The third year of this project focused on the collection of on-farm research samples and outreach activities. On-farm data collection on five dairies included feed samples to measure pre-bird depredation and post-bird depredation nutrient content in lactating dairy cow feed. Fresh wild bird feces samples were collected and analyzed for the presence of Salmonella, E. coli, and Campylobacter jejuni. Video cameras recorded continuous footage, in which cow and wild bird behavioral interactions were observed and recorded. Some dairies lost as much as 30% of net energy for lactation in feed when wild birds ate at the feed bunk undisturbed for only 30 minutes. E. coli was the most prevalent bacteria present in wild bird feces, with only one sample positive for Campylobacter jejuni and no samples positive for Salmonella. The density of wild birds at the feed bunk influenced the number of cows that ate at the feed bunk. Research results were shared with Oregon dairy producers at the 2018 Oregon Dairy Farmers Association Convention and with Washington dairy producers at the 2018 Washington State Dairy Industry Meeting.
The objectives for Year 3 were:
- Outreach – disseminate results from on-farm research study.
- Field data collection – collect feed samples, bird fecal samples, and behavior data.
The wild bird problem on dairies in the Pacific Northwest (PNW), especially regarding European starlings (Sternus vulgaris), has been compounded with changes in land use and agricultural practices over the past 20-30 years. In other areas of the U.S., the impact of the non-native European starlings on dairies has been linked to significant economic damages (including loss of high-value feed components and subsequent loss of milk production in cows) and disease transmission concerns (including Escherichia coli O157:H7 and Salmonella).
As acreage devoted to blueberry and other fruit crops has dramatically increased in the PNW, dairies are increasingly likely co-located in less than two miles from a fruit crop. This dairy-fruit interface provides an ideal habitat for European starlings to feast on open commodity storage and bunker faces in fall, winter and spring, and then access ripening fruit in summer. Dairy facilities also provide birds with year-round roosting habitats. By assessing bird populations, feed losses, cow behavior and related health factors, this project will result in a comprehensive identification of economic impacts of wild birds not only to producers but to the entire regional economy.
The potential disease vector role of starlings has been documented, although no known studies have evaluated the impact of wild birds on dairy cow behavior and welfare. Video recordings targeting dairy feed bunks will shed light on wild bird-cow interactions that occur when cows are feeding and whether wild bird presence is detrimental to dairy cow welfare. If wild birds are deemed to impose a negative stressor on cows, this factor can be included when determining the need for intervention to control wild bird activity. Documenting feed quality loss (from birds selecting the most nutritious components) and Escherichia coli O157:H7 and Salmonella prevalence (from birds defecating on feed) at the feed bunk, by comparing feed characteristics pre- and post- bird presence, will also lead to a more accurate estimate of bird damage costs. This information will be useful to producers as they consider costs and benefits of implementing wild bird control measures.
The overarching hypothesis is that the presence of wild birds at dairy feed bunks causes dairy cows to consume less feed, increases the number of pathogenic species present at feed bunks, and decreases the amount of nutrients available for cows.
Wireless video cameras were installed on five dairies to record dairy cow and wild bird behavior at the feedbunk and water troughs. These video cameras recorded behavior continuously for at least 24 hours on each farm. The feed bunks of up to four pens at each of the five dairies were observed during feeding times to determine bird predation patterns. Fresh feed samples were collected to determine the nutritional composition of the feed that cows were meant to consume. Approximately 30 minutes after fresh feed was delivered and wild birds depredated the feed without any disturbances, feed samples were collected for comparison with fresh feed samples. The nutritional components measured in each sample include dry matter, crude fat, crude protein, and carbohydrates. After feed samples were collected, bird fecal matter samples were collected near the feed bunk area. At least five fecal samples were collected from each cow pen. These samples were tested for the presence of Escherichia coli O157:H7, Salmonella, or Campylobacter jejuni.
At the conclusion of Year 3 of this project, our research team showed that after a mere 30 minutes of depredation, wild birds caused up to a 30% loss of net energy for lactation in cattle feed. E. coli was the most prominent bacteria present in wild bird feces, in which only one sample was positive for Campylobacter jejuni and no samples were positive for Salmonella. The number of cows present at the feed bunk was influenced by the density of wild birds at the feed bunk.
Research conclusions are not complete at this time.
This project aimed to educate dairy producers and the general public through a variety of educational activities. From the start of the project, dairy producers were engaged in the development of survey tools and on-farm data collection methods. The methods of education for dairy producers included exhibit booth displays at the Washington State Dairy Industry Annual Meeting, newsletter articles, presentations, and a peer-reviewed factsheet.
The methods of education for the general public included exhibit booths at a county fair, popular press articles, and presentations. These educational activities focused on sharing the story of wild birds on dairies — why wild bird deterrence practices are necessary on dairies.
Additionally, the collaborators on this project value undergraduate and graduate student education. One M.S. graduate student and at least six undergraduate students were involved in this project.
Educational & Outreach Activities
During Year 3 of this project, collaborators created one peer-reviewed factsheet, four popular press articles, and two newsletter articles about wild bird management strategies on dairies. Other types of outreach included scientific presentations at national meetings, exhibit booths at fairs and meetings, presentations to dairy producers and community members, and on-farm tours.
Upcoming education activities will include newsletter articles, popular press articles, another factsheet, presentations, scientific journal articles, and talks at scientific meetings.
- Wild bird migration patterns
- Identification of beneficial wild birds
- Economic impact of wild birds
Wild bird migration patterns
Identification of beneficial wild birds
Upon completion of this project, dairy producers will gain additional awareness on how much damage wild birds cause on their dairies. This information will help them make well-informed decisions on which bird deterrence strategies are most economical for their dairies. Educating dairy producers about the benefits of using sustainable bird deterrence practices, especially non-lethal practices, will have a positive effect on producer-public relations.