Of Mice and Men and Chooks
Some of the motley chook collective
A good mate of mine described the chook (chicken) collective here as a “motley collection”. I’m unsure whether this was a compliment and didn’t care to ask. Different breeds of chooks are really valuable though as they all lay eggs during different times of the year. So, with a mixed batch of 14 chooks there is probably only about 1 week every year when there are no eggs at all to harvest.
We’re getting a lot of eggs at the moment
Living on a farm has taught me that observation is a critical skill and it is to be ignored at your peril. This can sometimes also be expressed as: “if things seem a bit odd, it is probably because they are”. That’s the time when further observation and investigation needs to take place!
During winter the chooks live in a shed with lots of steel perches, plastic lined plywood laying boxes with clean straw and a concrete floor. They are protected from the worst of the weather. They have a fully enclosed run connected to that shed which further protects them from predators. The run has a very deep litter of woody mulch for them to scratch around in and despite the wet winter, it remained mostly well drained and unlike a lot of chook pens that I come across, this one has no strong chook odour. The deep litter mulch is regularly turned and replaced and fed to the fruit trees. They’re pretty happy chooks and they even get to scratch around the food forest for a bit every day under supervision.
By about mid-winter though, the chooks started eating more grains, about twice as much as usual (20kg per week of free range grain was being consumed at this stage). This surprised me because, as it was winter, they have a continuous supply of fresh greens. At first I put it down to it being winter and the chooks requiring more energy than usual to keep warm.
In previous years I had noticed that sugar gliders (a local flying marsupial) had been sharing some of the chook feed at night. I didn’t really mind feeding the sugar gliders as they didn’t eat much and they look pretty sweet.
Then one night a couple of weeks back, I heard a bit of noise coming from the chook enclosure and so went out to investigate.
Apparently, this year, the cute sugar gliders had been given the boot by a family of field mice and rats. Not only were the mice and rats getting good quality feed, they were getting shelter from the boo-book owls that live here and would be all too happy to eat them. The rodents had really glossy looking coats too and were completely unfazed by a human shining a torch onto them.
My cunning plan was to set traps for the mice and rats and then … feed them to the chooks. For some strange reason, people sometimes think that chickens are vegetarians, but I can assure you they most certainly aren’t!
The first step was to remove the chook food at night and keep the enclosure more spotlessly clean than normal.
Then, over the next few days I set baited mice and rat traps and also a cunning trap which involved a 20 litre bucket. I’d put about an inch of water into the bucket and lay grain down on the surface of the water. The mice climb into the bucket to eat the grain and then promptly drown.
The enforcer on the run with her booty
Within a week the mice population was eliminated, the chooks were fed some juicy extra protein and all was becoming well in chook-land. The rats on the other hand were outsmarting me. I couldn’t believe it. The little blighters were thumbing their noses at me as they’d kick over the traps and make off with the bait. Well done, you.
The English rock band, the Kaiser Chiefs sang the lyrics, “the kids on the street, never miss a beat”. I can now assure you that the, “rats in the bush, never miss a beat” either!
Happy rats with glossy coats
At this point I stopped laying the traps and spent a bit of time trying to work out where their rats nest was located.
After a few days of investigation, I found the entrance to their nest, dug it open a bit and set the dogs on to them. Small dogs on a farm are incredibly useful companions and within an hour, they’d pretty much destroyed the rats nest. Being reasonably well fed dogs, they were delivering me rat carcasses in exchange for beef jerky (it is actually quite wrong how much the dogs love that stuff).
Dog going into the rat hole
The rats were then delivered to the chooks and all was well on the farm again. The simple lesson of, “if it seems odd, it probably is” was proven to be correct yet again.