Monday, April 22, 2024

OFF THE CUFF: A growing plague of pests

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This year we have enjoyed what I would previously called a ‘normal’ year in terms of the weather. Our little patch of the Rangitikei used to be described as summer safe, but it would be a brave farmer to utter those words these days. Although frequent rainfall and warm temperatures are great for growing grass, these conditions have also proved beneficial for an ever-expanding plague of pests on our farm.
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This year we have enjoyed what I would previously called a ‘normal’ year in terms of the weather. Our little patch of the Rangitikei used to be described as summer safe, but it would be a brave farmer to utter those words these days. Although frequent rainfall and warm temperatures are great for growing grass, these conditions have also proved beneficial for an ever-expanding plague of pests on our farm. Rabbits, hares, deer, turkeys, goats and peacocks live joyfully in the many areas of native bush and trees on the farm, venturing out at leisure to graze on the pasture that we work hard to produce.

Now you may think this is a great problem to have, and in some ways it is. Our kids are at an age now where their favourite farming activity is to go out to “goat town” and nail some of these pesky creatures. And we are very fortunate to have sambar deer roaming around, the second largest deer species in New Zealand after wapiti. 

But the true cost to our farming enterprise is not insignificant. While checking various fences, including boundaries, over the past six months I have seen firsthand countless places where the goats and deer are creating holes and causing damage. Not only does this cost time and money for fencing, but our sheep and cattle are able to get through holes into paddocks they shouldn’t be in, creating more mustering as well.

They are not only creating fencing headaches, they are munching their way through huge amounts of pasture as well. When you think that the average adult deer would be the same size as a two-year-old cattle beast, many goats are the same size as a hogget and an adult peacock can weigh 5kg, the numbers start to add up.

Not all the pest problems are pasture-related. The pigeons, or ‘flying rats’, seem to enjoy the solitude of the beams in our covered yards, where they build fancy nests and breed yet more pests. Problem is, they also enjoy shitting on everything that happens to be parked underneath. And the resident turkeys just love roosting on gates where they also drop turds, mainly on the gate latches you are wanting to open.

The new, and most insidious pest, this year is porina. It is the first time I have noticed it’s impact on our farm in winter, with bare patches in green paddocks being the first giveaway. Upon digging down into these patches, I found the slug-like caterpillars wriggling around trying to escape. A hasty photo and phone call to my agronomist revealed exactly what I didn’t want to hear. In his opinion, this is the worst year for porina, which has been noticed in a huge swath of the North Island stretching from Parapara to Hawke’s Bay. It is a difficult pest to contain and I would advise anyone who suspects they have porina on their farm to take some photos, dig some holes and get some professional advice. As farmers, we all work hard to produce pasture and the last thing we want is to see it disappear before our stock gets a chance to eat it.

So, while the pest problem seems to be an ever-changing situation, it is possible to make progress. In my father’s day, his most pesky pest was the possum. There were so many of them living in the local area that native bush areas were under serious threat as mature trees even fell victim to possum predation. He took it upon himself to wage a war on possums; creating a network of bait stations that not only covered our farm but many others in the local area. As a result of mainly his hard work over the decades, possum numbers declined to the point now where we struggle to find one if we go looking with a spotlight. We do regularly fill up over 100 bait stations around the farm, but the amount of poison needed is miniscule compared to when he first started.

This goes to show that with a plan, persistence and the right people pests can be eradicated in the long-term.

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