My name is not Willard

October 30, 2009 | By | Comments (5)

I have to admit I’m
a sucker for gross TV. One look at my DVR season-pass index and you’d think a
15-year-old kid was living in the house. Ever watch
on the Discovery Channel?
Monsters Inside Me on the Animal Planet? Aahsome! I Survivedon Biography? Only good when someone grapples with an
underfed animal or overactive shredder.

Watching this niche genre of programming fills me with pure
unadulterated pleasure, but I never expected it to advance any knowledge I had
to where I would recall information I learned and use as a basis in recognizing
a real-life problem.

It just shows to go ya.

Robust rodents

Last April, Team
Chicken noticed that rats were getting into our coop (Click
here for article). I’m mean
who’s kidding whom? Chicken feed looks like something you’d buy in a pet store
to feed your guinea pig. And ours was a copious supply frequently spiked with a
trail mix of other goodies, served up freely in a bright shiny tray. 24/7. A
veritable varmint apartment.

CIMG1594 CIMG1595

No worries. We tracked down all entry points and covered them up
with bricks. Yeah, bricks. You got a problem with that?

Did someone say amateurs?

More recently, I
happened to be in with the hens and noticed a small gap where a fence that doubles
as the back of the coop meets one of the many adobe walls we have here on the
Sunset campus. On the
adobe wall, I noticed the telltale sign of a rodent portal: a darkened blotch
of grime caused by the excessive rubbing from the dirty, rancid, oily fur of a
rat—something I learned while watching
“The Vermimators.”


You still with me? Good, ’cause it gets worse.

The fence I mentioned before? It wraps around two sides of the
coop and looks like board and batten siding. Of the seven or eight battens,
three were covered top to bottom with that same rat grime. Like someone had
painted it on. With a brush made from the pelt of a volunteered rat. And to
make matters worse, a narrow ledge about a foot below the top of the fence was
covered in rat poo. Enough to fill a small shoebox.



Clearly a violation on my vomit meter.

And all of this combined with the fact that some of the smaller
holes we had left unplugged seemed to grow exponentially overnight. Oh, and the
bricks? I think the rats pushed them out of the way.

Fear sets in

During an impromptu
meeting of Team Chicken, it seemed our imaginations got the better of us. Could
there be rat droppings in the chicken food? Were the chickens eating it? And if
they were eating it, were we slowly killing our coworkers by giving them our
chicken eggs to make their omelets?


Are there a million
pieces of rat poo underneath the mulch in the coop? What about urine? Could the
hantavirus be present and might we succumb to it were we to breathe it in?

I never signed up for this.

Watching it on television is one thing, but to have the image of a
sea of rats pouring over ground you’re standing on is another. I was having
constant anxiety about the soles of my shoes.

The meeting adjourned, but not before we concluded with the
following: we were all mortified; we were shocked it had gone on unnoticed for
as long as it did; we’d get someone else to fix it. Not because we’re above it,
but because at some point one must realize their own limitations. We’d like to
think of ourselves as rookies in training when it comes to our chickens. When
it comes to rats, we’ll leave it to the professionals.

Happy Halloween.


By Jim McCann, Sunset Art Director


  1. P.J.

    May I ask who built this chicken coop?
    Maybe you could get one of the home improvement teams to come in and built a professional coop with your team paying for materials and they do the work for free as an advertisment on your site.

    Anyway many chicken coops have tin strips running around the bottoms and tops of the fenced in areas and nesting areas to discourage rats and other animals from getting in or digging under. Make sure the bottom strips are wide enough to go into the ground about 1 to 2 feet and above the ground about 1 to 2 feet to discourage digging underneath them. The top strips will also be hard for the rodents to hold onto if they try to climb up or down.

    Many coops have tin roofs also for the same reason, no cutting into or eating out the roof by animals or rodents. I would always suggest some type of hardened insulation under a tin roof to help absorb the heat from the tin.

    Do you give these chickens ground up oyster shell or does your high quality feed include calcium? They’ll sometimes peck their own feathers out if they are low on calcium or they will eat their own egg shells for the calcium.

    A thick layer of sand for the ground is an excellant idea and they can still get their dust baths but it can still be easily cleaned.

    Do you use Diatomaceous Earth which is safe non-toxic to keep their nest boxes and runs free from mites and lice. It can also be added to their feed. Buy it at your local home garden store.

    Many horse owners feed it to and spread it around their horse areas and it keeps flys away. Some people even spread it in areas and in standing water in the summer to kill off mosquitoes.

    Believe me when I say you do not ever want to get mites or lice in your own hair from an infested chicken coop!
    If it does happen just pour white vinegar over your hair and scalp and let it sit for 30 minutes to kill the little pest. Rinse, check to make sure all are dead, repeat if necessary, rinse and shampoo.

    What a nightmare to have what feels like hundreds of those little bugs crawling on your scalp and hair!

    November 29, 2009 at 7:56 am
  2. Karen

    ewwwwwwwh! the image of all those rats pouring over the wall is horrifying. great story though.

    November 16, 2009 at 6:45 am
  3. Josh

    Pretty funny…I’ve caught those shows too. Photos are a good time-altogether hilarious and nasty. Love it.

    October 31, 2009 at 6:00 pm
  4. Rachel

    A super easy way to block holes and gaps that rodents use is with steel wool. Not kind used for scrubbing pots and pans -that’s too expensive. Go down to the hardware store and get a bag of the steel wool they use for sanding for a few dollars. Then pack it tightly into the cracks and holes that you need to plug.
    Seems they can’t chew thru the stuff – I’ve heard that it’s like chewing on broken glass to the nasty critters. I used it in my apartment to get rid of rodents that were migrating from the units of my neighbors. Really works!

    October 31, 2009 at 1:31 pm
  5. Kathy

    Good news! Rats don’t carry Hantavirus — only the California Deer Mouse does that. Rats are extremely intelligent, social creature. They’re not ‘grimy’ (rats are actually very fastidious creatures) but they do have to live ‘underground’ for their own safety. Best bet is to do as you are doing — cut off their routes in and out of the area. Poisons are no good, mostly ineffective and cruel on top of that. You’re on the right track.

    October 30, 2009 at 5:06 pm

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