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Smart trapping reducing rodent numbers

Wairarapa farmer and catchment group member Mark Guscott installing a Good Nature trap as part of the leptospirosis project. PHOTO/SUPPLIED

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A unique on-farm rodent trapping project began across Wairarapa late last year, in a bid to improve farmers’ understanding of the link between pests, the environment and leptospirosis – all while reducing rodent numbers.

A Good Nature trap at Pukaha National Wildlife Centre.

Animal health company Zoetis teamed with trapping company Good Nature to set up a trapping network across three Wairarapa farms to try and curb rodent numbers.

Wairarapa farmers Mark and Susannah Guscott of Glen Eden Farm said they had had about 50 kills of rats in the traps they’d installed, from notifications received by phone.

The Guscott have a dry-stock and cropping farm in Martinborough, and had a network of 50 traps installed around their 800ha property, which also included 20ha of covenanted bush.

As part of the Ponatahi Eco Zone, they were aware of the impact rodents like stoats and rats have on the environment.

Guscott was unsure of the success of the traps as he hadn’t seen any dead rats in them, but had come across the odd hedgehog.

“We need to get rat numbers down for the ecology of the farm. It feels like we’re doing the right thing,” he said.

Guscott said if anything, he and Susannah had noticed an increase in native birds such as kereru on the farm.

Guscott said they had had bait stations in the bush for years, this was just another approach to reducing pests.

Rat trapping wasn’t the only thing being done to improve the environment, Glen Eden Farm had been championing better environmental approaches for years.

Guscott said their approach to farming was that the soil is a taonga to be cared for, for future generations.

Zoetis vet adviser Victoria Chapman said rats on farms could be a key vector for the transmission of leptospirosis when stock ingest feed or grass that infected rodents have urinated on.

“The debilitating effects of lepto on humans is quite well known, but it also has a negative effect upon stock productivity in herds or flocks infected with it,” she said.

Co-founder of Good Nature Robbie van Dam said the opportunity to set up the trap networks on the farms has a two-fold effect.

“Not only are they helping to break that cycle of leptospirosis transmission, but also help reduce the populations of pests that have a significant environmental impact, particularly on farms where farmers have been working to rebuild native biodiversity.”

He said the A24 “Chirp” upgraded traps are Bluetooth enabled.

When linked to the farmers’ smartphone through an app they record the time, day and air temperature of when each pest was killed.

They would also issue an alert when the bait needed renewing, or the gas canister that powers the trap needed replacing.

Volunteers trapping at Mount Holdsworth. PHOTOS/FILE

“The farmers already have enough things on their plate during the day, and these smart traps just take some of the memory load off them,” van Dam said.

Guscott said lepto was a “disease you link to cattle and I have friends who have had it, and it’s a disease that can hang around for a long time, you wouldn’t want it if you can avoid it”.

Further north at Carterton, dairy farmer Scott Dormer has also been participating in the programme, with traps sited near the farm creek and around the farm dairy and buildings.

“In the first week, one trap took out eight mice in one night.”

He welcomed the chance to nail any rodents on his farm.

“Rodents in the stock feed is something we try to avoid, they destroy the quality and spread lepto when they get into it and the cows eat it.”

While Scott has never had lepto, he knew some farmers who had.

“It’s a nasty disease and can affect you for quite a while after you first get it.”

He appreciated having traps that didn’t need to be manually checked every day, and was looking forward to having fewer rodents as a result.

For fellow dairy farmer Clint Renall, anything that would help reduce rat numbers was welcome. His father has had leptospirosis, and still struggled at times with its after-effects.

“And it has been a few years now since he got it.”

With staff on the farm, Renall would religiously vaccinate his herd to reduce any infection risk.

For Renall, the Good Nature traps offered a simple, self-managing solution to laying poison bait around the farm.

Van Dam said the farm trap project will generate some valuable data on rodent activity and trapping rates, and help in the design of future programmes.

Chapman said the trap network was an invaluable part of a farm’s biosecurity.

“Along with vaccination and hygiene, trapping can play an integral role in controlling a disease as problematic for livestock production as it is for human health.”

As for the Guscotts, they said they would continue chipping away at making their farm’s environment better for the future.

“You might not notice it initially, but lots of small things done every day add up,” they said.

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