- Author: Hannah Meyer
I usually enjoy life and growing things as a farmer, however I was excited in the recent weeks to see the remains of something most definitely dead; owl pellets under an artificial nesting site. After a couple barn owl boxes were installed last year, I have eagerly awaited their occupation. Did you know that a family of barn owls will eat about 1,000 rodents in a single nesting season?
The recent owl pellet observation sparked my interest in researching the benefits of barn owls in agriculture. I found lots of information but focused on a particularly good peer-reviewed article called Agriculture land use, barn owl diet, and vertebrate pest control implications. (Kross, 2016). I will share with you the highlights, but you are welcome to read the research report yourself.
Research of owl presence at 25 California nesting boxes located mainly on row crops and perennial crops and forage, identified 1044 prey species. Pocket gophers, mice, and voles are generally the most important parts of the barn owl diet. Gopher numbers were highest in owl pellets found near perennial cropping systems but still a significant part of pellets found in annual cropping systems. Although mice are often considered less important as pests than gophers, they can carry pathogens that are a food-safety risk. 99.5% of prey items studied were agriculture pests, therefore owls are likely to provide valuable pest control services for farmers in our area if owl populations are fostered. Barn owls can persist if nesting sites and prey are available. Farmers seem to help provide the rodents, but let's not forget the nesting sites!
Alternative methods for rodent control such as trapping and poisoning can be expensive, labor intensive, and impact non-target species. Installation of nesting boxes to attract barn owls is not a proven method for sustained rodent control in agriculture systems by itself, rather it is best included as a component in an integrated pest management plan. Availability of nests sites appears to be the limiting factor of barn owl population growth in habitats that interface with humans (i.e. Farms and Ranches). Barn owls in the studied area occupied over half of the artificial nesting sites available to them, so installing nest boxes on farms may increase the natural barn owl rodent control.
Farmers and ranchers who wish to utilize the low-cost natural predation of rodent pests by barn owls in their agriculture systems or simply attract owls should:
- Provide abundant nest sites, including nest boxes. Funding and plans may be found through contacting your local resource conservation district.
- Increase crop type diversity in proximity to nest sites to include both perennial and annual systems to increase owl hunting efficiency.
- Install nest boxes now for this spring nesting season for best chance of owl occupation in the next 6 months.
Read the research article discussed above:
Kross S., Bourbour R., & Mertinico B. 2016. Agriculture land use, barn owl diet, and vertebrate pest control implications. Agriculture Ecosystems and Environment. 223, 167-174. http://sarakross.weebly.com/uploads/8/6/7/7/8677631/kross_bourbour___martinico_2016.pdf
NRCS Barn Owl Information Sheet and Owl box plans https://www.nrcs.usda.gov/Internet/FSE_DOCUMENTS/nrcs144p2_063925.pdf
UC Master Gardener Gopher Blog post, ideas for gopher management with great photos https://ucanr.edu/blogs/blogcore/postdetail.cfm?postnum=29485
UCANR Songbird, Bat, and Owl Houses https://anrcatalog.ucanr.edu/Details.aspx?itemNo=21636
This handy guide explores the benefits of the biodiversity and aesthetics of songbirds, bats, and owls. While written with vineyard managers in mind, anyone interested in learning about nest boxes will find this guide useful. Purchase this booklet at the link above for $15.
- Author: Hannah Meyer
Have you completed a cash flow analysis?
Cash flow is not profitability, it is the statement of incoming dollars and outgoing dollars at different times of the year, which results in a cash flow statement. Analyzing your cash flow will help determine if you are able to pay your employees throughout the year, seasonally, or if a budget needs to be made to ensure cash is available when needed.
Have you calculated the full cost of employees you want to hire?
The minimum hourly wage has increased but that still doesn't account for the myriad of costs attached to hiring an employee. Fulfilling legal requirements for worker's comp, insurance, and other costs can derail your budget; causing not only financial hardship for the farm but also your employees. It is always a good idea to consult with employment experts to find out what exactly it will cost to hire your prospective employee.
Do you understand the legal requirements for becoming an employer?
First, you will need an employer identification number for tax and legal purposes. Laws and requirements are constantly changing so consulting an expert is recommended.
Are you prepared, or have you identified a person who is responsible, for handling payroll, taxes, workers comp and other related paperwork and payments?
Handling payroll and other employee needs should be the responsibility of a single person in your operation. While employees can report their hours and submit forms, a trained individual needs to be responsible for making clerical decisions and correcting common mistakes to avoid headaches later on. If the owner is not able to perform these duties, someone else must. However, that person does not need to be an expert in all of these areas as long as they have qualified advisers in place to help them with tax, insurance, and regulatory decisions.
Get your labor questions answered by Bryan Little, from the Farm Employers Labor Service, who will be our guest speaker at the Farmer-to-Farmer breakfast on March 14th, 2019 at Happy Apple Kitchen. Sign-up now at https://ucanr.edu/survey/survey.cfm?surveynumber=26870 . Put it on your calendar today!
Additional labor related resources:
- Labor Readiness Self-Assessment Tool - University of Vermont
Answer a list of 21 questions and a personalized report will be generated letting you know what areas to work on. http://www.uvm.edu/aglabor/dashboard/node/add/readiness-assessment
- FELS –Farm Employers Labor Service - a division of the California Farm Bureau Federation
“FELS strengthens the working relationship between farmers and field workers and helps farmers comply with labor and employment laws” https://www.fels.net/1/30-labor/605-vineyard-worker-fatality-highlights-importance-of-machinery-safety-training.html
- FELS Personnel & Labor Audit Checklist
Use this checklist to ensure you are up to date with requirements regarding overtime, minimum-wage, posters, etc. https://www.fels.net/1/images/Audit-Checklist-May-2018-with-FELS-letterhead2.pdf
- Understanding Cash Flow Analysis - Iowa State University
This page has links to cash flow budget sheets, cash flow decision maker tools, etc. https://www.extension.iastate.edu/agdm/wholefarm/html/c3-14.html