No crea­ture com­forts

Fol­low three sim­ple steps to keep wildlife from win­ter­ing in your barn.

EQUUS - - Contents -

Last fall I fell into a fierce dis­pute over ter­ri­tory. It started in­no­cently enough---a dart­ing shadow along the floor of my barn aisle. A mouse? Maybe, but even though I caught only a glimpse of brown fur, it looked too big to be a mouse. I set about do­ing a lit­tle de­tec­tive work---in­spect­ing both the in­side and the out­side of my barn’s foun­da­tion for en­try holes or ro­dent drop­pings. The more I looked, the more the ev­i­dence mounted.

A colony of Nor­way rats, bet­ter known to horse own­ers as the “barn rat,” had set up camp be­neath my barn’s dirt foun­da­tion. These ro­dents had not only es­tab­lished an elab­o­rate se­ries of clev­erly hid­den en­try and exit holes, but they’d ob­vi­ously been gnaw­ing on one or two sup­port­ing barn tim­bers. I was fa­mil­iar enough with rat be­hav­ior to know that they’d be most ac­tive af­ter I shut

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Aside from the struc­tural dama t salm other dis­eases. The typ­i­cal fe­male barn rat has four to six lit­ters per year with breed­ing cy­cles peak­ing in the spring and fall.

This wasn’t a dis­pute I could put off, even for a week or two.

Most of us have waged sim­i­lar bat­tles at some point over the years against all sorts of un­wel­come visi­tors. The sit­u­a­tion is of­ten worse in the fall when an­i­mals like rats, mice, bees, ven­omous spi­ders and---be­lieve it or not---some species of mosquitoes look for shel­ter from the harsher weather to come. Of

course, these an­i­mals aren’t de­lib­er­ately mak­ing your life dif­fi­cult. They’re just look­ing for a place to wait out the cold months.

“An­i­mals just do what they need to do to sur­vive,” says Laura Si­mon, pres­i­dent of the Con­necti­cut Wildlife Re­ha­bil­i­ta­tors As­so­ci­a­tion and wildlife ecol­o­gist with the Hu­mane So­ci­ety of the United States. “They sur­vive by fol­low­ing their in­stincts, which means that many an­i­mals in the fall will search for a steady source of food and shel­ter. Horse barns are per­fect en­vi­ron­ments for them, of­fer­ing a sup­ply of grain or pet food and lots of nooks and cran­nies to hide in.”

For the most part, you prob­a­bly don’t mind shar­ing your farm with wildlife. In fact, it’s part of the ap­peal of keep­ing horses---with one stip­u­la­tion: They can’t bunk in your barn. And as with so many things in life, it’s much eas­ier to bar en­trance than to evict them later.

“That’s why preven­tion is so im­por­tant,” says Si­mon. “Rather than wait un­til we have a prob­lem and then feel we have to pluck ev­ery last one of them from our horse’s en­vi­ron­ment, we need to make our barns as un­ap­peal­ing as we can.”

When de­vis­ing your preven­tion strat­egy, says Si­mon, re­mem­ber that the best way to change their be­hav­ior is to ad­just yours. “We have to be dili­gent in mak­ing sure we don’t of­fer wildlife a source of food and shel­ter in our barns. In many barns I’ve vis­ited there’s a bowl of food left out for the res­i­dent barn cat 24-7. That’s like putting out a blink­ing neon buf­fet sign to wildlife.”

Sim­ple mea­sures, like keep­ing feed in me­tal con­tain­ers and sweep­ing up bits of grain that fall on the floor, go a long way to­ward de­ter­ring an­i­mals from mov­ing into your barn, but fur­ther ac­tion might be nec­es­sary depend­ing on how de­ter­mined the crit­ters are in your neck of the woods. What­ever your sit­u­a­tion, here’s a three-step process for win­ter-proof­ing your barn that will get you started.


A daily sweep of the barn, es­pe­cially the feed room, is a good way to keep out ro­dents, rac­coons and opos­sums--all of them love clut­ter and stray bits of feed. The trick to con­trol­ling wild an­i­mals is to con­trol the food source. “If you have a barn cat,” says Si­mon, “in­stead of leav­ing a bowl of food down all the time, try putting the bowl out once a day in the mid­dle of the day. Cats are smart, and they’ll adapt to this new sched­ule in no time.”

Also tidy up your barn aisle and tack room. An­i­mals, es­pe­cially mice, love to hide and nest in old blan­kets, leg wraps and sad­dle pads that have been left on the floor.

As you or­ga­nize your barn spa­ces, avoid plac­ing items against the ex­te­rior walls. The spa­ces be­neath or be­side garbage bins and tarps, as well as within stacks of lum­ber, all make great nest­ing places for snakes,

ro­dents, spi­ders and car­pen­ter ants.

