Summer has arrived and so have the rodents and insects. Rodents, large and small, can cause costly damage to a barn in an effort to access feed supplies.
Unlike rodents, insects will not cause structural damage, but both types of pests do carry diseases that can be transmitted to horses and humans.
Ridding your barn of rodents
Feed, especially sweet feeds with molasses, attract large rodents, including raccoons and possums. Cat food also provides a good meal for large rodents.
You would be surprised how many wild critters stroll through your barn at night. Raccoons make a mess of garbage bins, eat your feed, and may carry rabies!
Raccoons can be destructive and have been known to claw and chew their way through a roof or barn wall to access grain. To deter raccoons and possums from taking up residence in your stable, store all grain and supplements inside containers with locking or snapping lids. Sealed containers will also provide protection for your horse should he get loose and find his way to the feed room.
Large rodents sometimes choose hay storage areas to birth and raise their young. Not only do the animals leave scat on your horse's hay, the animals, raccoons in particular, are protective of their young. It is imperative the animals are removed from the barn.
Depending upon personal convictions, the animals can be captured using a have-a-heart trap and relocated, they can be removed by a professional exterminator, or they can be shot. Remember, if you choose to relocate larger rodents, specifically raccoons, they must be released more than seven miles from your property or they will find their way back to your stable.
Small rodents, including mice, rats, moles, and chipmunks can more easily be controlled. A barn cat can effectively patrol the barn. A barn cat should be spayed or neutered and should receive routine care including appropriate vaccinations.
Bait stations minimize bait consumption from non-target animals, however, if poisoned animals are later devoured by your barn cats or dogs, they will ingest the poison and may suffer from warfarin toxicosis - deadly.
Another option is to use poisonous bait. Sold at any home improvement or hardware store, bait can be purchased in pellet or block/cube form. The bait is designed to be eaten by the rodent. It must be placed in areas that are "high traffic" areas to be effective.
Bait should be used with care in barns that are frequently visited by children or with resident barn cats to limit the potential for injuring the wrong species. Bait boxes, also called rodent bait stations, can be used to keep the bait away from non-target animals. Most boxes include tamper-proof, locking lids with keys.
Traditional mouse traps, sticky board glue traps, and reusable traps for moles, mice, and rats are other options for controlling the small rodent population.
Battle the bugs
Where there are animals, there is manure, and where there is manure, there are insects. In addition to being a nuisance, insects, like rodents, carry diseases that can affect horses and humans alike.
Implementing a few basic manure management tactics can help you control the insect population at your barn. The insect-fighting practices discussed here have an added benefit of being all natural and pesticide-free.
Eliminate breeding grounds
Insects thrive in standing water, manure piles, and puddles of horse urine. Eliminating or reducing these areas can reduce insect populations. Look for areas around the stable where water can pool and become stagnate.
Stalls and paddocks should be cleaned frequently. Ideally, manure should be removed from the property, either to be spread on fields or hauled off-site.
When removal is not an option, create composting piles as far away from the barn as possible. This may require the purchase of equipment to eliminate long walks to the manure pile, but the investment will be worth it.
Consider pest predators
Using "beneficial" insects is another method for controlling pesky, disease-laden bugs. Fly Predators, produced by Spalding Laboratories, are tiny insects that attack the fly cocoon, killing the fly before it is able to hatch. The beneficial insects do not bother humans or horses.
The fly predators should be spread around manure-saturated areas every four to six weeks throughout the summer season to be effective. The number of fly predators needed will depend on the number of horses at the barn.
Stables open to raising more than one type of livestock can consider bringing laying and/or guinea hens to the property. Designed to scratch manure looking for insect larvae, chickens feast on insect eggs, limiting the number of flies able to hatch. In addition to having fewer insects on the property, poultry provides two added benefits. The flapping wings and squawking beaks can serve to desensitize show horses to strange and unexpected noises.
Traps may help
Reducing insect populations requires a multi-faceted approach. Fly bag traps and sticky fly tape can capture unwanted barn flies. Fly bag traps in particular catch and hold between 20,000 and 40,000 flies depending upon the size and design of the fly trap bag.
The traps are baited with a powdered fly attractant to lure flies in. The bags are filled with water and hung in areas with dense fly populations. The flies enter the trap and drown in the water. Once the bags are full, the top must be closed and then the entire bag, bugs and all, are thrown in the garbage.
Fly bag traps are designed to attract house flies, false stable flies, blow flies, blue and green bottle flies, flesh flies, face flies, and several others. A simple internet search for "fly trap bags" will display countless retailers where these can be purchased, both from equine supply companies and home improvement retailers.
Successfully controlling the rodent and insect population at your barn requires a proactive approach. Limit access to feed and supplements to deter large rodents from searching for a free meal. Should a raccoon or possum take residence in your barn, make plans to relocate or remove the animal from the premises.
Like rodents, reducing the insect population at your stable requires good stable management techniques. Eliminate areas where water can pool and remove manure or urine spots frequently. Fly bag traps, beneficial insects, and poultry may provide alternatives for reducing insects around any barn.
About the author
Katie has been a freelance writer since 2001 and has more than 250 bylines to her credit. In addition to writing for equine publications, she also writes for landscape, general agriculture and business publications.
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