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Predatory Birds for Rodent Control on Horse Farms

Discover how barn owls and American kestrels can help control rodent populations on your horse farm.
Rodents can transmit diseases to horses and humans. | Getty Images

Rodents can be a challenge to manage on horse farms partly because of their small size, stealth, and primarily nocturnal activity. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reports that mice and rats can directly or indirectly transmit more than 20 diseases, some of which are dangerous to humans. Several, such as leptospirosis and salmonellosis, affect horses as well. Mice and rats can also cause hundreds of dollars of damage per year in feed loss and structural damage to barns.

Reduce Potential Rodent Habitats in Your Horse Barn

Discourage rodents by eliminating their habitat: food, water, and cover. Keep your barn tidy to eliminate hiding and nesting sites. Rodents often use piles of towels, rags, horse blankets, or old feed bags to create nests. Store all feed in aluminum garbage cans with secure lids, clean up spilled grain, and put away any cat or dog food at night (that you typically keep out in bowls). Reduce water sources for rodents by installing downspouts and creating good drainage around your barn.

Barn Owls for Nocturnal Rodent Control

Nature’s mousetrap, barn owls, fly silently and have excellent low-light vision, sharp beaks, powerful talons, and extraordinary hearing. A family of barn owls can consume approximately 2,000 rodents in just a few months.

Barn owls are native to every continent in the world except for Antarctica. So, no matter where you live in the world, your horse property can benefit from a barn owl working for you. Barn owls are not aggressive toward people and will not attack pets or livestock.

Barn owls are secondary cavity dwellers, which means they live in holes that other creatures created. These could be holes in an old tree made by a woodpecker, or the dark rafters inside a quiet barn. People can take advantage of this because barn owls adapt well to nest boxes, whether purchased or homemade. Contact your local extension office for guidance on buying or building one.  

Kestrels for Daytime Rodent Control

The American kestrel is a small member of the falcon family. Its primary food source is larger insects, including grasshoppers and crickets, as well as small rodents such as mice, rats, shrews, gophers, and young ground squirrels. Kestrels live all year in open habitats across North America, including grasslands, pastures, and other agricultural lands, in both urban and rural areas.

American kestrels are also secondary cavity nesters, like barn owls. They accept nest boxes very well and begin catching rodents on your property right away. Be sure to select the nest box specific for the bird you want to attract and follow instructions for where and how to hang them.

Take-Home Message

Reducing potential rodent habitats on your property is the first step to controlling rodent populations on your horse farm. Utilizing the natural hunting instincts of barn owls and American kestrels is a low-cost, nature-based solution for rodent control. Contact your local extension office to learn more about supporting these predators’ habitats.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Alayne Blickle
Alayne Blickle, a lifelong equestrian and ranch riding competitor, is the creator/director of Horses for Clean Water, an award-winning, internationally acclaimed environmental education program for horse owners. Well-known for her enthusiastic, down-to-earth approach, Blickle is an educator and photojournalist who has worked with horse and livestock owners since 1990 teaching manure composting, pasture management, mud and dust control, water conservation, chemical use reduction, firewise, and wildlife enhancement. She teaches and travels North America and writes for horse publications. Blickle and her husband raise and train their mustangs and quarter horses at their eco-sensitive guest ranch, Sweet Pepper Ranch, in sunny Nampa, Idaho.

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