Editor’s note: This is the second in a two-part series that looks at feed loss due to birds on dairies.

Part I examines the quantity and value of feed eaten by birds. This article looks at bird-control options.

Birds be goneIt was a late-March day in northeast Wisconsin. From the road, it was easy for any passerby to see the problem. The large dairy, home to a couple thousand cows, also was the unwilling host of just as many — or even more — birds. Startled by an approaching vehicle, a sizeable flock took flight from a silage bunker, sweeping across the parking lot in a flurry of black wings. They touched down near a freestall barn, likely eyeing up their next pecking grounds — the freshly filled feed bunk inside.

According to a USDA Wildlife Services fact sheet, 1,000 starlings can eat about 36 to 40 pounds of food per day. That’s a sizeable chunk of change. (Learn more about the economics in last month’s article, “Blackbird blues.”)

If you’re tired of sharing your cows’ chow with a bunch of avian invaders, read on. There are several bird-control options at your disposal. Find out which one might best suit your needs.

What methods are most effective?
According to a survey of commercial dairies in Pennsylvania, New York and Wisconsin, bird-control measures vary in terms of their effectiveness. The table, “Efficacy and cost of bird-control methods on dairies,” breaks down how survey respondents ranked the effectiveness of some common bird-control strategies. It also puts a price tag on the cost of those strategies.

Meanwhile, some other points of interest from the survey include:

• To kill a mockingbird… Survey participants said lethal methods (a.k.a., shooting and poisoning) were more effective than nonlethal control measures like live trapping and chemical repellents.

• … but you don’t have to kill ‘em. Respondents said “exclusionary devices” (like netting or bird-proofing buildings) worked, too. In fact, netting was the only nonlethal control method shown to be moderately effective, though it was the most expensive option cited.

• No method is without its drawbacks. This is for the overly optimistic folks. The study’s purveyors say that factors like economics (“It costs how much?”) can stand in your way, and some strategies are just plain hard to implement without disrupting normal activity on the farm. (“There’s so much netting in here, I can’t drive into the barn to feed the cows!”) Remember, too, that certain strategies come with unpleasant or annoying side effects. (“Sure, it scared the birds off, but now the cows are so jumpy.”)

What are my options?
Options for bird control on dairy operations fall into two general categories: lethal and nonlethal. Lethal options include those already mentioned, such as shooting and poisoning. Nonlethal methods can be broken down a bit further into these categories:

Repellents. This category includes options like electronic bird control which uses sounds, like digital recordings of distressed birds, to frighten away their pesky peers. It also includes chemical repellents and scare tactics like propane cannons.

Exclusion. Options like birdproofing of buildings and bird netting fall into this category.

Other. Things like live trapping and habitat modification (practices that limit birds’ access to feed and water) fit here.

Tap into Wildlife Services
Wildlife Services is a program within the USDA’s Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service (APHIS). Specialists with Wildlife Services can provide on-site assistance and recommendations for using the various control practices mentioned here. You may want to talk to them first before using baits or other lethal bird-control methods, some of which require training and certification. Call Wildlife Services at (866) 487-3297, or visit the Web site at: www.aphis.usda.gov/wildlife_damage/



Efficacy and cost of birdcontrol methods on dairies

This table shows the effectiveness and average cost of various control strategies used on commercial dairies in Pennsylvania, New York and Wisconsin in 2009.

A look at the data shows that bird-control measures implemented by Wildlife Services received the highest rating  (35 percent) in the “very effective” category. Chemical repellents received the lowest rating (7 percent) in this category, followed by live trapping (10 percent) and habitat modification (11 percent).

The survey results, published in the November 2012 Journal of Dairy Science, also show that cost of bird control differs substantially, with bird netting being the most expensive and live trapping the least.

Birds be gone