Stop the rat race

by Meyer Sosland
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When the weather cools, humans aren’t the only ones seeking warmth inside buildings. Some rodents also look for protection from the elements. Your grain facility may seem like the perfect new home to house mice, roof rats and Norway rats searching for a warm, dry place to live, but they can render your product unusable by contaminating it with hair, urine and fecal matter — ultimately hurting your reputation and bottom line. Implementing prevention tips now will help deter rodents from your facility throughout the winter months.

Your facility can interest rodents because it offers their essential survival needs — food, water and shelter. Grain is a viable food source for rodents, and when they’re hungry they will work hard to get it. Mice can enter a building through a hole the size of a dime, while rats can go in through a hole the size of a quarter. Water sources from staff areas and cleaning, along with the warmer indoor temperature, will keep rodents lingering during the winter months.

Grain processing facilities provide shelter from winter cold as well as hiding and nesting places in dark storage areas or behind machinery. Rodents need water several times a day, so they will linger and breed indoors if the conditions are more favorable inside than outside.

A licensed pest management professional can work with you to prevent rodents and protect your products by implementing an Integrated Pest Management (IPM) program. An effective IPM program will do more than simply treat the problem; IPM begins with determining why there is an infestation. In addition, IPM stresses minimizing the use of chemicals by first utilizing non-chemical treatment methods. Once you determine the cause of a pest problem, your pest management professional can select the best treatment options and take steps to prevent a similar one from occurring in the future.

Not sure where to begin? Even if you don’t have a rodent problem, apply these steps now to help ensure you won’t have a rodent problem in the future:

• Trim vegetation at least two feet away from the building and surround your facility with an 18-inch gravel barrier. This exposed area will discourage rodents from coming too close to your facility.

• Seal all cracks and crevices in your building’s exterior. Rodents can chew through openings the diameter of a pencil, which could lead to them coming inside. A pest management professional can insert material into the openings that rodents won’t chew through and then use a weather-resistant sealant on top for added protection.

• Consider placing tamper-resistant bait stations around the exterior of your building. Another method that your pest management professional may implement is to set up traps or glue boards.

Dispose of garbage daily and keep any dumpsters as far from your facility as possible. Line all trashcans and ensure they have tight-fitting lids. Clean trashcans and rotate dumpsters regularly to prevent residue buildup that will keep rodents loitering near your property in search of food.

If you’re concerned that you may have rodents in your facility, begin your treatment plan by actively monitoring for them. Rodents are primarily active at night, so you may not see them, but there are signs to look for when monitoring for rodents:

• Droppings — A strong indicator of an infestation is visible rodent droppings. Mouse droppings are about the size of a grain of rice, and rat droppings look like the size of a raisin.

• Gnaw marks — Rodents are always gnawing, even when they are full. Since rodents can chew through small openings, inspect any openings in the building that appear to be chewed or gnawed. Be aware that rodents frequently chew on electrical wiring, often mistaking it for plant roots due to their poor eyesight.

• Rub markings — Look for any greasy markings on walls inside your facility that indicate a rodent is regularly traveling down the same path.

• Chewed bait — If you already monitor for rodents using a bait station, chewed bait is another indicator of rodent activity.

If you think you have a rodent infestation, act fast. Rodents reproduce very quickly — female rats can become pregnant at just six weeks old and will have eight to 12 pups in a litter.

Ron Harrison, Entomologist, Ph.D., is the Director of Training at the Orkin Training Center in Atlanta, Georgia, U.S.. and an acknowledged leader in the field of pest management. Contact Dr. Harrison at or visit for more information.