Rodent Control Strategies in Agriculture: Rat Control in the Poultry Industry

David Bennett David Bennett

We’ve all heard about the fox getting into the henhouse, but what you really need to be concerned about are the rats getting into your poultry barn.   Rats have been a problem on poultry farms for a long time.  They can eat and contaminate feed. According to Pestcare, “Rodents (rats and mice) annually consume and contaminate about 20 percent of the world’s food supply. Without pest control, half of our food might be destroyed by crop and stored product pests. Rodents also do untold damage to property – their gnawing is a suspected cause of fires attributed to unknown causes. As for insects, termites alone cost Americans about $1.5 billion each year in damage repair and control – more than the combined cost of all natural disasters.”

 Rats spread a wide variety of diseases.   They can damage your barns and outbuildings including your house.   A good rat control plan that utilizes Integrated Pest Management practices (including integration of traps in the farm rodent control programme), is a vital part of a farm’s biosecurity programme.   Most poultry production, especially egg production is consolidating into huge factory farms. Good rat control practices are essential to providing a safe food supply to the American people and avoiding massive recalls such as the example in the next section, as well as help protect your investments, potentially saving you millions of dollars every year.

A Case in Point

A poultry farm in North Carolina in April of 2018 voluntarily recalled over 207 million eggs directly related to an ongoing rodent infestation problem according to FDA reports.   Over 20 people reported salmonella illnesses according to the Wall Street Journal.  The report goes on to explain the egg recall was the largest since two Iowa farms recalled millions of eggs that the CDC connected to over 2,000 salmonella cases.  The United States has less than 150 commercial egg companies, so a problem at one can literally affect millions of people who eat their eggs and poultry.  Federal inspectors found dozens of dead rats on the North Carolina farm including in manure pits and poultry platforms. The farm had kept records of an ongoing rodent infestation, yet still had a major problem that cost them millions of dollars.

The High Cost of Rats in Agriculture and Poultry Farming

To get an idea of the damage they can do, each rat that gets into your grain consumes over $25.00 worth of grain a year. If you have 10 rats, that’s 250.00 a year you’re losing—but—if you see one rat, you may have 100 (costing you $2500.00 just in feed per year), or even a thousand rats (costing you $25,000.00 a year just in feed!)  Feed prices keep climbing.  You don’t want to have rats multiplying your costs on top of that.

That’s just the start of what rats are costing you on your farm, whether you farm dairy, crops or poultry.   Rats breed like crazy.  The University of Maryland Extension explains: “Rats can breed as young as 3 to 4 months of age and can continue to breed until they are 18 months of age. The gestation period is 21-25 days and the young are weaned three weeks after they are born. After weaning, the females can breed again one day later. Rats can have 4 to 6 litters each year and average nine young per litter. Therefore, under ideal conditions, up to 50 young may be weaned each year.”

Rats cause damage to buildings. Their incisors never stop growing, so they never stop gnawing, and can put beavers to shame the way they gnaw on wood.  They chew through aluminum siding, wallboard, plaster, paneling, frozen ground and even concrete!  They eat insulation in buildings. They also chew through electrical wiring in buildings, (which can cause costly fires), farm equipment and personal vehicles.   Rats eat eggs, and chicks, essentially destroying your profits before they’re out of the egg.  Purdue University Extension has this to say about the costs of not controlling rat populations on farms and commercial farms:

“The actual monetary costs of rodent damage to poultry operations are difficult to assess accurately. Operational shutdowns due to electrical or mechanical malfunctions as a result of  rodent damage can cost a facility thousands of dollars overnight. The repair and/or replacement of building insulation is expensive in both dollars and time. And, chronic energy losses and the resultant effects on poultry production magnify the expense. Conducting effective and efficient programs to control rodents in commercial poultry operations are challenging – even for pest control professionals. Rodents may infest the entire length of a facility from the pit to the attic. Rodent baits may not be readily taken by all the rodents because of the copious amounts of food (grain, eggs, chicks, and various insects) and water readily available to the rodents. Finally, if baits are not carefully applied, they quickly become contaminated by dust, feathers, poultry manure, and insects, rendering them unattractive to rodents.” Rodents can cost you thousands, if not millions of dollars a year.   There’s more bad news.

