In response to social distancing guidelines, Utahns have found innovative activities that allow them to be with family and explore new adventures. During the 2020 COVID-19, visit rates to Utah State Park during the recovery months increased 36% compared to 2019.
In addition, interest in backyard farming, including gardening and chicken rearing, increased and was a major pandemic pastime. Prior to COVID-19, several Utah cities enacted ordinances that allow city residents to raise flocks of backyard chickens.
Unfortunately, local rat populations have also increased and are linked to the rapid growth of backyard chickens. Rats and other rodents are involved in the spread of zoonoses, including bubonic plague, hantavirus, leptospirosis, and rat bite fever. People can get these diseases if they are bitten by an infected rat or if they inhale or ingest microorganisms in the rat’s feces or urine. COVID-19 is a zoonosis.
Cities that have allowed backyard chicken farming have designed their ordinances to eliminate conditions that could attract rats and other rodents. These regulations require the ranchers to make chickens and other outbuildings that contain food “rodent-safe”. They also prohibit ranchers from storing rubbish unless it is stored in rodent-safe containers. Many ordinances also give city workers the authority to inspect ranches and resolve hygiene issues.
Rats and mice are productive breeders. They easily take advantage of new opportunities offered by food, cover, and water. Rats also hunt chicks and eggs, and when the infestation is severe and food is scarce, they can raid stables at night and attack juvenile and adult birds. Kill rats by biting the head or neck. Parts of chicken carcasses can be eaten and the corpses dragged into caves or other hidden places for later feeding.
You cannot see rats unless you have a severe rat problem because they are shy and nocturnal. However, if they are around you can detect chewing damage. If your basket doesn’t have openings for them, they will make their own, so watch out for nagging corners. They are also great graves and can enter a stable or run from below. Keep these tips in mind to deter rodents.
* Don’t create conditions that will attract rodents, raccoons, or skunks to your yard. Remove food and watering from your flock every night and replace them in the morning. Chickens do not eat or drink at night, but rats do.
* Be sure to store chicken feed in rodent-safe containers as rodents chew through wood rather than plastic and plastic rather than metal. When they have a source of food such as stored food they are difficult to eliminate.
* Use a small woven mesh fabric for the best protection. Chicken wire is not a barrier to predators. Most predators can tear through it, rats can bite through the thin wire, and some smaller rodents will squeeze their way through the holes. Use chicken wire to keep chickens out, not to keep out predators. Since rats are diggers and climbers, you should cover the bottom of your run, bury the bottom of your fence, or provide an apron to keep rats from getting in from below. The only way to completely exclude them from the chicken yard is to have a completely closed run – top, bottom and sides.
* Do not provide hiding places for rodents, raccoons and skunks. Many people choose chicken coops with raised floors that are open underneath to keep rodents and other animals from hiding.
* Reduce populations. In residential areas, simple wood-based snap traps with peanut butter work well.
For more information, contact your local County Extension Office or visit poultry.usu.edu/raising.
By: Terry Messmer, Utah State University Extension Wildlife Specialist, firstname.lastname@example.org