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What can I do about the birds in my barn?

Abby Bauer

August 23, 2021

Barns are built for cows, but unfortunately, sometimes birds move in, too. These feathered visitors can be a nuisance and so much more.

Ricky Woods, a USDA wildlife biologist, discussed bird control on farms and ranches during an I-29 Moo University podcast. His role involves helping farmers and ranchers solve wildlife issues.

Birds usually start bunching together in the fall. Woods said there is typically no rhyme or reason to what barns birds decide to inhabit; it’s just bad luck. He explained that a few birds may stop in, like what they see, and bring others back with them. Before long, a group of hundreds or thousands of birds may decide that your farm is a good place to settle down.

A major issue with birds is feed consumption. Woods shared that one starling can consume a penny’s worth of feed per day. That doesn’t include feed that is wasted by birds due to contamination.

Livestock that eat contaminated feed may be infected with E. coli, salmonella, and more. Birds can also tear holes in insulation, affecting a building’s ability to maintain proper temperature.

If a farm has a bird problem, the first step Woods would take is to evaluate the situation. He said you need to determine if birds are staying in the barn all day and leaving at dusk, or if they are gone during daylight hours but then return to roost at night. Each situation has different solutions.

“Exclusion from a building is the best avenue to go,” Woods said, but he noted that this can be difficult in many livestock barns. Netting works really well if installed properly, he shared, or clear flaps at the end of a building can keep birds out. Again, these options are not usually feasible for dairy barns that tend to be more open, though.

An alternative is attempting to disturb the birds enough so that they don’t want to come back to the barn. This can be done with pyrotechnics or noise makers, such as clapping 2 by 4 pieces of wood together or shooting a gun into the air.

“The key to harassment is you have to be diligent,” Woods explained. The deterring activity needs to happen consistently for seven to 10 days. “Keep the birds moving — don’t let them land,” he advised. “It takes a lot of time and effort. If you miss a day or two, they get comfortable again.”

If birds are there all day, Woods said they will have to be chased at least seven to 10 days, from sunup to sundown. If birds are entering the barn at dusk to roost overnight, the harassment techniques could be employed from the last hour of daylight until after dark for several days in a row to scare birds away as they try to fly in.

Other options include trapping, which can help bring numbers down. There are also approved restricted use pesticides that can be used, but Woods explained that they are not designed to rid the barn of birds. These products kill a few birds, with the hope that others will be scared away.

A more low maintenance approach is the use of frightening devices, such as imitation owls that perch in the barn. Woods said these are helpful for a few days, but then the birds get used to them, so you have to keep moving the owl around every few days. It also helps if there are real owls in the area that can assist by preying on birds, he shared.

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