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grahamrhind

Is free-ranging enough?

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Can anybody tell me whether a chicken can get enough nutrition from free-ranging alone?

Mine free-range 24 hours per day.  I'm asking because, like so many on here, I'm currently having a running battle with rats in their feed. As mentioned here:

I am using a Feed-o-Matic to keep the rats out.  For a short period the feed I needed went down.  Then it went back to normal.  I assumed that this was because the chickens were working up to laying again until I found nine rats in a row, like men on bar stools in a pub, enjoying a meal from the feeder; and this morning there were five rats shut inside it.  The only solution I have is to raise the feeder off the ground so that the rats cannot reach it, but that has to be high - greater than 80 cm I've read, as rats can jump - and even experimenting with low heights has shown that the chickens can't work out that they need to jump up to get to the feeder. 

So, I'm wondering if they get enough nutrition from free-ranging to keep them going until me and the rats have finished our battle, or whether anybody has any other ideas (that doesn’t involve killing the rats).

Cheers.

Edited by grahamrhind

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Well obviously in times of yore so to speak, hens got enough just on the range, but now I wouldn't want to risk it.  My garden was pretty rich in diversity, being old natural grassland, plus a veg/fruit patch and quite a lot of tasty protein in various forms, all looked after by a rather lazy gardener!  The birds were on the range, but even so, I'm not sure they would get enough balanced goodness without their pellets, certainly not all year round as the grass varies in nutrition (better in Spring) and seedheads/veg/fruit aren't always available and in any case they shouldn't eat much of the latter and the former was for us!   In addition, I had variable flock sizes, more in Spring/Summer with hatches so the natural food sources would have to be shared more thinly some of the time.

I would put their pellets out every morning and take it in every evening.  I occasionally had rat problems, which I sorted with bait stations, plus the odd raid on the compost heaps, which is where they nested, so I am afraid it did involve killing them.  I couldn't get rid of them any other way, I found they burrowed in under the run skirting and being semi rural, they were just an occupational hazard. 

Hopefully somebody else will have a solution for you!

 

 

 

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I agree with Daphne. With just the nutrition from free ranging, they will lay less eggs and won't get all the essential minerals and stuff that they need to remain in optimum health. If their diet isn't complete, then nutrients will be leached from their bodies to produce eggs - much as happens with human mums and babies

Sounds like you need a concerted campaign with bait boxes and traps to get rid of them

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I don't think they can get in the Grandpa's feeders as another option.  Sorry you are having rat issues too. They are driving me crazy! 

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Do as Daphne and DM said and take in any water.  Someone I know went on a course about getting rid of rats and was told that they cannot absorb water from their food like mice can, so will always seek a water source.  I know poison is frowned about by some, but I do find bait boxes work.   However, you have so many that maybe you should get professional advice. 

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8 hours ago, Patricia W said:

.................However, you have so many that maybe you should get professional advice. 

Or someone with a good ratting terrier! I'm not joking, if you know of a gamekeeper, countryman or someone from the local hunt, they may have/know of a good one. Job will be done in minutes.

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One of our flocks is totally free ranging and they certainly can't  find enough feed in Summer, let alone Winter. You could try removing the feeder and scatter feeding mixed grain and pellets twice a day, so early morning and late afternoon, which is when ours return to their feeders to eat. Of course this will bring the rats out into the open where they can be shot. We leave several water bowls all around the property so they can drink whenever they want to without having to return to the the coop feeders.

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Thanks everybody for your respomnses - they are much appreciated.

As I said, there'll be no killing. Rats have as much right to life as I have and I admire their cunning and intelligence. I don't have any problems with rats being around per se - I just want to limit their numbers and prevent them from rolling around in the chicken feed, for hygiene reasons, and from attacking the chickens when they get hungry - I saw that once and it was quite frightening, though the chicken came off much better in that fight!

I do take the chickens' fresh water in at night, but as I have a pond which is deliberately accessible to wildlife, and there's a drainage ditch next to my property, that just means they have to travel a few metres more for their drinks. There is also a lot of fruit and veg lying around and three compost heaps (my garden sounds like yours, Daphne!) so plenty to eat if they can't get at the chicken feed, and there are stables next door, probably with enough rats to repopulate any I could kill, so even were I the Pied Piper of Hamelin, I'll never get rid of them all. I live in rural splenditude, so the rats will always be there - I guess it's a different situation if you live in an urban area.

My rats are also active during the day, but I shall certainly start taking the feed in at night - thanks Daphne, I should have thought of that - and I am now experimenting with magnets to increase the weight of the flap on the feeder to make it harder for the rats to get in whilst not preventing the hens from feeding, rather than trying to move the feeder to a higher place.  Let's see what happens ...

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I think you will find it is illegal not to effectively control a known rat problem on your property Grahamrhind. They spread some nasties including Weil's disease, something a friend of ours died from. They are also very destructive around this time of year, chewing things up to make Winter nests which in our case included a brand new tarpaulin. They can also inflict some serious injuries on chickens; some while ago someone reported one had had its feet chewed off during the night. Perhaps you should reconsider your strategy?

