Rodent Control on Poultry Farms: Best Practices To Follow

Posted by Rowan Burgess on

It's not unusual to find a rodent infestation in an area that provides them with an abundant supply of these three basic requirements:

  • Food
  • Water
  • A place to breed and hide

Unfortunately, poultry farms have these three in abundance. And without a consistent rodent control program, poultry farmers can’t solve this problem. Consequently, their poultry farms get overrun by rats and mice.

An infestation can be devastating for farmers.  Rodent activity not only consumes the poultry feed but also contaminates and ruins whatever is left. Unattended, a rodent infestation can bleed a farm's cash flow dry and lead to a viral infection such as avian flu that could wipe out a majority of your birds. 

What Damages Can Rodents Cause for Your Farm?

Rodent problems can cause a lot of damage to your farm in various forms: 

1. Damage to the birds 

They are significant carriers of over 45 viruses and zoonotic pathogens (these are diseases that can jump across species – animals to humans) that cause diseases such as avian influenza, bursal disease, S. enteritidis, and Salmonella typhimurium, which can lead to fowl cholera. 

They are also major parasite carriers. The presence of rodents in a poultry farm means you have to contend with fleas, mites, and lice. They can also be quite clumsy, breaking and eating eggs as they forage through the poultry house. Large rats such as the Norway rat have been known to eat young chicks. 

Lastly, they contaminate the feed with their faeces and urine and are generally a nuisance to birds due to their noise when moving through the poultry house. This can frighten the egg-laying birds, resulting in poor performance.

2. Structural damage

The structural damage caused by rodents’ activity may initially look small, but it can quickly snowball out of control. They gnaw and chew at the building support structures, any plastic material, egg belts, and any other equipment made of rubber or plastic. They also burrow holes into the walls and run tunnels underneath the floor, leading to cracks and possible foundational damage. 

These pests also tend to chew at electrical wiring and equipment, leading to mechanical and electrical malfunctions. In some instances, a total shutdown of some aspects of the operation while the electrician traces the issue. In extreme situations, the continuous chewing at the wire can lead to fires. 

Maintaining or preventing heat stress is critical to the success of a poultry farm. However, this sort of damage can affect that balance and lead to huge losses of birds or eggs within the twinkle of an eye, possibly leading to bankruptcy. The farmer might also notice a rise in energy costs due to the electrical short circuitry. 

3. Damage to stored feed

Rats eat everything and anything. However, the fresh, dry, and high-quality feed that farmers store for their poultry draws rodents. They not only deplete the stored feed at a frightening speed, but they end up contaminating whatever is left. 

Sadly, rodents often spoil (through contamination) and waste (through spillage) more feed than they eat due to their clumsy nature. 

Assessing Rodent Population on Your Farm

Assessing the rodent population on your poultry farm can be tricky but it’s important to plan your rodent control measures. You can use physical signs, such as the following for rodent proof:

  • Checking for holes, even if it's a pencil that'll fit in the hole. This could mean the pest just started burrowing.
  • Daytime sightings. When this happens, you may have a rat infestation.
  • Droppings of feces and urine.
  • Damaged electrical fittings or chew marks on equipment. 
  • Your flock suddenly seems unnecessarily excited due to rodent activity.
  • Nest of rat pups or food caches.

Additionally, a popular rule of thumb used by farmers to estimate the population is:

  • Any of the above signs but no rat sightings: 1 to 100 rodents.
  • Rat sightings at night every now and then: 100 to 500 rodents.
  • Rat sightings every night and some sightings during the day: 500 to 1000 rodents.
  •  Numerous rat sightings daily (both night and day) – full-scale infestation (5000+ rodents). 

Controlling the Existing Rodent Population

Controlling a rodent population is more cost-effective when considering the potential damage, a rodent infestation can wreak on your poultry farm. An effective rodent control program can be composed of one or all of the following measures: 

1. Reduce the Possibility of Access to Food, Water, and Shelter

Rats can't survive without these necessities. To control population, you can take the following steps:

  1. Block any points of entry into the building. Any openings discovered should be sealed with gnaw-proof materials such as hardware cloth or sheet metal. 
  2. Remove any material that the rodents can turn into nesting material or areas. Store them in vermin-proof storage containers or areas. If you can't afford to rodent proof your storage area, move the materials to a new spot every week. This prevents the rats from settling into the material.
  3. Construct platforms with materials that are pest-proof that are at least 60cm from the ground and any walls. Place any bagged feed on top of these platforms.
  4. Ensure the grass and vegetation around the poultry building is short and mown regularly. Massive vegetation growth is a perfect hiding place for burrowed holes. Also, clear out any spoilt equipment or rotting wood. Rats and mice tend to nest in any equipment left undisturbed for a long time. 
  5. Seal up any outdoor burrows with soil and observe continuously for any re-opening. 
  6. Inspect any inbound or outbound feed, material, or equipment for any signs of rat infestation. 
  7. Clean the poultry house regularly. Remove any items that aren't being used anymore. Clear out any spilled feed, broken eggs, and any dead birds. 

