Years ago, when I lived in the city, I had a problem with the gas mileage on my car. It got really bad really fast, and soon I was down to about three miles per gallon. As a friend of mine said, “I don’t think a Volkswagen can run at all if it’s in that bad shape.”
I fixed the problem by getting a locking gas cap.
Now I’ve been seeing a similar situation with the chicken feed. The organic feed I get costs twice as much as the standard stuff, and I’m hardly seeing any eggs lately. In fact, feed consumption has gone up even as the flock has diminished by natural attrition.
If you keep chickens, you’ve already guessed the problem. The other day I found a rat. Not some scroungy refuse-eating alley rat. This is a country rat, the kind that makes a living off of whatever the woods have to offer. On a good day, she’ll find a stand of something yummy all ripening at once. On a very good day, she’ll find the food people leave out for their animals.
This particular rat had enjoyed many very good days. So many, in fact, that her route through a bit of 1″ x 2″ wire mesh no longer worked. She was stuck. She struggled, then sighed, rolled her eyes in exasperation, and rested. Then she struggled again.
She was actually quite lovely, as feed-stealing pests go. She was plump and sleek, and her pelt had that healthy sheen that comes from eating fresh organic eggs. I recognized the look on her face as she worked at getting free: a little frustrated, very practical, and readily accepting that she and she alone had gotten herself in that situation.
When I found her, I was just leaving the house. When I got back, she had slipped away.
Since then, we’ve watched rats come into the run at night. They don’t seem to bother the chickens. They grab a mouthful of feed and dart away. Repeatedly. So I take the feed away from the chickens at night now. I know it’s only a temporary solution and that we need to get rid of the rats. Even country rats are not good to have around.
Some year I’d like to have a run with a concrete footing and walls of quarter-inch mesh, roofed in clear panels with plenty of overhang so the run stays nice and dry even along the edges. It would be a palace for the girls, and I could leave their food out all night.