Wednesday, 27 August 2014

How to Prevent Rats and Mice around Chickens

Flyte so Fancy's location, tucked away in the corner of the Blackmore Vale in Dorset, is one of the prettier places I have lived in. In fact all year round, the surrounding countryside is a rustic idyll worthy of a picture postcard. This charming backdrop doesn't come without a few extra problems though, rats and mice in particular, are something that we keep an extra sharp eye out for in our poultry paddock.

When you think of poultry predators, the first thought to come into peoples heads is the cunning and resourceful Mr Fox. However, poultry keepers agree that Rats and Mice are a persistent and particular nuisance when keeping chickens.

poultry vermin
Photo courtesy of
It isn't however the chickens themselves that attract the rats and mice, but rather their feed. If you have your feed badly stored, or your hens are prone to making a mess while feeding then chances are sooner or later you will attract rats and mice to your chicken coop. There are some brilliant feeders available that are designed to stop your chickens from throwing their feed around and making a mess. The Wise Feeder is a mountable feeder that immediately lifts the feed up out of the way of passing rodents. It then has various lips and dividers to prevent your hens from tossing the feed about, saving on feed and limiting the number of vermin attracted to the area. Galvanised vermin-proof treadle feeders also help to reduce the number of rats and mice. It works off the simple expedient that vermin do not weigh enough to open the flap covering the feed (equally smaller wild birds do not weigh enough either) meaning that only the chickens can access the feed, while at all other times it is securely stored away.
anti rats and mice feeders for poultry
10kg & 20kg Treadle Feeders

A good option for keeping mice and rat out of the garden, perhaps the most traditional option, is a large and preferably hungry cat. Although a cat might not be everyone's idea of the best way to control vermin population, there are plenty of other ways to keep rats and mice populations low. Rat Bait Boxes, properly situated along hedgerows, by woodpiles and around the chicken coop (places where rats and mice tend to run and have nests) provide a place to put down rat poison in a locked container, where larger animals, birds or even children can not get at the poison. The Tunnel Rat Bait Boxes work particularly well, as they can be put along vermin's usual pathways for them to run right through.

Another way to help deter mice from around your chicken coop is using an Ultrasonic Indoor Mouse Deterrent. A safe option, meaning other wildlife remains unaffected, these pest controllers are a great alternative to poisons or traps. They do however have a proviso. They can only be used indoors, i.e in your stable where you keep you hens or actually inside the house with your hens. Emitting a 40khz ultrasonic pulse every eight seconds, they can cover an area of 1000 square feet, keeping mice away from your birds.

Like nearly all issues that arise in keeping chickens, the problem of rats and mice around your hen house is easily dealt with;

  • Securely storing feed in a strong feed bin.
  • A good feeder that prevents spillage and waste.
  • Safe, contained Bait Boxes in sensible locations
  • The use of poisons.
  • Alternative deterrents like ultra-sonic pest control
Meaning your hens can roam free and happy, while you don't have to worry about a plague of rats or mice descending upon your homestead. If have any of your own ideas for deterring vermin, or have a question why not leave a comment below.

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Monday, 18 August 2014

Keeping Guinea Fowl

After a well earned holiday in the Cognac region, where I bored many members of my family by tediously pointing out the many different breeds of hens that the French keep in their gardens.

"Le Poulet et Mille Fleur!"

Somehow my pronunciation of chicken breeds in an awful french accent combined with linguistic skills to be found wanting, were not warmly received. I was certainly happy to return to Flyte so Fancy and commence talking about Gallic hens for as long as possible.

Keeping Guinea Fowl
FSF Guinea Fowl Chicks
In my absence from FSF HQ however, we had a rather unexpected arrival in the chicken field. Out of nowhere, Guinea Fowl chicks had hatched. Our flock of Guinea Fowl had originally come to live with us a few years ago, one because their gorgeous feathers are lovely to look at. But secondly, they make great fox alerts. Guinea Fowl form a tight watchful flock, making great guard birds, because as soon as they see a fox (or any other sort of danger) they make an awful lot of noise, often scaring the fox into thinking that it has been seen. Guinea Fowl are originally from West Africa and were introduced into Europe in the 16th Century as a game bird for the table. Guinea Fowl also come in a lovely range of colours, at Flyte so Fancy we have a flock of Pearl Grey and one lovely Pearl white bird. Guinea Fowl are very hardy birds and expert foragers, making them very easy to keep, but if you're considering keeping some Guinea Fowl here are some of the key points.

What Do Guinea Fowl Eat?

As mentioned, Guinea Fowl are expert foragers and given a large enough area to range in, during Summer can find nearly everything they need themselves. That being said, many people feed Guinea Fowl on a standard chicken layers pellets, or at least provide additions for the Guinea Fowl to eat.

Raising Guinea Fowl
Guinea Fowl Flock
Do Guinea Fowl need a House?

Guinea Fowl housing does not have to be elaborate. They will often find the highest point to roost and can be found up in trees. They are of course safer if they are put into a house at night and it is fine for them to be put in with your hens. You might find that there is some hassling of hens by your Guinea Fowl, as they are mischievous, but usually they will co-habit peacefully. If left to free-range constantly however, Guinea Fowl can become harder to catch should you need to, as they are incredibly good fliers and can take to the wing quickly if spooked. Guinea Fowl can be trained to use a coop if done from a young enough age (to help bring them back to their coop, feed them by it each evening at dusk to help bring them back each to evening to their house).

Keeping Guinea Fowl with Chickens
White Guinea Fowl
Can I Eat Guinea Fowl Eggs?

Yes, you can eat Guinea Fowl eggs. On average a Guinea Fowl will lay around 50-60 eggs per year, although it can be as many as one hundred. They are not particularly fussy where they lay their eggs either and if they construct a nest, they tend to be very well hidden in tall grass or in a difficult to access place. They are light brown and usually roughly half the size of a larger hens egg. They are usually a little more rounded on the top. Guinea Fowl will sit on and incubate their own eggs, as we discovered last weekend here at FSF HQ. Whilst the Guinea Fowl at Flyte so Fancy live to be a roving team of sentries, many people also keep them as meat birds.

Guinea Fowl Chicks - Keets
Guinea Fowl and Keets

The Guinea Fowl at Flyte so Fancy have been part of our flock for a few years now and it's not uncommon, when they are in good voice, to hear them chattering away in the field from my office chair. We will be keeping a steady eye on our Guinea Fowl chicks, although their excellent camouflage makes them hard to see, as they grow up to join our larger flock of chickens, ducks and geese.

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