Why do we need another chicken blog or forum?

Many chicken forums are moderated to sell commercial feed, chemicals and ideology.
I prefer to find my own balance between nature, welfare and cost in raising happy chickens.

Friday, February 17, 2012

...my rotting wheat update, and more on rats...

Unfortunately this post also concerns rats.

Recently I had major trouble with wheat not sprouting, and going off in the sprouting bag. My first assumption was that rats were climbing over the bag, contaminating it with droppings and urine, and thereby causing the wheat to go off. However after I'd dealt effectively with the rats nibbling through the bag, the off wheat continued, so I felt it must have been pre-germinated or otherwise damaged before purchase (see my other post about off wheat).

Once I stopped rats getting to the sprouting bag it seemed there could be no other source of micro-organism contamination. My soak times were always 24 hours, never more, and the ratio was 3/4 water to 1/4 grain (important to prevent fermentation). My feed bins were in good shape and generally air-tight. The wheat was brought fresh. Weather wasn't a problem as it hadn't been too hot. Perplexingly, shortly after being soaked, the wheat smelled rotten, not mouldy. I couldn't understand where the contamination was coming from, but it did seem bacterial.

Then I had a little thought. I looked at my soak-bucket and realised some of the grains (ones still trapped in a hull, and occasional sunflower seeds that had gotten mixed in) were floating on the surface of the water. I suddenly realised that this might be attracting rats to the water-filled bucket.

So that night, I put a lid on the bucket, and the next morning the lid was sprinkled with rat droppings. Then when I drained the wheat and hung it to sprout, it sprouted beautifully.

So this is what must have been happening all along:

- I was leaving the wheat to soak overnight without a lid, thinking that nothing could harm wheat sitting at the bottom of a water-filled bucket! The soaking wheat was a good 40cm below the water's surface. The water came right up to the brim.

- Apparently rats were perching on the bucket rim to snatch food floating on the water overnight. Some of their droppings would have fallen into the water.

- The rat droppings were causing the wheat to break down and rot faster than it could sprout.

This was a very sobering discovery, not least because the birds were sickened by eating what should have been perfectly good feed. And goodness knows what germs I'd been bumping into while handling the bag of feed and the rotting sprouts. Needless to say I owe the feed store an apology for casting aspersions on their grain.

I must admit, I'm astonished at the ability of rats to find food (and foul it). Unfortunately the neighbour's property provides ample cover (there's a huge lantana patch crowding against the fence) and these are tree rats, so very agile. But at least I can stop them fouling the water I soak my sprouts in!

Since adding a lid I've had no more smelly grain, no sick birds and plenty of eggs!

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