There’s a Mouse in the House!
Sooner or later anyone who keeps a few chickens is likely to spot a mouse scurrying across the coop floor. Most sightings are after dark when hens are snoozing on their roosts. That’s when nocturnal mice seek a chicken feed dinner.
Commercial chicken feed is nutritious to more than chickens. Small rodents also thrive on it. They eat expensive feed and also foul it with their urine and droppings. Mice should be eliminated from the coop.
Two general types of mice can be found in places where both people and chickens live. European house mice are common all over the world. They usually spend their entire lives in a home or chicken house and rarely venture outdoors. These tiny rodents are dark gray all over. White-footed, or deer, mice are native rodents that commonly visit coops and the homes of the flock owner. They are easy to distinguish from house mice since, as their name implies, they have white feet and bellies.
While house mice live in a coop year round white-footed mice are more likely in cooler months. House mice usually eat food in place, while white footeds often carry seeds a distance and cache them in a hidden place to nibble on later. Find a pile of corn in an old boot or any other hidden place and the culprit is likely a white-footed mouse.
It’s not good to have either type of mouse mixing with chickens. Although it’s probably not possible to totally eliminate them, several actions greatly reduce their abundance.
The best strategy for reducing mouse infestations in either a house or chicken coop is to keep them out. Mice are tiny and athletic. They can squeeze through small holes and cracks, the same openings that let cold drafts enter. Keep both mice and cold air outside by filling in holes and cracks with caulking. The best time to do this is in early fall before cold weather settles in. Filling cracks also keeps box elder bugs, Asian beetles, and other insect pests outdoors. Cracks can be anywhere but are especially likely around window and door frames and where wires and pipes enter a structure.
Mice enter a chicken coop to find shelter from bad weather, safety from predators, and dinner. They love eating grain and chicken mash or pellets. Anything edible in the coop should be stored in metal containers with tight-fitting lids. Mice easily chew through plastic ones so avoid them. Use metal trash cans instead. Mice will help themselves to feed in a feeder, and most people leave feeders exposed at night. Since chickens don’t eat during dark hours put feeders in a tightly lidded metal garbage can overnight. This will keep mice away from them. The feeders can simply be put back where the chickens can access them the following morning.
A neighborhood owl family can be a chicken’s best friend. Owls love dining on mice. Great horned, barred, and screech owls are relatively common in suburban areas and patrol nighttime neighborhoods seeking small mammals to catch and eat. Owls are active when chickens are securely sleeping in the coop. This reduces the odds that a hen will end up an owl meal. According to Karla Bloem, Executive Director of the International Owl Center, owls can be a chicken keeper’s best friend.
Avoid Poison and Glue Boards
Although it’s tempting to use poison to rid a home or chicken coop of mice it should be avoided for these reasons:
- Poisoned mice might be eaten by chickens, non-targeted wildlife, and pets. They can be sickened or killed by residual poison in the mouse’s body.
- Poisoned mice sometimes die between walls or in inaccessible places. Soon their bodies smell terrible.
- Poison is slow acting and cruel. A quick death by a snapping trap is more humane.
- Chickens, children, pets, and nontarget wildlife might find and eat the poison.
Glue boards are pieces of cardboard or heavy paper covered with an extremely sticky substance. A mouse walking over a glue board will be held tightly. They can’t escape. While glue boards catch mice they also catch non-targeted animals. Any human who touches the sticky stuff will struggle to get free of it. Mice caught in glue boards usually starve to death or are found alive and struggling. It’s cruel.
Mice are relatively easy to trap using any of the many devices on the market. Most common are snap-type traps that have been effectively catching small rodents for over a century. For people who prefer not to touch a dead mouse, newer type traps enclose the entire body. Some traps are even electronic and electrocute the poor animal. There’s even a trap that will alert a cell phone when a mouse has been caught.
Place several traps side-by-side along a wall where you have seen evidence of mice.
Despite the fancy new type traps the old-fashioned kind, baited with peanut butter or soft cheese, is most common and least expensive. Traps should be set in places where chickens, pets, and children can’t access them. It’s best to set traps in the evening and either spring or retrieve them the next morning. Following are tips for increasing trapping success:
- Mice tend to run parallel to walls. Set traps next to walls with the trigger end closest to the wall. Traps with yellow plastic triggers that look like cheese may be slightly more effective than the older traps with metal triggers.
- Set traps in pairs or triplets. Put two or more traps side by side along the wall for the best odds of catching a fast-running mouse.
- Set out many traps. The best way to reduce mouse numbers is to catch all, or most, of the mice in the same evening.
- Don’t assume they’ve all been caught. Usually, there are many mice in a coop or home. Once most have been caught, keep setting them. Likely a few mice remain or new ones may enter.
Dispose of dead mice by flushing them down the toilet, putting them in the trash, burying them, or placing them in a woodsy or tall grassy area for scavengers to eat. Chickens will eat mice, also. Wash your hands well after touching the traps or mice.
