Machinery Chatter

Of Mice and Machinery

Dan Miller
By  Dan Miller , Progressive Farmer Senior Editor
If someone tells you they have a sure-fire fix for their rodent problems, that person is not telling the truth. Think management, not the eradication of your mouse and rat problem.

It's fun to see what happens when our Ask The Mechanic columns, written by Steve Thompson, hit on topics of extra-great interest to our readers (is extra-great a word?). I know when it happens because I'll start getting notes from Steve about the sudden uptick in letters and phone calls he's getting. I got one note from him as I was writing this column.

Favorite reader topics include wiring, batteries and balers -- I think Steve was in on the first baler designs. He understands the mysterious workings of a machine that pulls grass in and kicks a tightly bound bale out.

Which brings me to the viral -- OK, maybe that's an overstatement -- but nevertheless highly popular subject of rats.

And mice.

These rodent cousins were the subject of a question Steve answered. The question:

Reader: My question has really nothing to do with pulling wrenches, but with rodents damaging my farm equipment. I have spent thousands on repairs on electrical wiring, components, and cab interiors. I was planning on the poison bait, but we have dogs. I wanted to get a cat or two, but my dogs don't like cats. Besides, the coffee shop expert on rodents announced that his cat ate a poisoned mouse and died. Do you have any solutions?

Steve: The subject of rodent control around farm equipment has become a huge problem, mainly because of the electronics on today's equipment. As a matter of fact, every farmer I know is fighting with rodents. Noise, lights, traps -- everything has been tried to keep rodents away. They like the taste of wires! According to EarthKind, an online pest control website (, farmers spend more than $8 million a year on rodent repair of farm equipment.

I just spent $2,500 on my JD 7130 tractor because rodents ate a 6-inch piece out of the main engine wiring harness. When we got the combine out to prepare for wheat harvest this year, we found a mouse living in the cab. We had to replace all the cab insulation because it was chewed up (and stinks, too). However, that was only the beginning. We had a mouse in the cab all during harvest. The operator kicked at it when he would run out on the floor, but we never killed it. Every morning, part of our new cab interior was on the floor. We figured that it was drinking from the AC drain.

John Deere dealers once had a product that worked pretty well, but the EPA determined that it was harmful to the environment and canned it. EarthKind offers a product called Stay Away. The supplier claims it is safe and all natural -- safe for animals. The product is advertised to run off the rodents to your neighbor's farm, not kill them. I'm going to try some of it. If anyone out there has a solution for rodents, please let me know so I can pass it along in a future column.


Steve is currently covered up in all matters rats and mice -- readers regaling him with their stories about the damage, the anger, the smell (How often does urine come up in an equipment column?), claims of solutions and the agonies of solutions failed. One reader told Steve he fixed wiring damage, only to have it ruined again one week later. Another reader claims to have cleaned out an infestation with a 0.410 shotgun? Hmmm.

I've seen the same number as Steve's estimate of the cost of damage to equipment, about $8 million a year. And the same complaints -- ruined wiring harnesses are bad enough. But the smell of dead rodents is enough to drive anyone out of their fancy cabs.

I was looking around the 'net for ideas on rat/mice control -- elimination of these critters isn't a realistic expectation. I came across a list from the Titan Outlet Store in Moorhead, Minnesota ("Guaranteed Iron at Outlet Prices" its logo says at

Here's Titan's Top 10 list for managing rodent damage:

1. Clean your equipment. Sweep and blow out all the grain, chaff, food wrappers, uneaten candy and cartons from your tractors and combines after harvest.

2. Properly maintain landscaping. Trim overgrown shrubbery, weeds and grass around the home place -- especially remove overgrown greenery growing against your machine shed and other outbuildings. Under cover, rodents will build a trail network rivaled only by the Ho Chi Minh trail (you Millenials will want to reference the Vietnam War for an explanation).

3. Remove debris. That includes rock and wood piles, general trash and worn out equipment past any hope of usefulness.

4. Elevate lumber and firewood off the ground. These are rodent havens. Keep lumber and firewood at least 18 inches above the dirt -- and keep these areas free of greenery.

5. Locate openings in your cab. If you find holes, even holes no bigger than the diameter of a No. 2 pencil, plug them with putty, caulk or foam. Yes, mice can wiggle through holes that small.

6. Don't park underneath trees. Rodents are great climbers and they will drop down into your hoppers and onto your cabs.

7. Get a barn cat. Get a hungry barn cat. A hungry cat is a great mousing cat. Titan notes that Jack Russell terriers are also known to be great rodent killers.

8. Set those old-fashioned, spring-loaded traps. You'll catch rodents, but it's a bit like pushing back the ocean. Traps are not very efficient in the face of large rodent infestations.

9. Poison them. OK... unless you have barn cats and dogs. Poisoned rodents may also kill the barn cats. Poisoned rats and mice also smell.

And, No. 10: There are home remedies... dryer sheets (fresh air and scented will do -- and make your cab smell pretty), mothballs and sulfur. There are untold others.

Anyway, how about if we pick up on Steve's question? If anyone out there has a solution for rodents, please let us know. Steve will put the best ones into a future story.

Tell us about your rat/mouse problem. Tell us how you have resolved it -- or not. Send your ideas -- not your dead rats -- to me:

Happy mousing!



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