General Information and Description
Widely considered a pest in homes and farms, rats are long-tailed rodents in the biological superfamily Muroidea. Their large size distinguishes them from mice. Rats like to live alongside humans, and take every opportunity to prey on their food and livestock. These predators often do their dirty work at night. Rats are also known to carry zoonotic pathogens, or animal-borne diseases like Leptospira and Weil’s disease. In fact, the Black Death that plagued Europe in the 1300s is believed to be caused by black rats carrying the tropical rat fleas. Today, they are known to carry diseases like swine fever and foot-and-mouth disease.
Rats are found all over the world. They love living in close proximity to humans and have adapted to living and nearly any conditions. They have a highly sensitive sense of smell that leads them to sources of food. You may find them in areas near your poultry houses, feed stores, or in close proximity to your livestock. Some may even live inside your home. Rats enjoy burrowing underground or creating dwelling spaces in cellars and basements. These help protect them against their natural predators. Rats are rarely seen in the daytime and do their damage at night when most of the world is asleep.
Methods of kill
A rat's predatory prowess centers on it's powerful teeth, which can gnaw at wooden barriers. They are known to eat through chicken wire with their razor sharp teeth. Their relentless gnawing can give them access to livestock and other types of food. While they are not generally known to attack larger animals, they will attack adult roosters and hens which defend themselves furiously by killing rats with their sharp eagle-like claws. However, chicks are easy prey. Rats are known to pounce on and bite a chick continually until it is immobilized while other rats come in like vultures to finish it off. Eggs are also eaten.
Prevention and treatment
One way to ensure you don't end up with a rat infestation is to block their access their access and not leave food around that could attract them. You could also switch your regular chicken feeder with a rat proof chicken feeder. If you have sacks of feed stored in unprotected wooden sheds, rats can gnaw through and get to them. You may want to build concrete shacks or store your feed in large airtight storage bins to reduce the smell. A number of options are thoroughly discussed here. Also make sure you place traps and poisons where your chickens, children and other pets cannot access it. Given the opportunity, a chicken may eat rat bait with tragic results. Just make sure you regularly check bait stations and throw out dead rats so the chickens don’t eat them. Rats love stealing eggs, so make sure you collect them frequently. Keep chicks in a secure chick brooder.
For more info and discussions on dealing with rats, see the Predators and Pests section of the forum.