2. A Consistent Baiting Program

Once you spot the first sign of rodents, you must kickstart a baiting program. Dilly-dallying can result in a significant business loss before you can bring the rodent's population under control. Rats and mice multiply fast due to their short gestation period, so you need to act fast. 

A baiting program consists of rodenticides (chemicals that are poisonous to rats and mice) and baiting stations. Rodenticides are usually in fumigant form or tracking powders. You can also get delayed action and acute rodenticides. It's important to note that rodenticides are also poisonous to poultry, livestock, pets, and humans. So, you need to use them with caution. Here are the three critical elements of your baiting program: 

Bait Location

When looking to locate your bait stations, you need to set them up before destroying any nesting areas. Clearing out nesting areas before setting out your bait stations disrupts the rodent's ecosystem and forces them to move elsewhere. Which means they end up not being caught in the bait. 

Baits stations with baits should be placed on rodent trails. To prevent bait shyness, ensure you remove any other food sources, so the rodents are forced to seek out the bait stations while foraging food. 

Check the bait station twice weekly for evidence of use. If you notice that the mice didn't touch the bait, you might have a case of bait shyness. However, if some were used and others untouched, it could be that the rats and mice are primarily around that area. You can move more bait to that area if that's the case. 

If, after a while, the rodent population seems unchanged, you might need to adjust your rodent control program to the ten days on, ten days off baiting system. Mice and rats can be cunning and suspicious, so this helps to throw them off-guard. You can also add water containers to the bait area. Rodents drink a lot of water while eating and could leave the bait station in search of water. 

Finally, ensure you change or freshen up the bait weekly. Remove any half-gnawed bait and clean up the area to ensure that rats don't spill the bait to places where your birds can peck at it. 

Well-constructed Bait Stations

Rats can sense insecurity, so it's vital that they feel secure once they climb into the bait station. Some essential features of a well-constructed station include:

  • Big enough holes for the rodent to easily enter the station.
  • Small container with water.
  • Any parts need to be securely fixed. 
  • Create dark corners so that the rodent feels hidden while feeding on the bait. 
  • The station must be designed so that the birds can't reach the water and food. 

Rodenticides 

There are various forms of rodenticides you can use with to control rodents, such as:

Fumigants come in solid (aluminium or magnesium phosphide), liquid (chloropicrin), and gaseous (methyl bromide) forms. They are mostly used in areas uninhabited due to their highly toxic nature. They also work great when flushing out Norway rats from their burrows or combat infestations in storage areas. 

Tracking powders are used in situations where the mice and rat exhibit trap shyness or avoid eating the bait. They contain high levels of delayed action or acute action poisons. Tracking powders work well when placed on rodent trails or bait food trays. The rodents walk through the powder and pick it up on their feet and fur. It's ingested while the pest is grooming. You should replace the powder every two weeks.  

Acute action rodenticides kill rats and mice almost immediately if the proper amount is taken during feeding. Also called single-dose toxins, they are poisonous to pets, livestock, and humans. 

Unless poultry facilities are about to be overrun by rodents, you should avoid using acute action toxins. If that's the case, then compounds such as zinc phosphide and strychnine are some of the acute toxins you can use. Mix the poison with vegetable oil, feed, and broken rice grains. Other acute action toxins include sodium fluoroacetate and alpha-naphthylthiourea. 

Delayed action rodenticides (anticoagulants) are toxins that kill rodents over a lengthy period. The rats would need to feed multiple times before they die off, so they are called multiple-dose toxins. The rate of death is dependent on the size of the rodent and the amount of rodenticide consumed. It is also dependent on the product – some can start to kill the rodents in an hour while others need four to seven days to take effect. 

Delayed action toxins such as warfarin and brodifacoum work by reducing the rodent's blood coagulating ability, leading to death by internal bleeding. Due to the gradual build up to toxic levels, these toxins are usually safer if ingested by other animals. Mice and rats also rarely link the bait to the illness that eventually kills them. You can get them as a powder to mix with rice grains, pellets, micro-capsules, paste, or liquid form. 

To maximize the delay, toxin's effectiveness, add to the water and feed in the bait station. Delay toxins are broken into two categories. The first category is first-generation poisons containing hydroxycoumarins (warfarin). Warfarin inhibits the production of vitamin K, which is a necessary element in blood coagulation. However, over time, rodents developed resistance to first-gen anticoagulants. 

So now we have second-generation anticoagulants such as difenacoum and non-anticoagulant delay toxins such as bromethalin. Any of these will be good to control rodents.

3. Traps 

Setting bait traps along rat trails are another excellent option for controlling mice and rat populations. You should check your traps regularly and remove any rat caught in it several times every night. This can be hectic but is vital to prevent the rodents from learning how to evade the trap. When placing the trap, you need to ensure its carefully placed in a way that the mice can wiggle out. Glue boards are a great trap for preventing that from happening. 