Reducing mouse numbers in a coop is an important part of chicken husbandry. It takes some effort but preventing an infestation and trapping any that lurk in the coop is important.
*Reprinted with permission from Hoover’s Hatchery.
A booming business in rural Iowa.
Our relationship with Hoover’s Hatchery started years ago and launched a long and mutually beneficial relationship that keeps growing.
Thanks to quality products and innovative management, the Hatchery, located in tiny, Rudd, Iowa, is thriving today and offers increasing services to its primary market – small flock owners. Raising tiny chicken flocks has become a popular backyard activity that combines fresh eggs with a fun learning experience.
Questions? Turn to Hoover’s Hatchery
Hoover’s chicks are fed the best ingredients.
Many newcomers have limited or no experience keeping chickens. Hoover’s is there to help. Want a mixed flock of docile hens that lay brown, blue, green, or white eggs? Hoover’s sells the chicks. Need help learning how to care for them? Hoover’s website is filled with tips and the staff is just a phone call away. Want to learn more? Hoover’s will guide you. Hoover’s is accurate because as Tony Halsted, Director of Business Development, stated, “We rely on people who have kept chickens for years and know what they are doing.” They are successful because they innovate. Flock Journey is their latest innovation and expansion of partnering with businesses and small flock Ambassadors across the country. From backyard poultry experts in the northern climes to those in the South East to Homesteaders, Hoover’s works with experienced and creative people.
This winter Hoover’s is launching a new website called FlockJourney.com. It’s filled with chicken keeping tips. Marketing Manager, Kelsey Spotts, explains that Flockjourney is a “…one-stop-shop for backyard poultry.” Visitors can come to one site to get all the information they need.
Innovation has helped the business grow.
Hoover’s Hatchery partners with several proactive businesses to support healthy poultry. Strong Animals out of Marshall, MN, advocates natural solutions to poultry care. Nature Serve in DeMotte, IN, formulates poultry feed for optimal nutrition.
So, how does Winding Pathways fit? We write blogs for Hoover’s Websites and help with a monthly Facebook Live program. Take a peek at Hoover’s Hatchery website. And be sure to order your chicks early as the business is booming. And, Flockjourney is a one-stop site for information on Lifestyle, Breeds, and Poultry Care. The images are engaging, the blogs and videos both informative and entertaining, and topics range from warm treats to decorating the coop for holidays to chickens off the grid. There is always something brightening up the website, thus, encouraging your creativity as a poultry owner.
One of Several Hoover’s Hatchery Ambassadors
Why Winding Pathways? Well, we have plenty of experience. Rich has been keeping chickens since he was a child in New Jersey in the 1950s and Marion grew up in a family that gardened and raised chickens and pigs in New England. The Pattersons have kept chickens for most of their married life, tested many breeds in small flocks, and experimented to find easy and effective ways to keep chickens.
We blog occasionally about chickens on Winding Pathways and are proud to be part of the team with Hoover’s Hatchery to help encourage people everywhere to keep small flocks in ways that are fun, productive, and safe.
Late December is special. There are lots to be thankful for and a good reason to celebrate. The solstice just passed, promising a daily addition of sunlight and signaling that spring is on the way. Then there’s a multitude of seasonal, cultural holidays and Holy Days. St. Lucia’s Day, Las Posadas, Yule Winter Solstice, Boxing Day, Kwanzaa, Christmas, and New Year’s Day.
People everywhere enjoy special year-end treats. For us, it’s stollen and pickled herring plus delicious cookies and, in some years, a tender roast beef dinner.
We remember our chickens and give them special year-end treats. They need it. Few things are as delicious to a hen as a juicy grasshopper or fresh grass shoot. By now those are just memories, and the poor birds have to make do with a diet of nutritious, but boring, commercial mash.
Jazz Up the Diet and Relieve Boredom
So, while keeping plenty of quality mash in the feeder, we jazz up their diet with these things:
We vary the treats.
Mealworms: Our chickens might not like them as much as a June caterpillar but dried mealworms are a great winter substitute, so we sprinkle a couple of handfuls in the coop every day. These treats can be bought online or in farm and pet stores.
Sunflower seeds: Many people put sunflower seeds out for cardinals, chickadees, and other birds to enjoy on frosty days. Chickens also love them. We toss a handful of black oil sunflower seeds with the hulls on into the coop. They quickly disappear.
Squash seeds: We enjoy eating butternut and other winter squash during the cold days. Our chickens devour the seeds.
Scratch: Chickens love eating commercial scratch grain, a blend of corn, milo, wheat, and oats. A handful or two a day is plenty. It’s chicken candy but low in protein. Be careful when buying scratch. Some brands include a high percentage of milo, a grain that chickens don’t favor. It’s a round reddish colored seed. Try buying scratch with a low milo content.
Flock block: Each winter we buy a flock block. They’re made by several companies and are compressed scratch grain fortified with molasses and other treats. We simply put the heavy block on the coop floor. It takes the birds several weeks to eat it all and keeps them busy picking out tidbits. Farm and pet stores sell them. Some folks make their own!
