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PRI's Environmental News Magazine

Listener Lifestyles

Air Date: Week of February 28, 1997

In our occassional series on green living, Steve talks with Barbara Bird of Yazoo County Mississippi. Ms. Bird has put some local snakes to work killing rats in her barn. The hungry rodents were costing her $1000 a year in cattle feed. Now she's sittin' pretty.

Transcript

CURWOOD: This is Living on Earth. I'm Steve Curwood. Do you have mice, rats, or other rodents? Think about your options. You could trap them, poison them, or ignore them. Barbara Bird, who raises cattle in the Yazoo County, Mississippi, has come up with another option, and she joins us on the line now. Hello there.

BIRD: Hello.

CURWOOD: Ms. Bird, I'd like you first to describe your rodent problem.

BIRD: Well, it started about a year ago last fall. We developed a terrible infestation of rats. Not just field mice but bonafide wharf type rats in a hay barn.

CURWOOD: How big were they?

BIRD: Well, they were about a foot long, I would say, plus tail.

CURWOOD: That's a rat!

BIRD: A rat rat.

CURWOOD: Whoa!

BIRD: And we don't know where they came from, but they were apparently nesting under our stacked hay bales.

CURWOOD: Don't you have barn cats?

BIRD: We had barn cats but they seem to be intimidated, either by the size or the numbers of these things. And we started having real feed losses and a sanitary problem. They kept multiplying and fouling everything that was in the barn.

CURWOOD: How much feed did you lose?

BIRD: We figured we were losing about $50 worth of feed a week. And if you feed up about 20 weeks or more out of the fall and winter, we probably lost about $1,000 worth of feed.

CURWOOD: A thousand bucks going to rats. So how did you finally get rid of them?

BIRD: Well, we tried live traps and they really didn't make much of a dent. My herdsman wanted to put out poisons like warfren. But I hated to do that, not just on principle but I was afraid to use something that would poison the cats or some other animal around the barn. So our problem was solved almost by accident. Last spring I started losing my newly-hatched chicks at night, even though I was closing the coop against predators every evening. And early one morning I found this enormous chicken snake virtually in the hen's nest.

CURWOOD: Chicken snake.

BIRD: A chicken snake.

CURWOOD: Now how big is that?

BIRD: Well, this one was huge. He was about 5 feet long. Anyway, I managed to capture him with a hayfork and a feed bucket.

CURWOOD: Uh huh.

BIRD: And I took him to the hay barn in my truck, it's about a mile and a half away, and released him. I had to warn the help because their knee-jerk response to snakes is to kill them. And apparently he was able to go where no cat had gone before.

CURWOOD: Because?

BIRD: Like under bales and into rat holes, because our results were spectacular.

CURWOOD: Uh huh.

BIRD: This past fall and winter we've had almost no rats, at least none that I've seen, where we used to see hundreds when we'd turned on the barn light.

CURWOOD: Do you think the snake will stay on season after season?

BIRD: Well I hope so. I hope he'll find a mate and maybe we'll have more than one snake. But it's hard to say. I mean, he ate through all my chicks at the chicken coop, and he stayed around until I bought more chicks or had more chicks. So apparently, they're very opportunistic.

CURWOOD: Well, Barbara Bird, thanks for joining us.

BIRD: Well, you're very welcome.

 

 

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