Rodents - unwelcome guests

Saturday, 13 January, 2018


Commodity Watch, written by UFU Policy Officer Lorraine McKnight

Rodents prove to be unwelcome guests within any farm business enterprise presenting themselves as a significant risk to animal health and welfare, human health, food hygiene and structural integrity and safety.  This risk has prompted the World Health Organisation (WHO) to bestow the status of ‘significant public health pest’ upon rodents.

There are currently 2500 rodent species worldwide; however in Northern Ireland only two species are considered to be serious pests, namely the common house mouse and the Norway rat.  Rats and mice tend to gnaw on objects to wear down their teeth such as electric cables, plastic water pipes and motor cables often found within the engines of tractors.  It is difficult to ascertain the true cost of the damage created by rodents however rats and mice are thought to be responsible for around 50% of all farm fires in the United Kingdom with Farmers often overlooking rodents as the potential cause of equipment failure.

When dealing with rodents, prevention has always proved to be more favourable than control; the best long term and cost effective control of rat and mouse populations will always be achieved by a planned preventative programme, which should be operational within the farm business enterprise.  Simple actions such as preventing access to buildings and refraining from storing foodstuffs on the floors of Agricultural buildings will make up the basis of any such preventative programme and this in turn will make any farmyard less attractive to rodents.

With increasing emphasis on Quality Assurance and the growing consumer need to adhere to such schemes, coupled with the risk that contaminated produce may be rejected by supermarket buyers, farmers must be able to demonstrate that they have effective rodent control programmes established within their farm business enterprise.  A good record keeping system will help to demonstrate that suitable approaches are being undertaken in adherence with good practice.  Exhibiting practices, which do not put wildlife at risk when using rodenticides to control rodents and engaging in suitable training of those personnel responsible for applying rodenticides, will again allow Farmers to demonstrate that they do have effective rodent control programmes in place.

Farmers need to remember the severity of the risks posed by rodents such as the ability of rats to spread foot and mouth disease and the ease by which they can spread disease to humans and animals through bites, faeces and their urine.  Leptospirosis, which has claimed four lives in the United Kingdom since 2009, is a deadly bacterial disease transmitted through contact with urine from infected rats and within the United Kingdom. Farmers are now the main group most at risk of contracting Leptospirosis. 

The National Health Service (NHS) has reported a steady increase in the numbers of reported cases in recent years and symptoms include a flu like illness with persistent headaches that can lead to vomiting and muscle pains.  Farmers should engage in good hygiene practices to protect themselves from contracting Leptospirosis such as wearing suitable protective clothing when working in rodent infested areas, washing hands after work and before consuming any food and drink.