We toss a few treats outside the pophole door to entire the hens outside in winter.
On winter days, before enjoying our morning coffee and breakfast we open our coop’s pop hole door and scatter some chicken treats. We’re sure to say good morning and thanks to our hard-working hens.
Rich shows three treats while a hen in the coop checks out what is happening.
Hens check out new foods carefully.
Chickens gather ’round the Flock Block.
Satisfied that the Flock Block is something good, the hens and rooster begin to peck at it.
Clouds darkened in the late morning of August 10, 2020, as a thunderstorm warning was broadcast by radio stations. That’s common during Iowa summers, so we weren’t overly concerned. A half-hour later, a roaring wind engulfed Cedar Rapids. It was a derecho bearing winds up to 140 miles an hour.
We watched our young trees bend before the tempest. Then came the terrible part.
First, our black oaks tumbled down. Then, the black cherries and hackberries tumbled down before the wind. Our massive black walnut stood until a ferocious blast tore its branches and leaves off.
The derecho lasted longer than most – over 40 minutes – and left as quickly as it had arrived. The damage was mindboggling. We soon learned that Cedar Rapids lost 65% of its trees. A quick count showed that 47 of our 53 mature trees were either on the ground or stripped of leaves and branches. We lost privacy and shade and gained a view.
For several days the chickens were truly “free-ranging.”
We worried about our 20 chickens. The storm came so quickly that we couldn’t lure them into the coop. The wind destroyed the chicken run’s fence. The birds were fine and, with the fence down, began their first neighborhood tour. Even before the rain stopped!
We couldn’t erect a temporary fence for several days, so the chickens were truly free-ranging. They roamed around, and we often didn’t even know where they were.
But, every once in a while, a hen returned to the coop to lay her egg in the nest.
Each sundown all the chicks came home for the night. All 20!
With power off and vast damage over a large area, we were fearful about food. Our freezer warmed and the wind damaged many of our garden crops. Would grocery stores reopen????. Could we even get through on the tree chocked roads??? We didn’t know. But it was soon obvious that our hens were nonplussed by the storm and kept giving us fresh eggs.
The chickens kept on laying eggs.
Assuming a chicken flock survives an immediate disaster – flood, fire, or storm – they’ll continue laying nutritious eggs when other food may not be available. They are valuable disaster companions.
Well, you don’t. These powerful storms develop quickly from what seems like a “normal” thunderstorm. Even the weather service can be caught off guard as happened Monday, August 10, 2020, as a series of storms developed over Nebraska and swept East rapidly.
Gustavus Hinrichs, a Danish immigrant, and professor at the University of Iowa, recognized these storms differ from hurricanes because the winds move quickly in a straight line. Hence, derecho.
This link has satellite imagery of the formation of the derecho with Eastern Iowa being the epicenter. Over 20 counties have qualified for disaster aid.
Winding Pathways sustained damage especially the trees. And, we are working each day in the community to help recover. In the future, create.
For now, we invite readers to support local organizations in communities damaged by natural forces like fires, storms, and droughts.
We are OK. The chickens were truly “free-ranging” for ten days before we got temporary fencing back up. They keep eating our food scraps, foraging for insects, and laying eggs so all is well.
And, we will update as we can.
Go to our posts on preparedness and we will post updates of what we learned to add to preparedness. Remembering that different emergencies require different responses and different preparedness techniques.
Even healthy-looking chickens can die suddenly.
Our chickens aren’t really pets. We don’t give them names and every once in a while, we sell or give away a few. Even so, we get attached to our hens as we recognize their individual personalities and enjoy their antics.
Maybe it’s silly but we feel sad when one dies. That happened recently when we went into our coop to find one of our Buff Brahmas moping. She was huddled in a corner crouched down into the sawdust litter. The next morning, she was dead.
We carefully examined her and learned she was well fleshed and had no obvious signs of either disease or injury. We’ll never know what caused her untimely death but over the years we’ve developed a procedure we use when a chicken dies. Here’s what we do:
- Carefully remove the dead bird and dispose of its body. We usually either bury it or gently carry it down in the woods and let nature recycle it. Often a raccoon makes a meal of her the first night. Most municipal waste disposal companies will allow putting an animal carcass in the trash if it’s bagged in three layers of plastic.
- Watch the flock for any sign of disease. If more than one bird dies in a short time, we suspect a disease. We would quickly change out litter, sanitize feeders and waterers and consider taking a bird to the vet. But actually, we can’t remember ever having a disease take a second bird.
We’re careful to protect our flock from disease and practice bio sanitation. Isolation is the best way to keep disease at bay, so we rarely introduce an outside bird to the flock. Because we don’t want to introduce disease, we change clothes and wash up after visiting another flock and before going to our chickens.
Remember to always wash carefully after handling chickens, eggs, feed, or even visiting the coop.
Given nutritious food, protection from dampness and drafts, and practicing biosecurity makes it likely that a backyard flock will stay disease-free, but occasionally a chicken dies. Yup, it’s always sad and it’s part of keeping a flock.