There are numerous trap models with varying spring strength and triggers. However, one issue most poultry farmers who use traps face is trap shyness. The rats, over time, learn that the traps are dangerous and begin to avoid them. To reduce the occurrence of trap shyness, change the type and location of the trap consistently. Also, use different types of bait – onion, grains, peanut butter, fruits, etc. and see which lures work best. 

Always place the traps in dark corners, behind equipment or objects, or close to the walls where rats tend to run by when moving around. The size of the poultry shed might determine the number of traps you need. Remove any dead rats, replace the bait, and reset the trigger often, every day if possible. 

What to Keep in Mind When Using Rodenticides?

When using rodenticides, you need to be careful because they can be poisonous to your poultry, pets, livestock, wildlife in the area, and humans. 

You can also have cases of secondary poisoning if any animal in the area eats a dead rat. To prevent this from happening, dispose of the dead rat's body in airtight and adequately sealed bags. Zinc phosphide, a popular rodenticide, usually doesn't cause secondary poisoning as it isn't stored in the poisoned rat's tissues. 

However, it can remain in the guts and digestive system of the dead rodent for several days. And if an animal consumes enough of the gut content, it can get poisoned and die of zinc phosphide poisoning. 

It is also a great rodenticide to use if you are trying to reduce bait avoidance. However, the sale of zinc phosphide is regulated, and you need a restricted-use pesticide license to buy it from the supplier. 

Rodenticides are incredibly effective when used correctly. However, you need to watch out for the following, or else the rodent control might fail to kill the population of rats and mice.

  • Having a few bait stations when you are dealing with a significant infestation. Your number of bait stations must cover all the apparent rodent trails.
  • Removing the baits after a short period. It's essential to keep the bait in place for over three to seven days to ensure the animals consume the adequate dosage. Remember to clean up and remove any spilled bait. 
  • If you try to control a small farm area, the mice will relocate to another location. You must cover every possible place. 
  • When you set rodenticides, clear out any food supplies the animals can access. This forces the rodents to eat the baits as that's the only food in sight. As long as they have other options, they might never eat enough of the toxin to get poisoned and die off. 
  • Always refresh and replenish the stations regularly. Insufficient bait supplies can enable the mice to build resistance. 
  • Ensure you use fresh bait. Bringing out an old bait stock that's been stored in the barn since the last infestation is a risky move. It might have expired, gone moldy, or lost some of its efficacy.
  • Also, use the appropriate bait station. Utilizing a roof trap for a burrowing rat such as the Norway rat is a surefire way to fail with your rodent control program. Use the right trap for the right species. 
  • When setting up the stations or mixing the toxins with the feed, ensure you wear rubber gloves. Asides the health and safety reasons, the rats and mice can perceive your skin's smell on the bait and avoid the bait station. 

How to Prevent Rodents on Your Poultry Farm?

Prevention is always better than controlling when it comes to dealing with rodent populations. Here are a couple of steps that can prevent them from taking hold of your poultry farm:

1. Destroy the burrows

Destroy and fill all holes and burrows found within the farm. Use solid fillings to ensure the rats can re-open that entrance. Clear out and discard any nests, harbourages, and any material used by the mice in nearby buildings, trees, and fields. Reduce the occurrence of standing water close to the building. The presence of easily accessible water encourages the proliferation of these foragers. 

2. Cover the holes

Every building, most especially a farm, has various holes that serve multiple purposes. Cover these holes with metal sieves and screens to ensure the mice don't climb into the building through that entrance. Also, use thick concrete slabs on the flooring to prevent burrowing. 

3. Use concrete door and fence guards 

Construct concrete door guards that are two feet high at every door entrance in your poultry buildings. You should also construct these concrete guards around the farm to prevent the mice from climbing into your buildings. Also, always train your staff to keep the doors closed at all times. This is always better than setting traps. 

4. Practice regular sanitation

Dirt, spilled feed, abandoned materials and equipment contribute to creating a breeding environment for mice and rats. Clean the farm regularly. Discard any spoilt or unused equipment immediately. Ensure the storage and feed mixing room are kept clean at all times.

5. Lastly, don't wait to eliminate them once you see the signs

Don’t wait to sight rodents to start a control program. Once you discover signs of mice in your farm, attack it immediately by setting a trap, using a rodenticide or placing glue boards. Don't wait till you see one yourself before you declare an emergency. 

Remember, a sighting could mean that they are already established on the farm. It's easy to kill them off when they are a few mice than when you have a full-blown infestation. Mice start to reproduce from six weeks, so you can go from one mouse to thousands in a month or two if you don't act fast enough. 

Conclusion

Rats and mice can not only destroy the building's structure and electrical or mechanical equipment, but they could spread viral diseases that can wipe out all your birds. This could potentially wreck your poultry business

Controlling the rat population is critical to the sustainability of your business. However, you should adopt preventive measures to ensure that you don't have to deal with the dangers rats population brings along with them. 

If you are already dealing with a mice and rats infestation, remember to use a rodent control program that is safe, traps them effectively and efficiently.


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