YOUNG WARD — Farmer Evan Olsen is perfectly comfortable riding around in his 1995 Dodge pick-up truck, cowboy hat on the dashboard, talking about the 100 acres he has cultivated for years.
A family of goats, including a 2-month-old, roam in a stable complete with wooden tunnels and ramps; cattle rest comfortably in the shade of their stables while buffalo sit among mountains of mud.
Strolling around his Young Ward property while donning his rain boots, Olsen feels there’s no better place to be.
But how does Olsen feel about those pudgy rodents with blunt faces, small eyes and short legs that are killing his alfalfa crop?
“You don’t want to print it,” Olsen said. “The only thing I know is I don’t like ’em.”
The creatures Olsen speaks of are meadow voles. Clark Israelsen, Utah State University’s agricultural cooperative Extension agent for Cache County, has some good news for those in the valley who thought voles were going to be a problem again this year.
“We did have a significant reduction in vole populations because of persistent, wet conditions,” Israelsen wrote in an email. “In areas where there has been any standing water or where the ground is saturated, voles are virtually gone. On higher areas, or where the slope is such that water runs off quickly, voles are still there, but they don’t appear to be as bad as last year. Predators have had more access to voles this year also, since we did not have snowcover for as long as we did last season.”
and damage done
To find food, voles construct tunnels and surface runways with many burrow openings — the same sort of thing Olsen is experiencing. Several adults and young can live in these runway systems. This intricate network of tunnels and burrows provide voles with excellent shelter from the weather and protection from predators. Voles can also live in banks, rights of way and near unmanaged waterways.
They are active throughout the day and night and do not hibernate, according to Israelsen.
At his Young Ward farm along 3200 West, Olsen points to the holes where the voles have dug — and there are too many to count. When they dig underneath the ground, they have to uproot the alfalfa plant.
“This is what they do,” Olsen said, closely inspecting the alfalfa roots before tossing them aside. “It would have been a good plant, but they just cut it off and then they’re dead (the alfalfa).”
Olsen said the voles have caused too much damage to “plow out and start again” where they have dug. He said he doesn’t know how much profit the voles have cost him. That being said, there is still plenty of alfalfa left on his 12-acre plot to make money.
Israelsen said it’s not just farmers like himself and Olsen who have experienced problems with voles. Just ask Sharon Hoth, a deputy clerk in the Cache County Clerk’s office. She and her husband have made a vegetable patch at their North Logan home, growing primarily carrots and beets.
“We were digging up carrots and then we’d dig up voles, too,” Hoth said, noting the sight of the furry creatures would elicit a scream.
Hoth doesn’t know precisely how many voles are in her backyard, but she’d estimate in previous seasons it could be in the hundreds — and that’s no surprise. Voles are reproductively active, having one to five annual litters with one to 10 babies per litter, Israelsen says.
“This is the primary reason why they are able to cause so much destruction,” he said.
Ways to treat voles
USU Extension recently provided details on how to prevent voles from damaging people’s property or reduce their likelihood of it.
The least expensive option may be to eliminate weeds, ground cover and litter around lawns and ornamental plantings, which can reduce habitat suitability for voles and lead to a decreased likelihood of damage. In addition, soil cultivation “destroys vole runway systems and may kill voles outright,” Israelsen said.
General exterminators can get rid of voles in a few ways, but the most common is through poison grain, Israelsen said, which exterminators buy from the U.S. Fish and Wildlife service. The EPA-approved toxicants are zinc phosphate and anticoagulant, which are placed down the holes where the voles eat. It’s best to do this in the fall, just before the first heavy snowstorm. Bait stations prevent consumption by non-target animals and pets.
“We don’t like to poison them, but sometimes we have to,” Israelsen said.
On the other hand, Olsen doesn’t hold much sympathy for voles. In his decades out on the farm, they’ve been a nuisance every step of the way.
“I enjoy it,” Olsen said of his farming career. “But when you have the voles ...”