Square Peg Post

January 11, 2011

Friends, Foes, and the USDA

Filed under: Uncategorized — Administrator @ 11:24 am

Most of our insect pests are dormant, keeping their powder dry until the temperatures rise when they will resume their rapid reproductive cycles and their voracious and unauthorized consumption of our crops.   Their warm blooded partners in crime, however, continue the destruction and are more desperate than ever to eat, burning calories just to stay warm.  Pocket gophers have been our worst pest since we started here in 2003 and they remain a serious foe but a different rodent has joined the race for the title of Public Enemy Number 1.  The cute and cuddly meadow vole has exploded in population and every one of the little rascals wants to eat, grow, and reproduce!

Burrow entrances like these riddle the farm.  Voles are everywhere!

Burrow entrances like these riddle the farm. Voles are everywhere!

This young apple tree was "girdled" by voles who ate the nutrient rich bark from the bottom half foot of the tree.

This young apple tree was "girdled" by voles who ate the nutrient rich bark from the bottom half foot of the tree.

THe roots of this tree were severed by gophers and voles.  Only the tap root keeps it from falling down completely.

THe roots of this tree were severed by gophers and voles. Only the tap root keeps it from falling down completely.

A vole burrow - probably excavated by a coyote.  Notice the clipped grass fronds and the big pile of green poo.  They are herbavores!

A vole burrow - probably excavated by a coyote. Notice the clipped grass fronds and the big pile of green poo. They are herbavores!

Because Square Peg Farm is a certified organic operation, our options for control are limited.  We have done some gopher trapping with decent success but it is time consuming.   Our best hope is to provide habitat for natural predators and this is where the USDA’s EQIP program comes in.   With EQIP funding we have erected raptor houses and perches and installed some owl boxes.  Some kestrels have taken residence in a couple of our bird houses and kestrels and red tail hawks frequent the perches.  The owl houses went in a  week ago and so far no one has taken up residence but nesting season hasn’t started yet so I am still hopeful.

A kestrel perching above a raptor house.   Kestrels eat insects, amphibians, and MICE!

A kestrel perching above a raptor house. Kestrels eat insects, amphibians, and MICE!

A red tail hawk on a perch.  The hawk is much larger than the kestrel and can eat gophers.  They also eat carrion and are often seen perching by highways.

A red tail hawk on a perch. The hawk is much larger than the kestrel and can eat gophers. They also eat carrion and are often seen perching by highways.

An owl "box" made from a concentrated grape juice barrel hangs in the rafters of the barn.  No residents yet - part of the housing glut?

An owl "box" made from a concentrated grape juice barrel hangs in the rafters of the barn. No residents yet - part of the housing glut?

Shouldn't you be hunting?!?!

Shouldn't you be hunting?!?!

4 Comments »

  1. I just found your blog; it’s a nicely-written testament to a well-loved farm.

    I tend to an overly ambitious vegetable garden in the South Willamette Valley, and boy we have vole problems! Last year they clearcut the beans, excavated the spuds, and took one malicious bite out of every single tomato. Whole rows of beets and carrots would disappear overnight. When I mowed the field, you could see the little guys scurrying everywhere. Frustration!

    We already have a fair amount of natural roosts for raptors (fruit trees, an old barn) but I want to encourage more. What I would love to know is: how effective have your raptor perches been? Well utilized? Any appreciable impact on the voles?

    Thanks!

    Comment by ShadyHoller — February 3, 2011 @ 1:12 pm

  2. The perches get a pretty good amount of traffic – mostly kestrels and red tail hawks. I have seen both going after prey but our pest pressure is still pretty high. Getting a mating pair of kestrels in the houses can make a difference as they will work nearly nonstop to feed young. The big prize is a pair of barn owls. I forget the exact number but the amount of gophers and voles that a pair of owls feeding young can kill is amazing!

    Comment by Administrator — February 3, 2011 @ 6:27 pm

  3. Thanks for replying re: raptor perches. Down in the South Valley, I’m afraid we are going to need more than a few hungry birds of prey… the voles appear to be as epidemic as they were last year, if not more so. They are murdering our early peas. Hopefully the vole population hits the decline side of its natural population cycle pretty soon!

    Great pictures on the pasture planting and the hogs! Good work!

    Comment by ShadyHoller — February 21, 2011 @ 11:02 am

  4. I’ll be looking for predator habitat for both of my mountain properties. One, our cabin, is at 10300′. This place doesn’t have a lot of flora, and I’ve never seen an own up there, but…

    Another, hunting land, is at about 8200′. This area has lots of owls so all I have to do is encourage them to nest on my acreage. Problem is I don’t have a barn or anything similar. Both properties suffer from the above ground residue from the tunnels they dig. Darn things are everywhere!

    Thanks for the green tip!

    Comment by Jerry Vargo — September 13, 2011 @ 10:07 am

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