During the winter months, birds can be a costly nuisance on the dairy, but there is help available to producers to effectively reduce the population of their feathered foes.

Coffeen peggy
Coffeen was a former editor and podcast host with Progressive Dairy. 

At the 2016 Vita Plus Dairy Summit, Tim Wilson with Michigan’s USDA APHIS Wildlife Services explained why birds are a problem and what to do about them. When the weather turns cold, windy and snowy, he expects the phone to ring, with dairy producers on the other end of the line.

Flocks of birds, particularly starlings, quickly make themselves at home in a freestall barn. Here, they find shelter from the elements, an easily accessible food source and often a place to roost at night as well. Starlings are known to pick valuable energy and fat-rich components right out of the TMR, and Wilson said some dairy producers have noted a loss in milk production of as much as 6 pounds per cow per day as birds move into their barn. However, this isn’t the only detriment. Wilson added starlings are “dirty birds,” leaving behind droppings that can spread diseases like salmonella.

The solution for starlings

To combat starling challenges, Wilson recommended seeking assistance from your state’s Wildlife Services (WS). The general approach to bird control through WS programs is a “restricted-use pesticide” known as DRC-1339 that Wilson said is not publically available (a weaker version of the avicide can be purchased over-the-counter). The majority of farms that use the service have reduced starling populations by as much as 75 percent after just one treatment, though some choose to do a second treatment in the spring if it has been a long winter.

Wilson added that one of the benefits of DRC-1339 is its effectiveness against starlings specifically. “It’s selective. It will kill starlings but not sparrows,” he noted. “By the time it kills the starling, it is completely metabolized through the bird, so there is no secondary toxicity for other animals that may eat the dead birds.”


birds in raftersHow does the program work?

Wilson suggested contacting WS to put a plan in place as cold weather approaches. Once birds move inside buildings, he instructed producers on the important step of pre-baiting the birds. A specially developed bait is placed in an open area away from cattle but available to birds at the same time, over the course of several days. “It’s got to be same time, same place so when birds fly into the barn they know its there waiting for them,” Wilson said. “That’s one of the critical keys to the program.”

Pre-baiting takes anywhere from a few days up to a week. The next step is for WS to mix a batch of bait with the pesticide. One feeding is put out, and starlings die within 12 to 24 hours. Because birds may fly a few miles away before dying, Wilson recommended contacting neighbors and local services like the Department of Natural Resources and extension to inform them of the situation. The producer is responsible for carcass cleanup and disposal, using such methods as burial or incineration.

How much does it cost?

While the cost for the program varies by state, Wilson said that in Michigan, dairy producers with more than 1,000 head of cattle pay around $1,000 for one treatment, and those under that number pay $650. Because no federal funding is available, the fee covers expenses such as labor, supplies, mileage and the toxicant. For more details, contact your state Wildlife Service.  end mark

Peggy Coffeen

PHOTO 1: Illustration by Ray Merritt.