A rat infestation at a Shropshire farm could have threatened the farm’s future if it had gone ignored. Farmers Guardian discovers how the problem was solved.
Buying a dairy farm is no small commitment but doing so for the first time as a senior citizen could be considered a very bold move. For Huw Ellis, a dairy farmer near Oswestry, Shropshire, buying a dairy farm is the culmination of a lifetime in dairying.
He explains: “My parents were farmers but I did not inherit a tenancy or a farm, so I worked on a shared farm in Buckinghamshire. When a tenancy in Shropshire became available, I made the move and spent 18 years growing my herd.”
Mr Ellis had a fixed term tenancy and before it ended took the decision not to retire but to invest. He bought Pentre Kendrick Farm in 2014, four years before his tenancy ended, and began making the preparations to move his herd of 240 Holstein Friesian cows.
He says: “I moved the herd on January 10, 2019. We milked them in the morning and loaded them onto double decker lorries. That same afternoon we were milking them in the new parlour.”
Pentre Kendrick extends to 97 hectares (240 acres) and had been used as a sheep and beef farm before Mr Ellis moved.
Mr Ellis made investments in new housing, a new clamp and slurry store before discovering the farm was infested with rats.
Once he realised there was a rat infestation, Mr Ellis contacted independent pest controller, Euan Bates, who he had used in the past.
Mr Bates estimates between 400-500 were rats present on the farm and the infestation was growing quickly.
Due to the size of the farm and the level of the infestation, he situated 115 bait stations throughout the farm. He subsequently visited the farm to monitor and replenish the bait on days three and seven, and returned weekly thereafter.
He says: “Rodenticide baits must be used in conjunction with the label. Years of research has gone into the advice on the label and farmers should respect this. Having sufficient bait stations and monitoring each regularly is the best way to control rodents.”
Five steps to achieving rodent control
EUAN Bates, a rodenticide field triallist for BASF, has a tried and tested five-step method for conducting a rodenticide treatment that he suggests is a good way for farmers to operate if rats are present.
1 He says: “First I walk the site. Farmers should do this too, even if they know their farm like the back of their hand. I look for signs of rats, such as faeces, gnaw marks and tracks.
"I grade the signs one to three, with three the most severe, and mark them on a site plan. These sites are where I am most likely to place bait stations.”
2 Farms are popular with rats because there is food, water and harbourage. However, there are ways to reduce the likelihood of infestations, as Mr Bates explains.
He says: “Farmers can remove rubbish and clear weeds that rats can use for shelter, as well as tyres, pallets and any old containers, especially anything that has previously contained food. Any spilt food bags should be cleaned up and any entrances to buildings should be secured.”
3 Before placing bait stations, Mr Bates lays tracking patches to establish if rats are still using the areas he has marked on a site plan. These are human footprint sized patches of silver sand that record rat paw prints.
“Every farmer can do this before placing any bait stations because it confirms that rats are in that area of the farm. It is simple, cheap, easy to do and can work in almost any area. It will also save money because bait will only be laid where there are confirmed signs of rats,” says Mr Bates.
4 Having established the areas most frequented by rats, Mr Bates begins the process of placing bait stations. These black plastic boxes secure the rodenticide and protect non target species.
“It is really important to place the stations well in advance of using rodenticides and leave them in the same place continually. This is to overcome the natural neophobia of the rat. Rats are neophobic, they have an innate fear of new objects. Therefore, a rat is unlikely to feed on anything contained in a newly placed bait station,” he explains.
5 When baiting, farmers should keep a record and return to monitor the amount of bait that has been consumed. Mr Bates does this by marking the amount of bait used at each bait station.
“Farmers should not bait for more than 35 days and during that time should return to the bait stations at least once a week to establish how much bait is being taken. Replenishing this and following the instructions on the label will increase the efficacy of the treatment and control rat infestations more quickly.”
EUAN Bates is a qualified, independent pest controller and a rodenticide field triallist for BASF.
He started working with rodenticides in 1977 but says that more than 40 years on, controlling rodents has become much more complicated and that, despite research, resistance is becoming more widely reported.
He says: “We are aware that some rats have resistance to at least one of three anticoagulant actives: difenacoum, warfarin and bromadiolone.
“Rats are also becoming discerning and refusing baits that are not palatable. This means that the options for controlling numbers on farms and in urban areas, are reducing.”
In March 2018 legislation was passed that prevented amateur users, including unqualified farmers, from buying rodenticides with more than 30 parts per million (ppm) of active. Previously farmers were able to buy 50ppm baits.
Mr Bates says: “Farmers should consider how to use rodenticides more effectively because many are having to use baits with less active. This is not an issue so long as the bait is palatable, and the rats are not resistant to the active.”
USING tracking patches is an easy and cheap way to indicate rat populations in a building or area of a farm.
Mr Bates suggests drawing a site plan of the farm and recording where patches have been laid.
Using silver sand patches roughly the size of a human footprint will record the paw prints of rodents. Mr Bates suggests recording any patch containing prints with a tick, and those without a cross.
“Farmers who do this will be able to establish rodent activity in an environmentally responsible and non-chemical way.
“Bait may then be laid where needed which reduces risk to non-target species,” he advises.