For the Birds

Ms. Dianne Shoemaker, District Dairy Specialist, Ohio State University 

Not once have I ever heard a dairy farmer complain that they just can't seem to attract birds as well as the neighbors. Doesn't matter whether the culprits are starlings, crows, sparrows, pigeons, seagulls, or brown-headed cow birds, farmers covet the barns without the birds. Actually, there is one bird that is welcome. The hawk. Why will they hang out at one farm and not another when they both have more fresh fowl-on-the-wing just waiting to be eaten than a busy Kentucky Fried Chicken drive-thru? If I only knew!

Unwanted birds have become an extremely frustrating problem for dairy farms. The very barn designs that optimize cow comfort also provide favorable habitat for birds. One of the features that makes rafter barns attractive, besides fewer timbers to impede air flow, is that it also provides almost no places for birds to roost. The few places that are available, however, the birds will find.

Management practices such as having TMR in front of the cows 24 hours a day also means that there is TMR available to birds 24 hours a day. You think a cow can sort? Just watch a bird eat all your high-priced grains and supplements. It may sound humorous at first, but the huge flocks of birds that infest some farms can cost thousands of dollars as they consume dry matter intended for the animals. Additional feed, the barn, and farmstead are also contaminated with bird feces and noise.

Birds have the potential to carry and spread diseases harmful to both livestock and people. According to John Paul Seman, Wildlife Biologist with USDA, APHIS Wildlife Services, Salmonella, E. coli 0157, and Campylobacter are three diseases that can be transmitted to cattle, and possibly then to humans when cattle ingest infected bird feces. While these may or may not cause problems for the cows, if transmitted to humans, they can cause gastrointestinal distress and even death in extreme cases.

"European Starlings," fact sheet E-109 from the "Prevention and Control of Wildlife Damage" series is available from your county Extension office. This extensive fact sheet describes many ways to try to control starlings through exclusion, habitat modification, frightening, repellants, toxicants, trapping, and shooting. In many dairy operations, actions such as exclusion, frightening, and repelling have minimal practicality or impact. Other suggestions, such as shooting, have limited application, especially within barns. If shooting is attempted in barns, it is likely that moisture problems will increase as "spot" ventilation appears in the roof.

To help address the growing problem with starlings on dairy farms, the USDA Wildlife Services has begun the DRC-1339 Program. This program involves conditioning pest birds to eat a bait and then using an avicide applied to the bait to control 70 to 90% of an infestation. The DRC-1339 is a slow acting toxicant that appears to be painless in birds. Wildlife Services times applications during months that songbirds are not present (usually November through February). During the actual time that treated bait is made available to starlings, an employee watches to be sure that no songbirds, animals, people, or other non-target species go near the bait.

The farm is responsible for collecting and disposing of dead birds on their property and on other property that the birds may fly to before they die. It is strongly encouraged that you talk to neighbors ahead of time!

The fee for the baiting program is set to help recover application costs. For anyone who has experienced a bad bird infestation (this program is available to those farms with infestations of 1000 birds or more), a $550 fee to cover the cost of bait, avicid, and technical assistance is a good investment.

Want more details or ready to sign up? Contact USDA Wildlife Services at (330) 726-3386 or (614) 892-2514. Participation in the program is first-come, first-served. Since the winter weather if over, DRC-1339 baiting will not take place until next winter. They can however, give you some suggestions for rolling out the un-welcome mat in the meantime.