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@Beantree As far as I can ascertain, there are no laws requiring me to kill rats (or any rodents) where I live in Germany.  But don't get me wrong - I am trying to control them, by removing a food source that I control.  They can carry diseases - so can chickens. I don’t intend to start down a path of killing them (or anything else) when it won't do the slightest bit of good (Germany is in the throes of a rat plague after the warm dry summer - any I kill will be replaced if I leave an easy food source lying around for them). I do notice that when I can successfully prevent their access to the chickens' feed their numbers drop significantly - that strategy works for me.

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Surely if the area your in is suffering a 'rat plague'then the responsible thing to do would be to do your bit to reduce the problem. Saying there's too many rats as a reason not to deal with the rats seems counterintuitive to me. If that's the prevailing attitude of the area you live it then it's not a wonder that there's a rat problem. 

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@AyeAyeMagpie Am I not being clear enough?  I live in a rural area surrounded by farmland and riding stables.  I could be outside with a spade, caving in little rat skulls from morning to night from now until Christmas.  The prevailing view is that it will not do the slightest bit of good - as long as there is food for them to eat, they will keep coming.   Ergo, I am removing the food.  I am in principle against killing other living creatures, so that's the route I have to take.  I can understand people who live in more urban areas, who have rats in the house and who don't share my principles having other solutions - that's fine.  But all my research suggests that you have to remove the reason you have the rats to get a result, and that's what I'm doing. I do somewhat resent the implication that I am contributing to the problem because I am not taking action against it - that's not true. It's just that my solution doesn’t involve killing. 

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The law in Germany IS different, in the UK (as AyeAyeMagpie has said) we are legally bound to act on a known rat problem on our property, and any rats caught in humane traps must be killed, not released. I know someone in pest control, so have the facts from them.

(If you ask an opinion or for advice on any forum, there is a likelihood that you will hear some facts which you're not happy about, or which don't resonate with your ethos; from experience, it's best just to sift out what is applicable).

I can understand Grahamrhind's moral dilemma, although I don't share it. Having said that, if you remove the food source from the chicken enclosure, then the rats will come indoors (to your outbuildings and house) to find food - that is what they do. True enough, if you kill some, others will take their place, but if you don't kill any, they will multiply at a truly alarming rate - they can breed from 6 weeks old, and a pair can produce at least 6,000 offspring in a year) so starting somewhere is, in my opinion, the best strategy. We used to have them on my grandparents' farm - it had a stream running through it - and regular purges with traps and the terriers were the only thing which kept them down. All food sources will need to be secured in metal bins, and feeders made rat-proof. They will feed during the day as well as at night.

It is nigh on impossible to rat proof anything.

 

 

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@Dogmother This forum is one of the very few I take part in because the members are generally very supportive and understanding, and there's little bullying. Of course not everybody will agree with everybody and everything - as long as we all stay polite that's OK with me.

But ... back to rats.  This is going to be a process, and I will do what I can without killing unless no other options remain open.  I take all the advice on board - the compost bin with food remains is rat-proof (the others contains just garden waste), our rubbish bags sit on top of a wall where the rats can't (easily) climb up to, the chicken feed is in closed containers, and so on. The rats have never yet succeeded in getting into any outhouses (they tried to chew through a shed door last time I succeeded in locking away the food, but they failed).  They also won’t find food anywhere inside any of them.  Inside my house, if they can get through the concrete, they will find two ex-feral cats, who don't share my principles. My belief is that, when they disappear (which they do when I succeed in locking down the food source), they go to the stables next door where they have an easier time finding food than trying to break into my house.  That suits me fine. 

If they do start raiding the house, then I will take other action. But until then, I'll stick to my preferred humane course.

Just for the information of anybody else who uses a Feed-o-Matic: it's important that it is placed on a hard flat surface, slanted slightly forward. This was how I had it originally and the rats couldn't get into it.  However, they did tunnel beneath it and, in so doing, tilted it slightly backwards so that the rats needed less pressure to open the flap to get to the food. I have tilted it forward again, and added magnetic weights to the flap, and that seems to be keeping them out.

Edited by grahamrhind

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Grahamrhind - well done for sorting out the feeder to keep the rats out!

I generally choose not to join in with threads that are too controversial, but just wanted to say I share your way of thinking in this. I know rats are a ‘pest’ as far as humans and our domestic animals are concerned, but I feel that it’s a problem of our own making and they are just using their evolved skills to exploit the situations humans have created. For this reason, I wouldn’t choose to kill them either but instead make sure they can’t get to your chickens at night, or into your own house. Make sure you bring your animals food in at night and, as you have done, make the feeders as inaccessible to rats during the day as possible, and then I don’t see that you are ‘harbouring’ them any more than someone who doesn’t keep livestock.

*climbs down from soapbox* (again)

I know others will disagree (in fact my mum has dealt with her rats - and she’s in a completely rural area - by getting a border/Jack Russell terrier (see below) who is highly effective!) and as you say, that’s fine provided everything remains polite.

7B186F7B-C70D-4916-BE26-DB5E23DE0BDC.jpeg(I do know that’s not a rat!)

Edited by mullethunter
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Good luck reducing numbers. I can empathise as I struggle with the idea of killing too. I've been vegan for years (altho having a health break atm) so it's a very hard for me to consider killing too.

As a side note, I do like how respectful this group is when discussing controversial matters.

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