Horsham pest controller Steve Olver is bracing for a busy few months as mice populations across the country surge.
Although the Wimmera has not yet had issues on the scale reported in NSW and Gippsland, Mr Olver said he is prepared for a potential infestation as populations on farms are beginning to rise.
Mice infestations could peak "within the next month," he said.
"We know they're gonna come and we've got our baiting systems set up for when it does happen," Mr Olver said.
"Every time we have a very good harvest we're at risk of a mice issue. I think we're at a greater risk this year, just because of what's happened up in northern NSW," Mr Olver said.
"If we're talking about the numbers we see up north, we're going to be in for some pretty severe mice plagues and baiting can only go so far."
"My prediction is certainly by June we're going to see some peaking of mice issues, certainly in and around Horsham. They'll be coming in from the paddocks."
According to Mr Olver, a bumper crop can be one of the leading factors in how severe mice problems are that year.
"We always look at what our harvest is like within the district. There's a lot more grain left on the ground after a big harvest, which creates a greater food source, which allows for more feeding, more breeding and the numbers just take off."
Managing the problem can be a tricky balance.
"A lot of the success will come from what the farmers do, knowing it's almost impossible to fully bait big farming sectors," Mr Olver said.
Due to the increase in mice plagues across Australia, manufacturers of mice baits are looking at doubling the dosage in some cases, according to Mr Olver.
"That's something we're sitting and watching quite closely in terms of how we set up our baiting programs," he said.
The dosage increases come in the wake of a study conducted by the CSIRO, funded by the Grains Research and Development Corporation (GRDC), that supports increases in zinc phosphide (ZnP) mouse baits.
In response to the study, the Australian Pesticides and Veterinary Authority released an emergency use permit after an application from Grain Providers Australia, allowing increases in the concentration of ZnP from 25mg per kilogram of wheat grain to 50mg a kilogram.
The CSIRO's Steve Henry, who led the study, said the lab findings showed the bait prepared at this new ZnP level was more lethal, as previous bait mixing rates were only fatal half of the time.
"It is critical that every grain of bait represents a lethal dose," Mr Henry said.
"Our lab research has shown that mice rapidly develop aversion to the bait, meaning that if they do not consume a lethal dose from one grain of bait, they will not consume any more toxic grain."
While Mr Olver does not utilise specialist farm bait in his own business, he keeps an eye on developments.
We're going to be in for some pretty severe mice plagues.Steve Olver
"The farmers are really the first line," Mr Olver said.
"When farmers can't do the job, that's when it becomes a residential issue," he said.
"It's just a matter of working within the farming community and what we can do, and what the homeowner can do."
It can be tricky to prevent mice from spreading from farms to homes, according to Mr Olver.
"They're gonna come in anywhere with gaps and cracks in their homes. They'll get into the walls, and that's where they'll nest in the rooves.
"If you can put the end of a biro into a hole or gap, a mouse can squeeze through there and get in," he said.
Preventing mice from getting into the ceiling can be vital.
"Ceiling voids are nice and warm for them, that's where the real breeding happens," Mr Olver said.
"A lot of people like to put steel wool and that sort of stuff into the weep holes in the brickwork and those sort of things, just to stop the mice as they're foraging along from coming inside the walls of the house and then up into the ceilings," he said.
According to the veteran pest controller, 2015 and 2020 were the worst years for mice he'd seen, and he expects this year "to be if not on a par, probably worse" than those.
However, despite the grim forecast, Mr Olver said there was little to worry about at present and warned against panic buying.
"It's actually not too bad at the moment. We haven't got the issues they're sort of getting in northern Victoria, but we're well prepared for it and we know it's going to come this way."
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