A farm is a paradise for pests, particularly rodents. With plenty of open space, warm shelter, animal feed and crops, there’s not much more a rat or mouse could wish for.
It can be difficult to imagine that these small creatures can be much of a problem in an environment that is designed for animals. But the reality is that they can cause catastrophic damage. In fact, a rat infestation can take down a farm piece by piece.
The first issue is the natural bodily functions of rodents. For example, in a year, a rat produces 15kg of droppings, 6 litres of urine and 300,000 of their hairs fall out. This means that by simply scampering around, they are leaving a trail of germs and contamination, spreading disease to the livestock. If they get into food, for every 1kg that’s eaten by the rats, 3kg is contaminated.
Rats chew constantly to keep their teeth from overgrowing. They’ll happily gnaw their way through wood, causing structural damage. They can also easily bite through wiring, which means expensive machinery such as tractors may not work when needed and could require costly repairs. Worse still, chewing wires can cause fires – in fact 50% of farm fires are thought to be down to rats. Just one rat could easily destroy a whole building.
Combine harvesters are often stored over the winter and, if not cleaned thoroughly, the harvest and grain debris could attract pests. Mice, in particular, like to nest in these machines, chewing through the wiring looms is common. Rewiring or replacing a loom can be costly but the expense could be significantly higher if the damage is more extensive, particularly when you consider that many new combine harvesters can cost in excess of a quarter of a million pounds.
Rodents are one of the major causes of crop destruction around the world. Apart from tearing into bags of grain, which causes contamination and spills, they tend to feed on the embryo of crops, stripping away the nutrients and removing the plant’s ability to germinate.
Their presence on a farm also poses a threat to humans. Many workers live on-site in caravans or chalets which are vacant all day when they are out working. These are ideal sources of shelter and potentially food, too.
The two most important elements of the war on rodents is hygiene and inspections.
Make sure you are familiar with every area of your farm. Every week look out for any signs of chewing, droppings or runs. If you spot any new holes in buildings, fill and repair them right away to prevent rodents from getting in.
Do the same with your workers’ accommodation but also check inside, under and behind cupboards and fridges for any signs of chewed food or faeces.
Good housekeeping is essential. Clear up any spillages, store food in proper containers and in places that rodents can’t reach. Change animal water and feed regularly. Have a good tidy up around the farm and cut back any vegetation that could provide shelter.
If you start to see the beginnings of an infestation, try putting down traps and/or poison but if you don’t see signs of improvement, call in pest control as soon as possible.
Remember, the nature of a farm environment means that pests can only ever be controlled, not eradicated completely. If caught early, rodents can be easily managed but left too long, a small problem can soon turn into a very big one.