purchased, unamended in my giant container garden, but so far tests have been positive! You can distinguish it as the very black stuff in the photo above as compared to the lighter material which is my homemade compost. I think potting soil is a bit of a ripoff so I’m looking forward to the results of this experiment.

I was initially worried about drainage, so I added a 4-6 inch layer of homemade compost to the bottom of each pot, since it’s really light and chunky. It’s pretty much a mixture of kitchen and garden waste mixed with wood chips and rabbit and chicken/quail manure aged for about a year. I have two piles going and I alternate between piles; one gets emptied while the other gets filled. I don’t mind using compost that is a little unfinished, or chunky; but sometimes that isn’t ideal for seed starting.

So far I haven’t noticed any problems with compaction or burning or anything with the fish compost and it’s been a week or two since things were planted. I’ll be interested to see how the growth compares to my homegrown compost pots. Those pots have some fresh chicken pen floor as their bottom layer. Pure folly? We shall see.

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My tomato garden

A few tomatoes are in. These are my first attempt at cold sown tomatoes, so I have big expectations of them. Ideally, they should be as vigorous as any volunteer tomato in the compost pile. I will have a few in the ground and a few in pots. Maybe a total of about 15 plants. It’s a good thing I restricted myself this year because inevitably I found another tomato plant I wanted at the farmer’s market. It is a Striped German and is reported to taste like candy. I also picked up some Moroccan Tea Mint, Chamomile and a Mouse Melon plant. Not to mention a giant Black Bamboo and Sunset Glow Bamboo which will be used for privacy hedges.

I recently got out my shiny, beautiful, All American Pressure Canner to can some rabbit meat and I’m raring to go on the tomatoes, once they arrive. Tomatoes are one of my favorite things to can, they taste so good. There are a few flowers already, so here’s hoping for a bountiful harvest this year. I plan to try to keep suckers pruned and keep things tidy.

DSC_0031My arugula, started from seeds I collected last year, is growing like crazy. It’s ready for harvest after just a week or two. I’m glad these were the seeds I brought to the swap this year, I love imagining other beautiful plots of arugula all over the island. My red and yellow onions are getting big and my leeks no longer look like invisible blades of grass. Beets and carrots are coming in, although some creature (slug) has been helping themselves to part of the rows. Volunteer potatoes are huge already and calendulas are threatening to bloom. The yacon is bursting out of its pot and there are jalapenos and eggplants sprouting. It’s going to be a busy month!

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Mushrooms (the cat) in the container garden

Youngest Rex Litter Ready to Go

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Bucks on the left, does on the right

Bluefin’s kits are now six weeks old and ready to go to new homes. I checked them today and there are two blue otter does, one blue otter buck and two black otter bucks. The tort doe has been reserved. Bucks are $25, and does are $30.

These little guys are forage fiends and I probably fill their cage with fresh grasses three times during the hour span of my daily barn chores, they just can’t get enough.

Sometimes with the adult rabbits, I’ll put an additional pile of greens on top of their cages for them to pull down and eat at their leisure. Apparently Mushrooms thought I was preparing a nice cool bed for her and settled in for a nap on top of Scorch’s abode.

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