Whether you see them or not, your farm is home to many creatures besides you and your horses. Let’s take a look at how you can encourage beneficial animals, and discourage pests in a humane manner.
Besides you and your horses, many other animals live on your farm. Most are welcome neighbors, but some are often labeled nuisance animals or pests. This does not inherently imply a need to eradicate them, but there are places on the farm, such as in and around the barn, where we do not want these critters to roam. Alternatively, there are other animals we may welcome in and around the barn due to the beneficial services they provide. Examples are barn swallows and owls, which help control insect and rodent populations.
Fortunately, a variety of environmentally-friendly farm planning and management strategies will keep unwanted critters out of our barns and sheds, or encourage beneficial animals to take up residence.
Keeping unwanted critters at bay
All animals, whether insects or mammals, seek three things — shelter, food and water. The farm, therefore, should be planned and managed in a way that minimizes these attractions for critters and pests around barn areas.
Pest and nuisance animal management should focus first and foremost on prevention strategies rather than pest control. Pest prevention strategies are more environmentally-friendly and effective than many pest control practices, which include the use of pesticides or traps. Put simply, it is easier and more effective to prevent unwanted critters from creating a nuisance in the first place than it is to try to control or manage the situation once it has occurred.
Inside the barn
Many pests, such as mice and rats, prefer dark damp habitats. A well-lit and ventilated barn will not be as appealing to these creatures. Natural forms of lighting and ventilation are best, and your horses will also be happier and healthier in such a barn. Other critters, such as opossums and skunks, also do not like well-lit areas. Because many of these animals are most active as night, motion-activated lights around barn entryways will help deter them from entering your barn.
Inside your barn, grain and other feed should be stored in metal containers with secure, tight-fitting lids, since many rodents can chew through wood or plastic storage bins. Even with proper storage, grain can be easily spilled during feeding time. Regularly sweeping barn aisles and cleaning stalls will also help minimize food attractants. Keep trash bins securely covered too.
Around the barn
Areas around your barn and sheds should be free of debris, woodpiles, and overgrown vegetation. These areas provide safety and shelter for unwanted critters, encouraging them to take up residence near the barn. If you have a nearby compost bin, consider covering it, especially if you compost food scraps in addition to manure and bedding. Be sure to also remove any sources of standing water around the barn. The water can not only attract unwanted animals, but is also a breeding ground for mosquitos. Clean any outdoor watering troughs near the barn at least once a week.
A variety of environmentally-friendly deterrents can be used to discourage unwanted critters from entering your barn. Cayenne pepper, for example, is a known skunk repellant. Boil a mixture of cayenne pepper, jalapeño and yellow onion, strain, and spray the mixture around the perimeter of the barn as a natural deterrent. Bags of cat or dog hair placed around the barn perimeter can deter opossums. Keep in mind that many of these natural deterrents must be reapplied frequently to remain effective. These are just a few examples. You can search online to find many other natural deterrents for specific nuisance critters you may be dealing with.
Encouraging desirable animals
Many animals perform valuable pest control services around your farm, and the same thinking used to deter unwanted pests can be applied to encourage desirable animals to hang around. Since the food sources for desirable critters, namely insects and rodents, are the very things we are trying to manage, our efforts to encourage beneficial animals should focus on shelter. Placing bat houses around the barn, for example, is an excellent mosquito control practice. Horse or pet hair hung from small mesh nets can encourage insect-eating birds, as the hair provides nesting material. Placing birdhouses along fence lines is another great strategy. Your local agriculture extension office can help you choose the best forms of shelter for the birds, bats and owls native to your area.
Setting aside some land for wildlife
From a broader land management and stewardship perspective, it is equally worthwhile to conserve and manage some portion of your land as a safe sanctuary for all critters. These areas are best located near the perimeter of your property, as far away from the house and barn as reasonably possible. From a management perspective, there is little you need to do here other than keep the area undisturbed and allow nature to take its course. Protecting areas along the perimeter of your property help create a habitat corridor between your land and surrounding properties where wildlife can travel and exist in harmony with humans.
Clay Nelson is an expert on the planning, design and management of sustainable, eco-friendly equestrian facilities through his organization Sustainable Stables, LLC (SustainableStables.com).