MYTH: Chickens attract rats!

Chickens do not attract rats.

Let me say it again:  chickens DO NOT attract rats. Chickens will kill and eat mice, voles, and rats.

Here’s what really attracts rats: food & safe places to live.  Kinda like me.  I just want a nice meal and warm house to curl up in, and to not fight about how chickens are drawing rats to our town.  Rats are opportunistic feeders, and will eat anything that doesn’t eat them first.  The reason I can safely say that rats aren’t drawn to the chickens themselves is because chickens WOULD eat them first.  Don’t believe me?  Do a search for ‘chicken eats mouse’ or ‘chicken kills rat’, or watch this video (WARNING: mouse gets eaten) of a chicken snatching up a mouse and running off with it to eat it.  Chickens are mini-dinosaurs, and I firmly believe if they would eat people if they were bigger than us.

Photo credit: DAVID ZALAZNIK/JOURNAL STAR A rooster carries a mouse across a farmyard near Fairbury.
Photo credit: DAVID ZALAZNIK/JOURNAL STAR A rooster carries a mouse across a farmyard near Fairbury.

Uncovered trash = rats.
Pet food outside = rats.
Fruit dropping on the ground from fruit trees = rats.
Untended compost heaps = rats.
Piles of lumber on the ground = rats.
Bird feeders = rats.
Untended veggie gardens = rats.
Dog poo = rats.

Know why you don’t see chickens on that list? Because rats are opportunists, not fighters. They’re not after chickens- a fully grown hen can mess up an average size wild rodent (chicks are another story, and great care should be taken to protect them). What they would be after, however, is the chicken’s food. That’s why our ordinance spells out that the feed must be contained, so as not to attract vermin. With proper management of stored food/uneaten food, this doesn’t become an issue.  We’ve seen a far greater issue with unsecured dumpsters in the downtown Ferndale area attracting & feeding rats than we’ll ever have to contend with in properly maintained residential areas.

If you are a chicken keeper, or want to become one, you need to know that rodents are a POTENTIAL problem.  You address this by making sure nothing can get into your coop either by tunneling or climbing (rats will do both), and that feed is secured nightly.

Rats can fall from a height of 50 feet without getting hurt. Rats can jump three feet in the air from a flat surface and leap more than four feet horizontally. Rats can chew through lead, cinder block, and aluminum sheeting.  They’re amazingly smart & tenacious, and if they can get into your coop to eat the chicken feed, they will.  Again, this isn’t the fault of the chicken- rats would just as soon come into your house and eat your groceries, if they could find a way in.

If anyone in Ferndale has reason to believe they have rats, I urge you to contact me directly if you need help ridding your property of them.  Many people have suggested releasing hawks in the area to combat the rodent population; the problem with that is that hawks hunt during the day, and rats come out at dusk and are active throughout the night.  Your best course of action is snap traps or electric traps- they’re quick and effective, and don’t create secondary issues of poisoning in the food chain like rat poison does.

MYTH: Chickens stink!

they may give you the stink eye, but they don’t actually stink

The fear of odor problems caused by backyard chickens is unwarranted. Chickens themselves do not smell- only their feces that have the potential to stink, which is also true of feces from dogs, cats, or any other animal that leaves waste in the yard. But unlike dogs and cats, who leave waste on the lawns of their neighbors or in public places, chicken waste in an urban setting is confined to the coop & run, due to ordinances disallowing them to free range.

It’s also important to realize that the maximum number of chickens a city allows is just four. Four small hens weigh less than 20 pounds collectively, and generate less waste than one average dog.  (In Ferndale, we currently only allow 3 hens.)

Furthermore, chicken manure is a highly valued fertilizer that can be used in the garden, whereas waste from dogs and cats cannot because of the parasites and human diseases it can harbor. According to Dr. Hermes, OSU Extension Poultry Specialist, “Once added to the compost or tilled into the soil, the odor-causing compounds are no longer able to cause objectionable odors.” This statement is an exact quote taken from his letter in support of chickens in Salem, OR.

The reason people fear an odor problem is because their only experience with chickens (if they have any at all), is a farm or commercial poultry operation. In these situations, chickens are viewed as a commodity and are raised with the intention of profit from meat or egg production. Under those circumstances, hundreds, if not thousands, of chickens are often kept in crowded conditions with poor ventilation or regular cleaning. As a result, ammonia can build up and these facilities can stink. In contrast, people who want to raise hens as pets in the city are not looking to make a profit: they want eggs laid by healthy, happy chickens that they treat like pets. A few small birds housed at least 10’ from adjacent dwellings and in close proximity to the owner’s home, are extremely unlikely to create an odor problem for neighbors.

Composting chicken manure is a wonderful bonus to keeping chickens- the high nitrogen content of their manure breaks down high carbon items quickly and efficiently (sometimes almost too quickly, see blog:  Adding the manure to compost eliminates any smell associated with the manure.

Additionally, there are steps urban chicken keepers can take to reduce the chances of odors even further:  use a deep litter method of bedding, or use sand.  I prefer the sand method in my run, where the chickens spend most of their day- it wicks moisture away, eliminating odor and the attraction of flies, drying out the manure in the same way cat litter does.  I clean the run and coop once per day, throwing the waste into my composter; the only thing you can smell in my chicken run is their pine bedding and the flowers in the surrounding garden.  With proper practices, no small scale chicken coop should EVER smell strongly enough that neighbors would notice.

MYTH: Chickens are noisy.

Only roosters crow loudly, not hens. Hens never crow and are generally quiet animals, with the exception of announcing the arrival of a freshly hatched egg. This sound is short-lived, never occurs at night, lasts only a few minutes and takes place once every 24 to 36 hours. Some hens are more vocal than others, depending on the breed, but there is no comparing the sound of a cackling hen to dogs that can bark all night long, power tools, lawn mowers, motorcycles, car alarms, trains, and the myriad of other loud noises frequently heard in the neighborhood.

chickens are *definitely* quieter than dogs

Please note that the 70dB is the potential level of sound energy, but that it would be a rare sound measured very close to the chicken (2ft). The inverse distance law predicts that at ten times the distance (20ft), the sound pressure would drop a tenth, equivalent to a decibel drop of 20dB. That means that for a chicken making a 70dB sound in it’s outdoor enclosure, their neighbor will experience it as 50dB’s- roughly equivalent to a quiet conversation at home. Noise is even further reduced if the chicken makes a sound within their laying coop rather than the outdoor enclosure.

I invite you to watch and listen to my 3 pullets at 9 weeks old- they’re just getting their “big girl” voices, and you can hear a sample of a “bawk” in the video below.  Bonus: they look hilarious.

Chicks on a sunny day.