For months, mice have ravaged fields and infested homes in eastern Australia, from the Victoria border in the south all the way to the country’s northern state of Queensland, causing millions of dollars of damage to crops and machinery.
As winter approaches, the hungry rodents are even seeking shelter inside people’s houses, according to professional cleaner Sue Hodge.
In the small town of Canowindra, a four-hour drive west of Sydney, Hodge spends her days disposing of dead mice from traps in her clients’ homes. She cleans mouse excrement out of people’s kitchens, children’s rooms, and even their beds.
In her own home, just off the town’s main street, Hodge has blocked every nook and cranny with steel wool to stop mice from crawling in. “I can deal with mice and killing mice,” Hodge said defiantly, demonstrating how she sets the mouse traps each night. Her preference is for the snap-back model that ensures a quick death.
But the New South Wales government is looking at something far stronger.
On Thursday, officials announced they’d secured 5,000 liters of “one of the world’s strongest mice-killing chemicals” — a poison so potent it kills with one dose.
Not everyone is happy about that. Some have expressed concern that laying poison to save crops from feral mice could taint food crops and kill local wildlife.
The year the rain brought rodents
For many, 2020 was a year to forget — but not for farmers, or mice, in New South Wales.
Almost as much rain fell in 2020 as in the previous two years combined, creating fertile ground for a bumper harvest.
“(We had) really bad years of drought, then a beautiful year in 2020, and this year is shaping up really well, too. But there’s always something,” Canowindra farmer Michael Payten sighed. “This year it’s mice.”
The bumper crops created by the abundant rain also created ideal conditions for the mice.
“We had a really good year last year, a lot of grain. We put a lot of hay in sheds and created these massive mouse hotels,” said Payten, referring to his hay shed, which is now crawling with thousands of mice.
At least 800 to 1,000 mice per hectare is considered “plague” proportions by Australia’s National Science Agency, the CSIRO. Trying to count the number of mice plaguing eastern Australia right now would “be like trying to count up the stars in the sky,” said CSIRO researcher Steve Henry, described by the NSW Government as Australia’s best expert on mice plagues. But, he added, it’s basically “a moving feast.”
A pair of mice can produce 500 offspring more each season, according to the CSIRO, with females birthing a new litter every three weeks.
And those litters all need food.
As they gnaw away at Payten’s prized store of hay bales, needed to feed his sheep in winter, are being destroyed. “I’ll be really surprised if it’s going to be usable,” Payten said.
Read More News: Australia plans to end its mouse plague with poison