barn owl summerhill studOne of our resident Barn Owls
(Photo : Barry Watson)

barry watsonBarry Watson Agriculture ManagerWe all know them but don’t really talk about them. We have probably all seen at least one in our lives, but very few of us know what to do about them. A few centuries ago they carried ‘the plague’ that decimated the human population not only in England but right across the European continent.

You know who I am talking about… THE RAT!

Now this fellow, and his many cousins, cause big trouble for all farms world-wide to this day, whether it be eating seed or spoiling food and feedstuffs.

Those few wise souls that are in the know, know that to control vermin you really need to be in the management business. We are talking about probably the most adaptive pest to humans in history. What ever you do… they just seem to come back!

If you had to ring up a pest control company and ask them for a solution, they would begin with a long story of what the rats do and where they come from… all very interesting but you really just want them out the way.

Well, on the farm we know that rats dig holes in the paddocks and form dens. Now we are not simply talking about one or two holes but rather one or two thousand holes. They wipe out stands of crops and leave large bare patches in the pasture paddocks and when it could be your job on the line, you are forced to sit up and pay attention.

Not really in keeping with what we do here though… we raise racehorses. So in nature, how are rodents controlled? Disease, small mammals (Foxes etc) and birds of prey, to name but a few.

Here at Summerhill we undertook the building and installation of owl boxes. The Barn Owl, which is endemic to this area but has been displaced from its natural habitat by synthetic man-made poisons used to control rodents (which never worked!)… has made a come back. We have now successfully placed 5 owl boxes, all occupied with a pair of these magnificent creatures.

A breeding pair of Barn Owls will breed all year round if the conditions are right and the female will generally lay between 3-6 eggs. These eggs take approximately 30-33 days to hatch, and then the feeding starts. Upwards of 3000 rodents are consumed for a growing family.

Now this is in keeping with nature… dealing with a problem in a pro-active bio-friendly manner.