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How to design a barn that deters birds

Kayla Hultquist for Progressive Dairy Published on 31 March 2020

The last thing a dairy producer wants is a barn full of birds that steal expensive feed, damage facilities and spread disease. That is why including bird deterrents in the barn design phase is critical to keeping costly pests out of the dairy cows’ environment.

Bird mitigation strategies are often overlooked, but everyone should consider them when building a new facility to avoid headaches later. Typically, the species that cause the most problems on dairies include European starlings, pigeons and house sparrows. Birds, although small in size, can create massive economic losses on a dairy farm. For example, the U.S. Department of Agriculture estimates 5,000 starlings can consume up to 90 kilograms of feed daily, with the majority of that being grain, which is the most expensive and nutrient-dense portion of the TMR. This lack of grain in the TMR denies cows a properly balanced ration, lowers ration energy density and costs money. This is why it is important to stay ahead of the bird problem and design a facility that will work with you instead of against you.

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The three main factors to consider when designing a facility that deters birds are:

  • Availability of roosting/nesting sites
  • Access to feed
  • Access to water

While it is impossible to remove these three things completely, the less available they are, the less attractive the farm will be to birds.

Availability of roosting/nesting sites

Exclusionary devices, along with lethal control, were found to be the most effective in minimizing bird populations on farms. Birds have the uncanny ability to weasel their way into tight spaces, so it is important to cover openings greater than 1 inch for large bird species (pigeons and starlings) or greater than 0.5 inch for small bird species (sparrows). Cover rafters with tin or netting to prevent roosting spots. Netting can also be used to cover open ridge vents while still allowing air flow.

Cover other flat surfaces, such as lights, with porcupine wires/bird spikes to make it difficult for birds to land comfortably. When purchasing porcupine wires or bird spikes, keep in mind which species of birds are most prevalent on the dairy farm. Small birds, such as sparrows, may be able to fit between the spikes and use this space for a nest.

Another option to deter birds from flat surfaces is using a sticky or slippery substance, which will discourage birds from landing. This should not be used in dusty areas. Other areas, including fans that cannot be covered, should be angled at 45 degrees. Plastic strips can also be hung in doorways to allow access for people and equipment, but birds will see it as a solid wall and be deterred from entering. Extra ventilation fans may be needed if using this method.

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Insulation can become a target for birds looking for a nesting site or nesting material. To prevent birds from tearing up insulation, cover it with small squared-mesh wire.

Another exclusionary tool to consider is an electronic bird-control device using either audio or visual threats to discourage birds from entering the farm. Audio devices emit high-frequency sound waves that deter birds but cannot be heard by humans. Electronic lasers can also be installed to frighten birds away from nesting and roosting sites.

Many bird species will continually return to their nests year after year, so preventing them from nesting on the farm in the first place using building design techniques can greatly reduce bird populations. Make sure to inspect facilities on a regular basis for any new tears or holes that may allow birds to gain access to the facility and take immediate action before more birds find and take advantage of this opening.

Access to feed

Birds need food to survive – and what better place to find it than at a dairy farm with an endless TMR buffet? Grain should be stored in grain bins rather than a commodity shed to eliminate bird access and cut down on contamination of the grain with bird feces, thus reducing the risk of disease transmission. Any spilled feed should be cleaned up in a timely manner, and feed refusals should be disposed of or fed to other animals immediately.

Access to water

Water levels in waterers should be maintained at a level low enough birds cannot perch on the edge and drink yet deep enough they cannot stand in it. If birds flock to waste lagoons, consider covering them with netting.

One of the keys to controlling bird populations is to prevent birds from coming to the dairy farm before they become a problem. Persistence, the use of a variety of techniques and implementing these techniques early before the problem gets out of hand are keys to control bird populations on a dairy farm.

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While facility design is not the only bird mitigation technique and should not be the only one implemented on a farm, it is a good place to start, especially when designing a new facility. Once the facility has been modified to prevent birds, then begin to think about other bird mitigation techniques such as lethal control, live trapping and chemical repellents.  end mark

Kayla Hultquist
  • Kayla Hultquist

  • Research Assistant/Lab Technician
  • Furst-McNess Company
  • Email Kayla Hultquist

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