Safely Keeping Chickens in Washougal

Chickens in backyardThere is no doubt that raising chickens in an urban environment is becoming increasingly popular.  As the collective consciousness of the food and restaurant industry continues to move toward more sustainable, nose to tail production the number of residents seeking to control and supplement their nutritional needs with backyard chickens, eggs and produce grows.

It is important to understand the challenges inherent in raising chickens.  Knowing how to properly store feed and water will increase your chances of maintaining sanitary conditions in your coop and not attracting unwanted intruders.   Learning how to build a rodent proof coop and knowing where to best place the coop on your property will help set you and your brood up for success.   

Safely keeping chickens requires vigilance, time, and attention.

Attracting rodents is likely but not inevitable.  Not only are rodents destructive to property and broods, infected rats and mice carry diseases that can be passed to humans and other animals through the waste they leave behind.

Keeping chickens without attracting rodents is possible when you start from a position of strength and remain vigilant.   If you are already raising chickens and suspect you may have inadvertently attracted rodents, concerted effort over time can help you eliminate the infestation and safely keep chickens.

Understanding how rodents operate is critical when identifying, preventing and eliminating an infestation. 

Rats are highly intelligent creatures.  Not only do they learn from their own mistakes when they get a second chance, they learn from the mistakes of their kind.


  • Prefer to move and feed at night
  • Have an incredible sense of smell
  • Can chew through wood and the most indestructible plastic
  • Can fit into the tiniest of spaces
  • Are capable of burrowing underneath obstacles

Chickens do not attract rats and mice; it is the chicken feed and water inherent in the keeping of chickens that draws them in.  

Some chicken owners also maintain open compost areas for their broods to rummage for insects.  While spent flowers, yard debris and straw can be used for this purpose without being an attractant for rodents, the breakdown of fruit and vegetable waste is a call to rodents far and wide. 

Fruit and vegetable waste material should always be processed within an enclosed composter when safely keeping chickens.

If you are considering raising chickens, please review these important guidelines:

  • Store food in metal containers and secure the lid well
  • Traditional chicken wire used to build your coop will not keep rats out.  Use ¼ to ½ hardware cloth buried around the perimeter and on any bare ground within the coop.
  • The area around the coop must remain free from vegetation and accumulation of any item that could serve as a hiding place for the naturally shy rat
  • Consider the use of motion sensing lighting around your coop 
  • Straw bedding must be kept clean and aerated
  • Feed chickens early in the morning so that by nightfall all the grain has been eaten or consider investing in a treadle feeder

Look for these signs if you suspect you may have attracted rats:

  • Chewing damage on wood or plastic coop or food storage components
  • Holes in the coop floor or 2-4” holes in the ground of your chicken run
  • Missing feed
  • Missing eggs
  • Rodent droppings

What to do if you think you may have a rat:

  • Remove all feed and water sources nightly  
  • Move your chickens to a different location before you clean the coop
  • Ensure the area around the coop is free from vegetation and debris
  • Clean the coop - wear a mask or scarf over your mouth and nose
  • Remove and properly dispose of used straw bedding
  • Replace with fresh, clean straw 
  • Monitor closely after returning your chickens to the coop

Understanding the difference between a rat and a mouse. 

While it may be easy to tell the difference between the adult mouse and adult rat, it can be rather tough to determine the difference between a mouse and a baby rat.  The following differences may be used as guide:


  • Rat droppings have a shape like that of a banana 
  • Rats select a few locations and use them over and over
  • Mouse droppings are pointed on both ends like a grain of rice
  • Mice leave droppings behind everywhere they go


  • Mice have large, floppy ears in relation to their head size.
  • Rats have small, more rounded ears in relation to their head size


  • Rats have thick, scaly, hairless tails about the same size as their bodies
  • Mice have thin, hairy tails that are longer than their bodies

Washougal Municipal Code considerations:

At the time of this writing, the city does not limit the amount of chickens a person may raise.

Crowing roosters are addressed through city noise regulations. 

Unsanitary conditions are addressed through our property maintenance regulations.

Chicken coops under 120 square feet are exempt from building permit.

Chicken coops may not be located within any building setback or protected environmental area such as a wetland buffer or similar habitat designation.

For additional information, please contact Code Compliance.

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