Keep the Ravens Out: Fall Prep Practices

, Produce Safety Technician

Birds flying

As we move further into fall and closer to the end of harvest season, now is the perfect time to begin thinking about off season improvements to the farm. The addition of bird netting in the wash/pack shed and other out buildings and barns, are improvements that could have many benefits in the future.

Netting in the wash pack shed is used to deter flying animals that could potentially contaminate harvest materials and food contact surfaces with fecal matter. Animals like birds and bats utilize open rafters and other potential roosting sites of wash pack sheds. Any surface below them will likely be contaminated with fecal matter. During the off season this could add up, creating extra work during spring preparations, and perhaps requiring contaminated surfaces to be discarded. These include all food contact surfaces such as prep tables, sorting equipment and harvest equipment.

Choosing the right net for your unique circumstances requires thinking through several possibilities. Important factors such as aesthetics, durability, price points, and variety will determine the proper netting system for your farm. Thickness, mesh size and whether or not the netting treated should also be considered.

Mesh sizes will be determined by the types of nuisance animals that are causing the issues. Smaller mesh sizes will deter smaller flying animals, ¼” mesh will prevent bats and swallows from accessing roosting area. Mesh netting that small may be unnecessary where these animals are not an issue. Bird netting in ¾” will prevent most birds from accessing roosting points within production areas.

Durability is determined by the materials and coating of the bird netting. Netting is typically made using a variety of plastic compounds such as polyethylene, polypropylene, and nylon. Additional coatings may be added to prevent early rot from moisture, UV exposure, or to make the netting fire retardant which may be especially appropriate when covering a large area.

Netting can be purchased through a variety of suppliers throughout Michigan. There are also many service providers who will install your netting for a cost. Self-installation is a viable option for many farms and most will do an excellent job. Professional installation will ensure that there are no missed areas where the animals you are targeting may still enter, there will likely be assurances and service technicians available to you after the installation. Prevention of bird and bat related contamination in the off season will help spring preparation and add another step towards safer produce.

It is important to note that many birds and bats have a place on the farm. Closing off roosting and nesting areas is important for produce safety. It is also beneficial to install bat boxes and bird houses in order to relocate the animals to areas where they will not disrupt production. Relocating bats and birds will still promote on farm biodiversity, keeping your land healthy and continuing to provide biological pest control.