Also be mind­ful of wildlife lures like bird feed­ers, suet cakes, veg­etable com­post heaps and open garbage bins. You can still feed the song­birds, but place feed­ers well away from the barn and con­sider us­ing seed that doesn’t cre­ate as much waste, such as sun­flower ker­nels in­stead of sun­flower seeds in the shell. Place bird feed­ers on poles with stovepipe baf­fles po­si­tioned at least four feet off the ground to de­ter squir­rels and mice. Sweep up un­eaten seeds that drop to the ground.

Mice love com­post heaps, es­pe­cially in win­ter, so place kitchen and ma­nure com­posts well away from the barn and your home. Com­post pro­vides a rel­a­tively dry home, and if it’s from the kitchen, a con­stant source of fresh food. Keep the com­post damp and turn it fre­quently to dis­cour­age visi­tors from set­tling in. El­e­vated and fully con­tained bar­rels or tum­blers work great for kitchen com­posts and rarely at­tract ro­dents.


You can’t seal off ev­ery open­ing, but patch­ing any holes and crevices you find will re­duce the op­por­tu­nity for wildlife to en­ter your barn. Take an in­ven­tory of trou­ble spots, pay­ing close at­ten­tion to the foun­da­tion ex­te­rior, un­der sid­ing or near the roof sof­fits. If you have a pre­fab­ri­cated build­ing, make sure all gaps at joints are pro­tected by me­tal flash­ing.

If you see signs of wildlife while do­ing your in­ven­tory, you’ll want to find out if the crea­tures are still in res­i­dence be­fore block­ing en­try. The last thing you want to do is bar­ri­cade a colony of rats or other an­i­mals in­side the barn. “If you do see a hole and you’re not sure whether the space it leads to is oc­cu­pied, stuff a crum­pled ball of news­pa­per into the hole and wait 48 hours,” ad­vises Si­mon. “If the news­pa­per stays in place, the hole is prob­a­bly un­oc­cu­pied and it’s safe to close it off.”

Keep in mind that mice can squeeze through an open­ing smaller than the size of a penny. Seal off en­try points with a quar­ter-inch wo­ven/welded hard­ware cloth or caulk with a patch­ing plas­ter. Pay spe­cial at­ten­tion to plumb­ing. If you can see light, mice can prob­a­bly gain en­try. Caulk holes or pack them with a stain­less steel/poly­fiber prod­uct. Steel wool is some­times used to fill in holes, but it will rust and stain your walls. One sim­i­lar al­ter­na­tive is cop­per scour­ing pads, which are made of cop­per-coated wire.

Scru­ti­nize your hay stor­age ar­eas. “Hay sheds and lofts of­fer ideal hid­ing places for rac­coons and opos­sums,” says Si­mon. “Mice and rats may make homes un­der pal­lets. Even though it may seem like a lot of trou­ble ini­tially, I rec­om­mend block­ing en­try to pal­lets by sta­pling gal­va­nized hard­ware cloth all around the perime­ter and across the top. You’ll keep the ven­ti­la­tion you need, but it will go a long way to de­ter­ring wildlife from nest­ing un­der there.”


If you fol­low Steps 1 and 2, you’ll avoid most pest prob­lems be­fore they start. And that’s a good thing. “We must be re­spon­si­ble when it comes to con­trol­ling wildlife con­flicts,” says Si­mon. “If we make our barns in­hos­pitable, they’ll find another place to spend the win­ter.” But what if you al­ready have a prob­lem? Here are three com­mon meth­ods for rid­ding your barn of un­wanted visi­tors:

• Me­chan­i­cal traps. If you al­ready have mice or rats, you might be tempted to try trap­ping them, but be fore­warned ---it’s a loath­some job. What’s more, says Si­mon, it is gen­er­ally fu­tile: “The more you trap, the more an­i­mals you end up with. That’s be­cause if the source of the prob­lem isn’t re­moved [food or nest site at­trac­tants] then more an­i­mals from the sur­round­ing area will re­place any re­moved. The Hu­mane So­ci­ety of the United States does not con­sider trap­ping to be an ef­fec­tive method for re­solv­ing nui­sance wildlife prob­lems.”

Glue traps are con­sid­ered by most

If you do see a hole and you’re not sure whether the space it leads to is oc­cu­pied, stuff a crum­pled ball of news­pa­per into it and wait 48 hours. The av­er­age barn owl fam­ily con­sists of four to five chicks, and those chicks have enor­mous ap­petites,...

Keep feed in me­tal con­tain­ers and sweep up bits of grain. You can still feed the song­birds, but place feed­ers well away from the barn and con­sider us­ing seed that doesn’t cre­ate as much waste.

By Karen El­iz­a­beth Baril

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