There are regular sightings of opossums, squirrels, and rats in our neighborhood; and the majority of these sightings are along the Furry Freeway, as my husband calls it. It is the system of the power lines that run between the park and the houses. The connecting lines are a safe expressway where they are able to by-pass the dogs and cats below on the ground, confined in fenced backyards. The power poles are then used as the off ramps down onto the roofs or onto the fences dividing the yards.
George will attest to the fact it is a safe haven for them because, almost daily, he is taunted by one or two different squirrels traveling overhead on their way to other safer yards deeper into the neighborhood. They usually pause to chatter at him below before moving along. George always responds with leaps, whines, and frustrated barks telling them how much he would love to sink his teeth into them for their insolent behavior. Only once in the last few years has a squirrel made the mistake of coming into the yard while George was around. Once George spotted it, he kept it trapped in a giant camellia shrub for more than an hour. Have you ever seen a dog repeatedly body slam a Camellia? I have. I eventually drove the dog off so the squirrel would leave and George would stop pacing, whining, and recklessly destroying my precious Camellia Japonica, “Nucci’s Pearl.”
Due to the abundance of backyard fruit trees and pet food left outside overnight, the squirrels, opossums, and rats are all pretty common in Southern California neighborhoods. In regards to our chickens, the rats have not been an issue with our coop so far. Beyond the preventive steps I take, Gracie, our cat, loves to patrol the backyard around dusk and dawn, and I believe she helps with preventing any kind of rat infestation in our yard. Every once in a great while, she manages to catch one and tries to share the triumph with the family by bringing it up to the back door. Ewwwh. My one fear with this is the possibility of another neighbor putting out poison and Gracie accidentally eating a rat that has ingested the poison.
As a gardener, I do my best to keep the yard tidy by preventing and removing the kind of places that rats like to hang out, but I learned this one the hard way. One summer about 5 years ago before we had Gracie, we had found a few drowned rats in a kiddie pool, so we knew something was up. We then discovered the jasmines on our patio cover were being used as a rat nest and it gave the rats safe cover and great access to the patio roof and from there, up on to the furry freeway. We decided it would be best to remove the beautiful dense pink jasmine vines. I was sad to see the jasmines go, and I really miss the smell each February, but we have had very few sighting of the rats in our yard since then, except along the power lines at night.
CHICKENS VS. RATS:
• Built the coop really tight without any little spaces for rats to crawl through. I made sure there were no spaces or gaps bigger than ¼”
• Chicken feed storage bins are locked away where rats can’t get access to them. Metal bins are great for preventing pests from chewing into them.
• I Don’t leave any chicken feed outdoors after dusk where rats could get to it. If any is spilled, I clean it up. The same goes for dog and cat food. But both pets eat everything in one short sitting.
• If the chickens get an extra treat while they are outside free ranging, I make sure it is not more than they can eat in 10 or 15 minutes, and then I clean it up if they didn’t eat it all.
• I do my best to regularly check for fallen fruit under trees (My chickens usually offer clean this up with me.)
• Trim vines, shrubs, and fruit tree branches away from buildings, power lines, and fences.
For expert advice and info on rat prevention and control visit the UC’s ANR Publications.
In general, opossums haven’t been a problem for our yard. The same stuff that keeps rats away, seems to keep opossums away. I did build the coop like fort knox in order to keep them, and raccoons, out of the eggs and away from harming the chickens. I think the chickens eat enough of the bugs that there isn’t a lot left to keep opossums interested in our yard, except maybe snails. My chickens don’t seem to care that much for snails. Keeping a dog probably helps a little too.