Dr. Jacquie Jacob Ph.D., University of Kentucky
NOTE: Before applying ANY pest control product, be sure to 1) read and understand the safety precautions and application restrictions, and 2) make sure that the brand name product is listed in your Organic System Plan and approved by your certifier. For more information see Can I Use this Product for Disease Management on my Organic Farm?
NOTE: Brand names appearing in this article are examples only. No endorsement is intended, nor is criticism implied of similar products not mentioned.
Rodent control is important on organic poultry farms. Those with outdoor access are exposed to closer contact with rodents and pose increased veterinary risks. With a high reproduction rate and an omnivorous diet, a rat and/or mouse infestation can have significant economic impacts from consumption or fouling of feed, acting as disease vectors, or destroying infrastructure. A single rat can consume 20-40 pounds of feed a year (Watkins and Donald, 2002). Rodents can also carry and spread diseases both biologically and mechanically, and can cause serious damage to insulation and house wiring. Disease-carrying rodents can spread a disease from one to another even if the facilities are cleaned and disinfected. Controlling rodents is an essential part of any biosecurity plan.
A three-pronged approach should be taken in controlling rodents, including mice and rats.
Habitat reduction is critical for preventing rodent populations on any poultry farm. Blocking access routes with physical barriers is one strategy to exclude rodents from a poultry house. It is important to be aware that mice are able to squeeze through a hole the size of a dime and rats through an opening the size of a quarter (Watkins and Donald, 2002). Mice are able to enter buildings through unprotected ends of corrugated metal siding. Make sure to close openings around augers, pipes and wires, but also remember to look for and repair holes monthly. Any burrows with indications of recent digging should be dealt with immediately.
It is important to block access to stored feed and minimize feed spillage.
Clear the area around the poultry house of brush, trash, and weeds, maintaining a minimum of three-feet clear space around the house.
A monitoring program provides early warning of a possible rodent problem and improves the decision-making process in the prevention of rodent infestations. A variety of different monitoring methods can be used including trapping, ink pads, and tracking plates. The effectiveness of a monitoring system is strengthened if the farmer is able to identify which rodent species is/are causing the greatest impact. Each species has a distinct behavioral profile and habitat preference.
Some organic farmers use cats for predator control. There is no sound evidence that cats regulate rodent populations, and cats present a health risk to the flock (Rimler and Glisson, 1997; Maier et al., 2000).
Though not recommended for poultry farms, another possible control method is the use of ultrasound or low-frequency devices. There is very little published evidence supporting their efficacy in open environments, and there is some evidence that ultrasound devices disturb livestock (OEFFA, 2010).
A number of commercial alternative products for rodent control are available. The effectiveness of these products has not been proven in a commercial setting.
- Shake-Away (OMRI-listed) granules contain the scent of both fox and bobcat urine, which are thought to scare mice and rats. The granules should be placed strategically where the rodents are living or traveling through.
- Weiser's Nature's Defense contains seven certified organic ingredients and is said to repel several different animals, including rats and mice. It is safe to use around people, plants and pets.
- Animal-repelling scented stones also contain a predator scent that will keep rodents away. They need to be placed strategically throughout the poultry house.
- Peppermint oil is thought to be a natural deterrent. Rodents don't like the intense smell and avoid it. Place peppermint oil in areas where rodents are likely to enter. Another alternative is to grow peppermint plants near the entryways.
- There are a few traps (mechanical or electrical) and glue boards that can also be used to effectively control rodents. Make sure to place traps and/or glue boards along walls and corridors where rodents travel.
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References and Citations
- Maier, R. M., I. L. Pepper, and C. P. Gerba. 2000. Environmental Microbiology. Academic Press, San Diego, CA.
- OEFFA. 2010. OEFFA Organic Certification Factsheet—Rodent control [Online]. Ohio Ecological Food and Farm Association. Columbus, OH. Available at: http://www.oeffa.org/certfiles/facts/Rodent%20Control%20-%20Fact%20Sheet%208.pdf (verified 19 Nov 2013)
- Rimler, R. B., and J. R. Glisson. 1997. Fowl cholera. Pages 143–159 In: B. W. Calnek, H. J. Barnes, C. W. Beard, L. R. McDougald, and Y. M. Saif (ed.) Diseases of Poultry, 10th edition. Iowa State University Press, Ames, IA.
- Watkins, S. E., and J. Donald. 2002. How to control rats, mice and darkling beetles [Online]. Auburn University Poultry Engineering, Economics and Management Newsletter. Issue 20, November 2002. Available at: http://www.aces.edu/poultryventilation/documents/Nwsltr-20-PestsSS.pdf (verified 21 Nov 2013)