How to Rodent Proof a Chicken Coop

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One morning I opened the metal trash can I used to keep the chicken feed in and plunged a scoop into the feed. In that cup of feed there was some additional protein in the form of a small, freaked-out mouse. I shrieked and the mouse jumped out of my hand and dashed off. Then I peered into the bag of feed. Like the plot of a rodent horror movie, I found two other mice running around along with a dead and bloody mouse. I’ll leave it to you to fill in the mysterious details of that story. But I knew it was time to deal with the problem.

Thankfully, like Dr. Maurice Pitesky mentioned in the podcast on Wednesday, most chicken pest problems can be taken care of with simple sanitation. In my case that meant putting the food away at night and investing in rodent proof feed containers.

Every night I put the entire feeder within the trash can you can see in the picture on the right (it has a much more secure lid than the larger can I used to keep the feed in). In the morning I put the food out again for our four hens. It means that I have to get up just a few minutes earlier than I usually do but that’s not a big deal as I’m one of those tedious and boring morning persons.

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Some folks use rodent proof treadle feeders. These feeders open when the hens step on a small metal platform. I was sent a treadle feeder like the one above but my skittish hens would not get anywhere near it even with the treadle kept open. I probably could have trained them to use it but I’ve found that putting the feed away at night is no big chore. I gave the treadle feeder away to some other chicken enthusiasts whose hens are less afraid of the contraption.

As to rodent-proof feed containers I’m using two Vittle Vaults, one for the feed and the other for scratch. They have a locking, rodent and water proof lid. The small trash can in the picture (that I put the whole feeder in at night) seems to be working.

For more information on controlling mice and rats see UC Davis’ Integrated Pest Management information for rats and house mice. We used to have mice in the house but the cats have taken care of that problem. As to the issue of rodents eating fruit, I’m still working on that problem.

Build a vegetable prison to keep out raccoons and skunks

It’s come to this: Vegetable San Quentin. Last year’s Crittercam surveillance project demonstrated the futility of planting vegetables in our yard without serious fortifications. Bird netting? Useless. If we want to grow our own veggies we had to build something that can resist the strong arms and fingers of our local band of late night hipster raccoons.

Once again, I can’t say enough good things about the usefulness of the free 3d drawing program Sketchup, which I used to plan out my veggie prison. It was especially useful for figuring out the angles of the cuts I needed to make for the top. I was able to dial in those angles and dimensions on my compound miter saw.  All that was left to do was screw the whole thing together and staple the 14-Guage welded wire from Home Despot.

The access panels have two positions. Down to protect small seedlings:

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And up to act as a trellis and allow tall plants to grow out the top:

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I’ve noticed that once plants get established and past the 2-foot point I don’t usually have to worry about those midnight raccoon parties. Obviously, if I had to deal with deer I’d have to build a bigger cage. I can also cover the whole thing in floating row cover material if I want to keep out cabbage leaf caterpillars.

If you’re a Sketchup user I uploaded the plans to the 3D Warehouse. Search for “Raccoon Proof Vegetable Bed” and you’ll be able to download it. This bed was designed for the narrow top slope of our front yard and is 3 by 8-feet. I would recommend increasing the width to 4-feet if you build one yourself.

UC IPM on Facebook

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We get a fair amount of “what’s that bug?” type questions around the Root Simple Cosmodrome. Not being an entomologists, we send people to the University of California’s excellent Integrated Pest Management page. Now, UC IPM has a Facebook page. Along with the Garden Professor’s Facebook page, you’ve got pretty much all the social media based gardening information you need.

Kelly adds: We’d be remiss if we didn’t also mention the useful and better known, What’s that Bug. But you will need UC IPM if you have too many of one sort of bug and wonder what you can do about it.

057 Winnetka Farms Part 2

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On the podcast this week we continue our conversation with Craig Ruggless who, along with his husband Gary Jackemuk, runs Winnetka Farms in Los Angeles’ San Fernando valley. In last week’s podcast, episode 56, we talked about Italian vegetables. This week Craig tells us about his double-laced Barnevelder chickens, Muscovy ducks and we complain about our mutual problems with rats and racoons.

If you’d like to stay in touch with Craig you can find him at The Kitchen at Winnetka Farms.

If you want to leave a question for the Root Simple Podcast please call (213) 537-2591 or send an email to [email protected]. You can subscribe to our podcast in the iTunes store and on Stitcher. The theme music is by Dr. Frankenstein. A downloadable version of this podcast is here.

An Open Letter to Our Mammalian Friends

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Thank you Mark Frauenfelder for digging up this image.

I get it. This drought has been hard on you. Fewer resources leads to intense competition. But can we show a little more courtesy?

To the raccoons of Los Angeles: I thought we had a deal. Like club hopping hipsters, the night belongs to you. So what’s up with the recent daytime activity such as the bold raid on our chicken run that took place on Saturday? I’m not going to apologize for spraying you with a hose. Thankfully you had the good sense to run away. If you had grabbed a chicken I’d be organizing small game hunting trips for dentists. It’s bad enough, because of you and your robust fingers, that I had to build a coop that I’ve dubbed “chicken Guantanamo.” I thought I could have a less robust daytime chicken run. I’m not happy that I had to spend over $100 to beef up that run. My accountant will have to devise an elaborate amortization strategy to keep our eggs affordable. I’m also not cool with the daytime raids on the fig tree even if it entertains our indoor cats.

To the rats of Los Angeles: avocados do not mature on the tree. This is probably why you take a single bite and allow them to fall to the ground. You’ll never get guacamole this way. And can you please not drop half-eaten grapes all over our patio furniture. Not only does it create a mess but it leads to unseemly First World meltdowns, “My Martha Stewart patio set is ruined! How will I survive!”

To the Fox squirrels of Los Angeles: you know you don’t belong here. The residents of a veteran’s home released you back in 1905. From there you displaced your more polite, native cousins. I get that you’re not going away. But can you please leave at least one peach for us humans? Keep this up and I’ll put together an unfavorable social media strategy to rebrand you as “#cuterats.”

To the possums of Los Angeles: I appreciate your freakishness and you’re actually kind of cute up close. But you guys don’t look so good under the glare of an unflattering patio floodlight. We do value appearance here in Southern California. Please consider some better hair and skin care products. Go to the gym. Splurge on a better stylist.

To the skunks of Los Angeles: what’s up with the OCD digging? Please note the comment Brad just left on our blog,

I’m eating skunk right now from the crockpot with brown rice. Tastes fine. I’ve eaten it before, but the crockpot skunk is the best I’ve tasted. Neighbors don’t want them, and it was clean, didn’t see any parasites. Watch for the roundworm.

To the coyotes of Los Angeles: I dig the trickster thing. You’re way better styled then the possums.

To the mountain lions of Los Angeles: maybe it would be best to stay out of our crawl spaces. You’re scaring our plumbers.

To the humans of Los Angeles: you’re mammals too! What’s up with the lawns, corrupt politicians, freeways, ugly mini-malls . . . oh, wait this could go on forever. You drive like a bunch of jerks.

Anyways, I hope you all get this memo. Don’t make me put up signs.