The National Pork Producers Council is rolling out a pest management program to educate producers on getting rid of rats and mice to preserve animal health, food safety and building integrity.

As you start winterizing your hog facilities this fall, you may discover some unpleasant changes - damage to insulation, wood, curtains and other building materials.

That damage is a sure sign of rodent infestation and a strong indicator to make rodent control a priority.

You're not alone in this regard, says Michelle Michalak, DVM, member of the National Pork Producers Council's (NPPC) Rodent Control Working Group.

"Most pork producers are fairly apathetic when it comes to rodent control," states Michalak, Maria Stein, OH. "They think the rodents have been there forever, and they've become part of the furnishings of the building."

But, once producers roll up a curtain, for example, and see lots of holes, they want to take action right away, she says.

Tackling a Rodent `Outbreak' Besides curtain damage, burrows, gnaw marks, droppings and smear (grease) marks are solid signs buildings have a major rodent infestation, says John Beller, Pest Tech Inc., Columbus, NE.

Beller has been in the pest management business for 23 years and started Pest Tech in 1992. He is also part of the rodent control working group developing educational materials for pork producers. "Our goal is to take the producer beyond the concept of making bait placements and calling it good enough," he explains.

Beller suggests using a four-step program called Integrated Pest Management (IPM):

- Thoroughly inspect building sites for signs of rodent activity;

- Exclude rodents by "engineering" them out of the buildings;

- Work on sanitation - feed spills around feed bins, carts and wagons can be a "tremendous feed source not only for rodents but for birds and other pests," Beller says; and,

- Apply rodenticides or mechanical means to control rodents.

"Most producers throw out bait around the barns and hope for the best. They harvest rodents like they do crops, " says rodent control team member Robert Corrigan, RMC Pest Management Consulting, Richmond, IN.

"The new program will be designed so instead of reacting to rodents, we can work to stay ahead of them," he adds. Corrigan is devising a barn chart producers can use to match up their problems with the right bait, bait formulation and application period.

Zero Tolerance Pest control experts Corrigan and Beller agree the pork industry needs to adopt a zero tolerance policy for rodent control. "There will always be new mice trying to move in," says Corrigan. "When there are just a few new ones, you can take care of them pretty easily. It's this business of tolerating up to hundreds of mice and rats on a chronic basis that we need to educate producers about."

Get the Facts Another part of the NPPC program that will help producers is a double-sided rodent control fact sheet to be released soon. It tells the damage rodents can do, explains their reproductive capabilities and behavior and how to be proactive in looking for them. For instance, if rodents can be seen during the day, the level of infestation is high because rodents are nocturnal.

The fact sheet explains how to design a practical rodent control program. Besides cleaning up feed spills, producers need to eliminate harborage areas about buildings and control weeds. "By maintaining an uncluttered, 3-ft.-wide, weed-free, graveled perimeter around buildings, rodents cannot use these areas. Gravel should be at least 1 in. in diameter and be laid in a band at least 3-ft. wide and 6-in. deep," the fact sheet states.

The fact sheet also provides detailed information on the best use of baits and bait stations inside and outside hog barns. For instance, casual placement of bait stations in and around barns won't have much impact on rodent populations. The fact sheet offers three suggestions:

- Install fresh bait in the rodent's high activity areas as determined by inspections and/or rodent signs;

- Put out enough bait points to ensure the rodents easily encounter bait during nightly trips for food; and,

- Match the right bait formulation to the specific area to be baited.

A guide chart to the use of rodenticide baits is available from the NPPC ordering department at (515) 223-2621.

While dogs and cats occasionally kill rodents around buildings, they can't stop an established infestation. They also pose an additional threat of disease transmission, the fact sheet explains.

Economic Evaluation Next spring, results of an economic analysis of an integrated rodent control program will be available, according to David Pyburn, DVM, NPPC director of veterinary science and rodent control team coordinator.

Economic variables will be put into a model to provide producers with a decision-making tool, notes project leader Scott Hygnstrom, University of Nebraska.

"They can look at their situation, plug in their variables and then determine whether it's worth it or not to exercise rodent control and at what level, and whether they should do rodent control themselves or hire it done professionally," he says.