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3 April, 2021

Mice plague "almost worse than drought"

Since 2016 it’s been an onslaught of bad luck for farmers in western NSW.

Thousands of mice found contaminating stored grain.

Following an abnormally wet year that stopped anyone from sowing crops or washed out any that managed to do, we had the worst drought in living memory spanning three years.

Now with consistent and healthy rainfall, along with a mild summer, things were looking up. Bumper crops across the region breathed life back into farming communities across the state. But with plenty of food readily available, farmers weren’t the only ones taking advantage of the good conditions.

Large pockets of the central west are now under siege, with mice making short work of the long-awaited harvest and expensive farm machinery. Local land holder Norman Moeris said that it’s just been “a total kick in the arse, again and again”.

“What we made on the harvest this year wouldn’t have paid for the hay that I bought during the drought,” he said.

Norman Moeris lifts the sheet of his grain storage bag to reveal the mice infestation.

“I’ve got a shed full of hay that’s worth around $70,000, it’d probably be closer to $130,000 during a drought, and it’s buggered. I’m behind the eight ball.

“There’s pockets of mice everywhere and they’re like a mob of grasshoppers, once they eat a paddock out, they just move along,” said Mr Moeris.

The local farmer said that he had seen mice plagues before in the 1970s and 1980s, but that this time has been “totally different”.

“These mice are more isolated to where the feed is. 150 metres away from where the bag or silo is there is bugger all mice. The plagues in the 70s and 80s were bad, but they were just different. In one sausage bag you’ll find 30,000 or so mice.

“There are 200 tonnes in a silo bag, which goes for about 75 metres and they’ve eaten probably 20 tonnes out of that bag. You patch the bag every morning and it’s gone that night.” Mr Moeris said that mice normally cull their own numbers through disease caught from cannibalising each other but that this year they just keep coming. He also said that birds were no longer nesting in the area with mice destroying their nests and eating their eggs.

Mice found scurrying away once the tarp on the grain was pulled back.

Mr Moeris’ chickens and cockatiels have also fallen victim to the wave of rodents.

“There’s no nests of birds everywhere, all their eggs are being eaten. Chickens are being eaten on their feet at night by mice. I noticed my quarians in my cage where two of them only have one leg and there’s blood all over them.

“I found a blue-tongue lizard the other day down at the car yard here under a log, I lifted it over and it’d been three-quarters eaten, they’ve eaten it alive. When lizards and snakes hibernate during the winter they’re going to be wiped out.”

Mr Moeris said his son Bruce Moeris had a close call with a vehicle fire caused by mice chewing out the internal wiring of a ute.

“We lost a dual cab ute, Bruce was coming back from the tractor and smelt smoke under the bonnet. He flat-strapped it to the water trough and called me up and got a fire fighter out to it. By the time we got there it was up in smoke.

“Bruce thinks that if he’d been on the highway going 100 kilometres an hour, he would have had to bail out before the ute came to a stop.”

Mr Moeris said that he believed that farmers needed greater support from the state government in combatting the plague, particularly in reclassifying mice as a noxious animal to allow farmers access to cheaper bait.

“The stupid thing about it is that mice aren’t considered a noxious animal. That means we can’t get inexpensive bait. The mouse off we’re using now is $4000 for 500 kilograms and one heavy dew or rain wastes it all.

“That 500 kilograms is gone in one night even if it isn’t washed away.”

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