Diseases Rats Can Carry To and From the Poultry Barn

Rats carry about 45 different diseases; as well as diseases that can be carried to and from the poultry barn via feces, urine, feet and fur.   To make matters worse, they can spread the scourge of disease from farm to farm. The short list is as follows:

  • Salmonella (exists naturally in chickens and is spread via the rat’s paws and fur. Communicable to humans).
  • Leptospirosis (communicable to dogs, cats, and humans)
  • Marek’s disease is a cell associated herpes virus which can kill chickens, pheasants and quail by suppressing the birds’ natural immune system making them susceptible to other diseases.
  • Worms—spread through feces, some species communicable to humans
  • Coli—spread through feces, communicable to humans.
  • Typhus—communicable to humans

According to the Indiana State Department of Health, rats shed over half a million body hairs each year.  Each hair spreads untold diseases.  The site also states that rats eat so much that one rat can leave behind 25,000 droppings per year.    When you do an inspection in the course of your daily chores, you’ll know if you have a rat problem if you see them, see their droppings, or notice rodent damage to buildings, or find burrows. 

Rodent Control Begins with People

Poultry producers (and all farmers for that matter), should not be embarrassed to admit they have a rodent problem.  Why? Because according to the Ministry of Food, Agriculture and Rural Affairs in Ontario Canada, over 80 percent of poultry farms have rodent problems.    The same is true in the United States. So you aren’t alone! While you cannot eradicate rats completely, you can take a number of inexpensive steps to control them and maximize your profits at the same time, over time, with continuous integrated pest management practices.  The University of Florida Agricultural Extension advocates trapping as an underrated, effective, ecological strategy for rodent management on the farm. In their article “Rat and Mice Control,” they point out that rats and mice don’t really have a large range of movement, and thus, respond well to trapping. They also advocate using IPM strategies for rodentproofing, including using rodentproof materials such as:

  • Sheet metal (26 gauge or heavier).
  • Perforated metal (24 gauge or heavier with openings no more than ¼ inch).
  • Hardware cloth (19 gauge or heavier with openings no more than ¼ inch).
  • Brick with mortared joints.
  • Cement mortar (1:3 mixture).
  • Concrete (1:2:4 mixture).

They also say “ Places to rodentproof are edges of doors, windows, holes where pipes enter buildings, ventilation holes in foundations, roof vents, exhaust fans, and eave vents. “

The University of Massachusetts at Amherst Center for Agriculture, Food and the Environment also encourages the use of traps as well as keeping barns clean, garbage picked up, and no access to potential food supplies which means good crop storage practices:

“Snap or box traps are useful in eliminating rodents. Rats are more distrustful of anything new in their environment and it may take 4-5 days before they are used to the traps. Live traps are good to use near runways used by mice and rats.”

Rodents living in farm buildings are most active just after dusk and again shortly before dawn. If

rodents are seen repeatedly during the day, it indicates an established infestation. To get the most accurate assessment of the problem, premises should be inspected using a good flashlight, with the lights out at either dusk or predawn. If rodents are present, the inspection will reveal the location, distribution, and severity of the infestation. It will prove valuable in determining control procedures – such as the most important areas to bait or place traps. And, after a control program is completed, regular inspections will also reveal the program’s effectiveness.   Adapting the program to fit changing rodent control needs is normal, and expected.   You may need to lay traps in different places in order to discover what is effective for your farm.   You may rest assured that using our galvanized steel traps, which are ecofriendly and humane to the target animal, euthanizing quickly,  when used correctly with the trap boxes, in order to protect non-target animals and children will go a long ways to reducing rats, and consequently, your costs.  

We will leave the last word from Purdue University: “Effective control of rodents in and around poultry facilities involves a four step process: 1. sanitation, 2. rodent-proof construction, 3. population reduction, and 4. evaluation. The first two steps are useful as preventive measures but have only limited practical value for most commercial facilities. When a rodent infestation exists, population reduction is usually necessary. And in most cases, the use of poison baits comprise the majority of practical rodent control programs for poultry facilities, although trapping can be a valuable supplement to baiting programs.”

Act now.  Rodent control on your poultry farm is too important to the nation’s health, and your pocketbook to ignore.  

Tags: Agriculture, Center for Disease Control, E.Coli, Eco Friendly, Environmental impact, Exclusion, Farming, Fenn Trap, Instructional, Integrated Pest Management, Leptospirosis, Mk 4 Fenn Trap, MK6 Fenn Trap, National Pest Management Association, National Wildlife Control Operators Association, NPMA, NWCOA, NYPMA, Pest Control, Pesticide, PestWorld2019, Public Health, Rat infestation, Rat poisen, Rat Traps, Rats, Rodent exclusion, Rodent Traps, Rodexit, ROI, Rural, Salmonella

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