Feed is the single largest expense in raising cattle, whether it is for lactating dairy cows or dairy heifers, or in the feedlot.
An important way to control feed costs is managing the loss of feed that was delivered but never consumed. Depending on the feedstuff, feed shrinkage can account for five to 30 per cent of the feed for a season.
Birds can be a major cause of feed loss, according to North Dakota State University Extension Service dairy specialist J. W. Schroeder. For example, starlings have been estimated to consume up to half of their body weight in grain each day.
Starlings eat an estimated 0.0625 pound per bird per day. Thus, if a farm has 20,000 starlings and 80 per cent of them steal feed, they may be eating 1,000 pounds of grain per day.
“They’re not only robbing you of valuable feed, but they can change the ration in the feed bunk,” Schroeder says.
Here are some options that have been successful in reducing the loss of feed to birds:
Feed early in the evening or late at night. This may be an option for heifer and feedlot situations, but dairy cows need feed continually.
Regulate particle size of the feed so birds won’t select it or can’t consume it. For example, starlings won’t eat pellets that are one-half inch or larger.
Lower water levels to at least six inches below the top of the waterer and maintain a water depth of at least six inches in the trough to discourage birds.
Use methylanthranalate, a grape food flavouring, as a repellent. It is a derivative of products used on golf courses and around airports. While it generally is regarded as a safe product and quite often is used as an ingredient in many foods or as a repellent mixed in feed, it usually is cost prohibitive when used in the concentration needed to make it work as a repellent in feed.
Controlling birds is important because they not only eat feed, they also contaminate feed and water with feces, which may result in reduced intake or the spread of disease, Schroeder warns.
“While facility design can limit birds’ access to bunks, habitat and population management can help when access cannot be eliminated,” he says. “This means having rights to adjacent land and modifying the environment to discourage birds.”
Producers have had some success in reducing adjacent roosting sites, such as cattail growths, or thinning or pruning vegetation to remove protective cover. Habitat management, however, usually produces a more lasting effect than other methods and tends to be less expensive in the long run.
“There is no silver bullet when it comes to this problem,” Schroeder says. “While each of these tactics can be effective in the appropriate situation, a combination of control options typically provides the best results.”