Like most rural families, we dislike mosquitoes and black flies. They make summer work miserable. Therefore, we have always appreciated having bats on the farm and try not to disturb them. They do a beneficial job for us and our livestock by reducing the number of biting insects and we appreciate it.
The bats on our farm appear to be the little brown bat, which is one of the species having so many problems with the deadly white nose syndrome. Each bat is estimated to eat up to 1,000 insects per hour so we do all we can to help these residents.
There was one which hibernated on a beam in the stable of one of the barns, staying there all winter until one day it was gone.
We found a rather large colony of mothers and babies neatly snuggled between sawn lumber on the rafters of the machinery shed. We took what we needed without disturbing them.
In the summer we have watched them zipping around the barns and house devouring those nasty bugs.
When we used the wide flypapers in the dairy barn the bats would regularly get caught on it and be found attached to it along with their prey. The men here became experts at soaking them off the sticky glue while holding them with thick leather gloves. They didn’t struggle, seeming to understand that they were being helped. Either that or it was the same bat every time and he was just preparing himself for his bi-weekly warm bath! Either way, the bats survived to fly another night. The problem is alleviated by using gluey fly string instead.
When the St. Lawrence River Institute started a study of local brown bats a few years back, we tried to get involved. However, after several phone calls, it was discovered they were studying urban bats, not rural ones. We were too far outside Cornwall to participate. The reward for joining the study was a free bat house!
We decided to make our own bat house. We used our wood shop and made two. The son who farms with us put a pole up and cemented it in place and it now overlooks the yard between the house and barn. We are not sure if we have any inhabitants yet and I’ve wondered about shining a light up to see if there are any blinking eyes looking down . . . or wait for next spring.
Now don’t get me wrong. While I can appreciate bats and their service and watch them swooping around the yard in the evening and wanted a bat house for years, I do not love them close by.
On the occasion that one has gotten into the house via a hole in the attic of this 130-plus-year-old house, I quickly exit the room as soon as it appears. Husband and children have become expert at dodging the cats while throwing a towel over the intruder and taking it outside for release while I cower in the bathroom. They even have a system for this as the petrified bat is usually clinging to the towel for dear life and reluctant to release itself. They hang the towel over the back of a chair and allow it to recuperate before flying off.
Husband, though, has a wicked side and on more than one occasion has told me the bat is outside, then thrown an empty towel at me.
In typical fashion for us, though, the Eastern Ontario Health Unit has issued a warning this fall advising that a higher than normal number of bats are testing positive for rabies. Then our vet called. They were doing on-farm rabies vaccinations of their clients dogs due to the bat problem.
Great! The first year we put up a bat house there’s a rabies outbreak.
Angela Dorie is an agricultural writer and a Jersey farmer near Cornwall.