Much happenings since I last posted. I got a job! I got laid off! Again! But at least it now frees my time for writing. So I thought I’d start off with a bang and detail my trials and tribulations with a vermin infestation.
If you recall, a couple of winters ago, we had a terrible winter in the Northeast. There was snow up to my hips before drifting. Because the hoop house (chicken winter quarters) had collapsed, the flock was living in their A-frame summer coop, which is fenced on the bottom with living quarters on top. We knew when the first storm was on its way so I lined the bottom outside of the coop with plastic and built a small entrance in front of the door. I finished covering the top of the coop with roofing paper — I was concerned about moisture if the entire structure was covered in plastic. My goal was to prevent snow from entering the coop and keeping drafts to a minimum while allowing some air flow.
Sometime during the 1 1/2 to 2 months of near constant snow storms, I started to notice a problem with vermin. I truly thought it was the moles, not field mice. Considering the winter we were having, I was not surprised nor too concerned. As long as the birds made it through the winter, I figured it would work itself out in the spring. Boy, was I wrong.
Fast forward to spring. My 3 guinea hens are gone. One was eaten in the coop. One flew out into the trees and-and and starved. One ended up with compound fractures in one foot. I tried to mend her, but the foot was simply too severely damaged (confirmed by a vet) and I had to have her put down. The chickens, surprisingly, were unscathed.
As the snow melted, I saw mouse droppings everywhere and I was constantly refilling the food and water dispensers and cleaning the laying area. I was beside myself. I REALLY did not want to use poison. Chickens are omnivorous and I was concerned that they, or my serial killer cat, would eat the poisoned carcasses. Plus, I hadn’t seen them yet and did not want to leave poison lying around the coop or pen. I wanted to confirm what was causing the problems and explore other options besides poisoning.
As the weather warmed, the little turds became so bold! They started to come out well before dark to eat and drink. When I approached the pen, they ran off, but one always watched, little head out of the ground, waiting for me to leave so he could tell the others.
And if I threw treats in the pen for the girls, the mice got it.
And they were so fat from the chicken feed I thought they were rats at first. But no, they were simply very well fed field mice.
So I embarked on less destructive methods in the hopes of containing the problem without resorting to poison. (Side note: I do like mice. They are super cute! But I simply cannot have them creating havoc in the coop. And what if they started to invade my house? Or worse, the neighbors?)
The first step I took was raising the coop off the ground and putting 1×1 wire on the bottom and exposed sides. We also took care of a spot near the layer boxes where the little wankers had chewed a hole to get in and out of the area. This took care of problems at night. But as I had to open the coop during the day, they still had access to everything.
The second step was investing in a very cool chicken feeder with the hilarious name of Feed-O-Matic. It took a bit to train the birds, but they eventually got it and I absolutely love it. (Disclosure: I get no love from Hogslat for this review; I’m simply relating my experience.)
The fact that the step is plastic makes it perfect. I don’t have to worry about the girls stepping on extremely cold metal in the winter just to eat. When it’s closed, the mice can’t get to the food — they’re not heavy enough to open the feeder using the step.
Not only that, but the food is completely safe from the weather. No more losing food to rain, no dirt gets in, nothing. I fill it up and leave it be and the food lasts much longer. With the food weather and vermin safe, my investment in layer pellets has dropped dramatically. I like this feeder so much I will always use it, even when I don’t have vermin problems.
Once I was confident the girls knew how to use the Feed-O-Matic, I hoped I would see changes in the mouse activity. Alas, it was not to be. I had not yet figured out a way to keep the critters out of the water which was a major problem as they made the water extremely dirty. Since the coop was open in the day, they still had access to the waterer and layer boxes.
As a result, I very reluctantly turned to poison. I waited two weeks after the food situation was completely working before diving in.
I chose TomCat Rodent Station (no reciprocity from TomCat either!). My thought was I could put the station with the poison near the water and the birds wouldn’t be able to touch it. I took other blocks of poison and dropped them down the very big holes in the ground left by the superfast mice throughout the pen area and other places in the yard. That left no poison above ground.
Talk about an immediate reaction! I figured the mice would be hungry after not having access to the chicken food for those two weeks. My thought was they would eat the poison because they were hungry, even if they didn’t like the taste. Well, they ate it, all right. I found a dozen little carcasses in the yard over the next few days. I can only imagine how many were on the ground. And fortunately, neither Ash the serial killer cat or the flock touched them.
But the poison station near the waterer wasn’t touched. The mice were way too fat to get inside!
Sadly, this round of poisoning didn’t get rid of all of them. So I waited a couple more weeks and set out another dose. This time, I found 2 or 3 carcasses in the yard. And the problem appeared to be completely gone. Even now, and it’s a year later. While it looks like moles are moving back into the yard, I don’t see any signs of mice.
So while I hate poison, my thought is it was a better solution than sticky paper (which is a horrible way to die, from starvation or exposure, unable to move) or live traps (where they eat each other in an attempt to stay alive) and regular traps wouldn’t have worked in the pen or coop. At least the poison was quick and if any of my lovelies nibbled on a carcass, it wasn’t enough to harm them.
But what about the water? Regular waterers get dirty no matter what, even without the mouse droppings. So for my final step, I went back to Hogslat and found their drinking bucket. I love this too. I can fill it and leave it for days at a time and it stays pretty clean. And, because the nipples are recessed, it’s easy to move around. You don’t have to worry about inadvertently breaking them.
But it does take longer for the girls to learn to use (at least for mine) and they don’t like using it. I am letting them free range this summer so they drink a lot of morning dew off the grass. Chickens will be chickens!
I heat it with an aquarium heater in the winter. I didn’t find this ideal as it leaves the lid cracked for the heater’s electric cord which allows the entry of dirt. I would love a version of the drinking bucket that is heated.
In the end, while the vermin issue was the cause of much stress and the loss of my beloved guinea hens, I do like how it pushed me to improve living conditions for the flock. The coop isn’t sitting on the ground and their food/water are much cleaner. And because both the waterer and feeder hold so much, I’m not refilling (or cleaning) every day, which makes enjoying the girls so much easier.