Problems with rats

At the weekend I had my first run in with a large rat in the chicken pen. It was a bit of a Benny Hill moment – me running around after it armed with a large stick and clueless Border collies, the cat and the cockerel bounding around after me. Needless to say ratty lived to see another day and I spent most of the morning blocking up any potential gaps it could squeeze back in through.

So, onto my dilemma. We’ve got quail waiting to be moved outside into an old movable coop. I’m confident the sides of the coop are rat proof with narrow mesh but I’m concerned about ratty digging under. I wan the quail to be as natural as possible, which I think is on the floor. I planned on using a small mesh skirt around the coop but my concern is that it will be nothing short of a nightmare moving the mesh once the grass has grown up through it when it’s time to move the coop. Would putting  a frame of paving slabs down instead be an option – heavier but possibly easier to lift than grass-trapped mesh? How deep or far will rats dig?

I think the first thing you need to do is get rid of any rodents, letting  them co-exist alongside any poultry is not something that should be accepted. Clear any cover around where your birds are and look for where they are burrowing and nesting. Rat bait can also be administered safely if in boxes where it is unlikely that the rats will be able to scratch it out. Any rodent poisons must be kept away from pets, children and the birds themselves. Much the safest way is to get in a professional pest control person who will find where the rats are staying and deal with them and this can be a reasonable cost that is so worthwhile. 

Rats can chew through wood and squeeze through wire – although chick wire is very small and would make life difficult for a rat. Rats burrow so would be prepared to do this to get to their prey.  Two foot square paving slabs around the mobile and under the coop housing area itself would certainly be a precaution but quail on the ground would be such an incentive to rats as they are an ideal size for them to seize that even with the above precautions I would not be happy putting them out unless the rats had been eradicated first. 

To discourage rodents always clean up any split feed in the mobile so that there is nothing left in the pen overnight. 

Incubating eggs under a broody

I want to incubate some eggs under a broody but last year a broody hen kicked out some eggs from under her. How can I stop this happening again?

The simple answer is you cannot. A broody understands the difference between fertile and non-fertile eggs better than us and usually, any egg that is kicked out has something wrong with it and will not hatch anyway. Whether the hen can sense a pulse of an embryo and realises that a dull, static egg does not contain a healthy, growing embryo I do not know but if any egg rejected is opened, chances are the embryo is dead, rotten or infertile. The broody does an excellent job in ‘candling’ her eggs by instinct – we have to use a candling machine to see whether or not an egg should be removed from an incubator

Easter Eggs

I seem to remember that as a child my mother coloured eggs for Easter with Cochineal – what is it and can I still use it?

It is very much available and comes form the unfortunate Cochineal beatle. Carminic acids extracted from the female and is treated to produce carmine, which can yield shades of red such as crimson and scarlet. The body of the insect is 19-22% carminic acid. The insects are processed by immersion in hot water or exposure to sunlight, steam, or the heat of an oven. Some people use red onion skin or red cabbage for colouring red eggs while normal coloured onion skins produce a yellow egg as does tumeric and saffron. (You can buy saffron producing crocus from several seed companies if you want to grow your own). Saffron crocus conveniently bloom in the spring!

You can also use commercially pr