Good Control over Chicken Eating Predators Bad for Rodent Control

Discussion in 'Predators and Pests' started by centrarchid, Oct 13, 2013.

  1. centrarchid

    centrarchid Chicken Obsessed

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    Holts Summit, Missouri
    I have my predators of all sorts (foxes, hawks, owls, raccoons, opossums, snakes etc.) very much under control. This has come at a cost where the number of rats and mice has greatly increased and they are causing damage. Most of my birds are in small pens that can be moved. The rodents are so abundant and aggressive with their burrowing that they are making it difficult for me to walk and to place pens on level ground as I move them. They also create numerous mounds that make mowing real fun (sarcasm). They also consume of the feed when it is out after dark but cost of that is not known. The rodent abundance picks up where dogs maintain the exclusion zone for predators but even outside I can find lots of activity by the rodents. The high grass which benefits the chickens as cover and food source may also be promoting the rodent problem.

    Species ID of rodents is not known but I do not think they are the standard house mice or black / Norway rats. I suspect the rats are cotton rats. Early in year they were a source of entertainment as they harassed an unpleasant neighbor enough that he resorted to shooting them as they visited his front porch.

    I am not keen on using poisons and traps do not look like they will be able to get job. Using a rat terrier dog would possibly cause more damage to ground with all the holes dug. I may simply move all pens and plow ground up and manage ground differently where pens are located and I walk.
     
  2. boskelli1571

    boskelli1571 Overrun With Chickens

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    Have you tried barn cats? Mine are quite effective at keeping the rodents down and they don't bother the hens 'cos they're too big, Sue
     
  3. centrarchid

    centrarchid Chicken Obsessed

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    Same neighbor shooting rats off his porch has at least a dozen cats. They do not control rodents on his place although they do put a good dent in the rabbits and songbirds. My dogs keep those cats of our property. Our cats are allowed by dogs to roam but they are too well fed to put a dent in the rodents. To be honest, some of the chickens actively harass cats so dogs may not be only repellent at play.

    With our horse barns I grew up around the cats put a dent in the rodent abundance but the rodents still persisted in large / damaging numbers under the building structure. We could suppress numbers for a while using poisons but that was problematic for not target animals and when poison was applied for long time like we did for farrowing house the rodents developed immunity. Best control we had around horse barns was actually having chickens clean up loose grains before dark. Cats were also present to catch the reduced number of mice that had to range further from cover for eats.

    Cats can be a problem in their own right. I do not want to be a our vet's biggest customer like my dad was because of all the cats we took in to get fixed. Too much $$$ required. Additionally I am currently not using a barn although will be soon rectified.


    Below are photographs of area currently in use with rodent problems. Basically entire area in shot is used for free-range chickens and pen area is where the white / blue objects are located. Vegetation around pens is like in a mowed lawn and mowed trails are present as well that are used by me, birds and dogs. I will take more pictures and post them a little later.


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    Trails in middle of first image which you can not see at all for afar at eye level. Grass is greater than 4 feet tall.

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    System works very well on chicken and predator management side but clearly modifications will need to be developed for rodents. I really like the high grass.
     
  4. Bear Foot Farm

    Bear Foot Farm Overrun With Chickens

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    Mowing those pastures would help, since most of the tall stuff is worthless as feed
     
  5. centrarchid

    centrarchid Chicken Obsessed

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    Tall stuff (mostly cool season grasses like fescue and cheat grass) does not provide much directly with respect to nutrition but it is refuge for insects making so chickens do not overgraze. Cover value, especially from heat is vey important as well. The cut grass and legumes provides bulk of consumed greens. Overall forage is not limited as free-range birds in this setup require only about 1/3 as much food per bird as those confined to pens or run. Opening up will setup for overgrazing and dispersal of free-ranging groups of birds making predator management more difficult. Area shown represents about 4 acres and I will be in coming years work to change plant community to include more legumes and warm season grasses. Sheep and goats will be used to graze down patches to be interspersed with tall stuff. Whole mess will be expanded to nearly 12 acres but I need to ID plant species that thrive yet provide nutritional benefit to chickens, especially when consumed directly.
     
  6. Janet Pesaturo

    Janet Pesaturo Chillin' With My Peeps

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    If they are cotton rats and you are in Missouri, then you're near the northern limits of their range, where cotton rat population is subject to extreme fluctuation with weather patterns. So what you're seeing now might have more to do with factors larger than your predator management, and could change dramatically next year. Many small mammal species have natural cycles of population explosions and crashes, so I personally would ID them and find out what's been happening with their populations regionally, before doing anything.
     
  7. Janet Pesaturo

    Janet Pesaturo Chillin' With My Peeps

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    And from the look of your acreage, I too doubt you have either house mice or Norway rats. Agree that tall vegetation is excellent for cover, and mowing would create more predator problems.
     
  8. centrarchid

    centrarchid Chicken Obsessed

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    As the mouse in the house season approaches we will be seeing mice move into house briefly and most will be what look like deer or white-footed mice. They do not persist long indoor like house mice do. The rats in question are not to hard to find down in the woods and do not get as big as those normally associated with human habitation.


    I failed to make pictures of the mowed over burrow system but it is substantial. The burrows may actually be made by voles. I have two for sure and possibly three types of voles running about which my dogs eat like candy. It is cool to see the upland or prairie version pull plants down into the ground.

    Last year we had a pretty rough drought that hammered some species and this year I am seeing what I see as explosions in other species. I have more northern mocking birds than I have ever seen this year. There is also a large strong flying grasshopper I saw only occasionally in previous years that is currently abundant. It a little bigger than the Carolina grasshopper, green with florescent green stripe down its back. Yes we are seeing perturbations in the abundance of some critters.
     
  9. Janet Pesaturo

    Janet Pesaturo Chillin' With My Peeps

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    Centrarchid, we are birds of a feather. Are you a wildlife biologist?

    All mice that come into our house have been deer or white footed, also. It's not exactly rural here, but not quite suburban either. They can be persistent, but there is definitely a seasonal pattern, with noticeable influx beginning now, as outdoor temps drop. I had a woodland vole in the house last week - very interesting, I thought maybe one of the cats brought it in, but there was no sign of injury. Woodland vole population exploded this year - fun to watch the superficial tunnels come alive as sun goes down.

    I recall reading earlier this year about grasshopper outbreaks in midwest; I forget which species. Looks like you have young kids - You might enjoy reading them this book: On the Banks of Plum Creek, by Laura Ingalls Wilder. It's one book of a series about a pioneer family, and features a very detailed description of the severe grasshopper outbreak across plain states in the late 1800's. The species was the migratory rocky mountain locust, thought in 1900's to have gone extinct as a result of habitat destruction, but specimens were found in recent years that are thought possibly to be same species. Wilder's detailed description of the locust's appearance, behavior, reproduction, and fascinating migration, is the best known description and truly remarkable for a non-scientist.
     
  10. centrarchid

    centrarchid Chicken Obsessed

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    Trained as Zoologist / Fishery Biologist. Work in Aquaculture. Grew up around diversified agriculture including row crops, hogs, cattle, poultry (games and grandmothers egg production flock) and horses.

    Woodland vole I think is the brown species I have. Meadow vole is in the fen and the molt abundant is the prairie that makes all the burrows here.


    Grasshoppers of particular interest may be a locust. I will attempt getting a picture when warms enough for them to move about. When comes to grasshoppers, I am not a scientist. Species here for most part are different from those I grew up around and the number of species is incredible.
    A conservative estimate I have for grasshopper species is 20.
     

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