Managing wildlife on your farm can be a challenge because of its somewhat unpredictable nature. Deer, wild turkey, geese, and other animals have been known to wreak havoc on crops if not managed properly. Taking the behavior of these pests into account can help provide leverage in your attempts to control them and protect your crops from potential damage.
Tim Wilson, Wildlife Specialist from USDA’s Wildlife Services in Okemos, MI, provides recommendations to help keep wildlife at bay, which include tactics to directly manage the animal pests and the surrounding habitat, and how to use fences and other barriers to keep them away.
Pests In Michigan
Throughout the years, Wilson has seen a rotation of wildlife pests plague Michigan, and lists Sandhill cranes as the No. 1 offender.
“Populations have increased significantly over the last 15 years here in the state. They cause significant damage to corn, soybeans, and other crops. In late May and early June, once the seedling or sprouts are a couple inches above the ground, they’ll go through the row and pluck them out. They can devastate acres of crops this way,” Wilson says.
Deer are the second offender on Wilson’s list, which he says nip the tops of the plants and cause significant stunting. Wild turkeys are of third most importance, which he says pick at seedlings and pull them out of the ground.
Depending on what pest you’re challenged with, the configuration of your farm, and your budget, you will need to enlist a personalized management strategy for the most effective control.
Using Scare Tactics
One method that works regardless of what pest you’re attempting to manage is the use of scare tactics. According to Wilson, when using scare tactics, it is essential to make sure the wildlife doesn’t become adapted to the tool being used; otherwise it may lose effectiveness rapidly.
For example, if a propane cannon is used on regular intervals, it may spook pests initially; but once they realize the sound poses no danger to them, they’ll adapt quickly.
“Those are more effective to be used on an irregular basis; for example, to be moved around the field or to vary the frequency of the noise going off,” Wilson explains. “You also can use other types of noise such as pyrotechnics. Those are a little more effective because when people discharge them, there’s often less predictability.”
Visual scare tactics also may be an option — particularly for birds — and include devices such as streamers, spinners, aluminum pie tins or cans, and plastic owls and snakes. Similarly to the noise devices, these must be either moved around or swapped so birds do not become accustomed to their presence.
Modifying The Habitat
Making changes to your habitat to make it less appealing to potential pests is another control option for growers, Wilson says.
Regarding geese, because the birds seek out long grasses to hide from predators, Wilson advises growers cut surrounding grass to keep them at bay.
He also suggests to take note of and treat shallow, wet areas in the field because birds tend to congregate in those areas. Cutting down plant debris and removing any spaces that pests may want to nest, breed, or hide in also are effective methods.
“We want to take a look at anything beside the field itself that may be attracting wildlife, and what can be done to that area to make it less attractive,” he says.
Protecting the perimeter of your operation with a fence or other protective barrier also may be effective in some cases.
With fencing, it is important to consider what you’re trying to keep out, whether it’s deer, coyotes, or rabbits, and how many acres you’re trying to protect, according to Wilson.
“Also, how much money will you have available to spend on fencing? Some people may not be able to afford to put up 10-feet-tall wire fences to exclude deer, but they can afford a three or four strand electric fence that they just put up for a few months of the year to protect their crop,” he says.
Regarding deer, there are several variables to take into consideration when erecting a fence, including the duration of protection, the ability of the deer to penetrate different designs, and deer behavior.
According to research published by the Wildlife Society, many fences are erected as long-term installations meant to last for approximately 30 years with regular maintenance. If long-term protection is not necessary, temporary designs can be erected such as poly tape fencing and polypropylene snow fences. While these options are less expensive, they also are less durable than permanent options.
At the end of the day, any configuration you consider must be tailored to suit your needs, and Wilson suggests to contact a wildlife agent to create a more personalized plan.
Two additional examples of wildlife management techniques are repellents: contact and area. Contact repellents are sprayed directly on the crop, while area repellents are placed in surrounding areas to keep pests at bay.
Contact repellents can be purchased at local hardware stores or through dealers and include products such as putrescent egg solids, concentrated pepper extract, and oils such as garlic and mint.
Contact repellents should be applied to the crop when temperatures are above freezing and may need to be re-applied several times during the growing season, especially if there is rainy weather, Wilson says.
Area repellents such as putrefied meat scraps, bags of human hair, rotten eggs, and urine also have been shown to be effective.
Not A One-Size-Fits-All Situation
More often than not, Wilson finds many growers are looking for one simple management technique to solve their wildlife problems, but cautions against taking this approach.
“Oftentimes, its going to be a combination of things — harassment, scare tactics, hunting, etc. It’s something that’s not easily solved, and its not going to happen overnight; it may be a few weeks or a few months. It takes repeated work to reduce the damage caused by wildlife,” he says.