Ag News -
State Ag News
Wednesday, 26 December 2012 09:19
By Amy Bickel
The Hutchinson News
This time of year at some Kansas farm operations, it's the battle of the birds.
They come as winter temperatures get cold. They come because feed is scarce. They blanket crop fields and find food and shelter in feedlots.
Starlings swoop in, morning and evening, filling the sky - millions of them like in a scene from Alfred Hitchcock's famous movie. They leave droppings that only could be welcomed by the owner of a car wash, perhaps.
"There are a lot of birds this time of year," said Haw Ranch Feedlot Manager Mike Holley, who noted there was a fair number on this day at the Turon-area operation.
"But they are not just a problem for me," he said.
Now Holley's feed yard could be part of a U.S. Department of Agriculture study that will explore starling damage and control.
It started with 50 pairs of starlings introduced into New York City 120 years ago, according to the USDA. Today, there are more than 200 million starlings across the Unites States, with about 5 million flocking to Kansas during the winter each year.
These birds damage crops, eat livestock feed, and have potential human health and safety concerns such as salmonella.
A study by the USDA in 2000 estimated that starlings cause roughly $800 million a year in damage. In 1999, three Kansas feedlot operators reported a $600,000 loss from bird damage alone.
Of course, feed and grain prices have skyrocketed in the past decade, which means even more significant losses for Kansas producers.
For several years, Kansas had a government directive to help with starling control, said Tom Halstead, state director for the USDA's wildlife services. When it started in 2004, the earmark totaled roughly $175,000.
"That allowed Kansas Wildlife Services to offer the service to feedlots and dairies in the state with no additional cost to operators," Halstead said. "Restrictions and budget cuts continued to lower that amount until it was eliminated by fiscal year 2011."
Now the program is fee-based, Halstead said. While starlings are more abundant at feedlots during a cold, snowy winter when feed is scarce, he said he already has had a half-dozen calls from feedlots wanting help in eradicating starlings.
His agency uses a toxicant to decrease numbers, and it doesn't pose a threat to cattle or humans, he said.
The goal is to take care of the birds causing damage, Halstead said.
"I think it is important," he said. "Some of the losses in these feedlots can be thousands of dollars a day. It kind of gets back to the fact that these birds are a publicly owned resource. They are causing damage to the private individuals."
"It can be an inconvenience to the producers and their livestock," he said of starlings.
Clayton Huseman, director of the Kansas Livestock Association's feedlot division, said there are a few producers across the state who have expressed interest in participating in the USDA study.
He added that starling control is "just good housekeeping" - especially when thinking of feed loss.
Holley said he thought the study would start sometime next year. At present, his feedlot doesn't have a control program.
"Anything to control them," he said, adding that the mass number that can go to any feed yard can be an issue.
"They're just a dirty bird," he said.