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.
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.