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What one dairyman is doing to control winged ‘thieves’

PD Editor Emily Caldwell Published on 10 October 2013

Shotgun

Lambertville, New Jersey, has many draws. It’s an hour’s drive north of Philadelphia and an hour’s drive south of New York City.

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It’s known as the “Antiques Capital of New Jersey.” The nearby Delaware River offers plenty of recreational activities.

The Fulper family, one of about 80 dairy farm families left in the state, has taken advantage of this urban sprawl and community spirit with farm-fresh products, including yogurt and mozzarella cheese, and an agritourism business through farm tours, camps and birthday parties.

The family has been awarded with a Dairy of Distinction honor and several conservation recognitions as they continually make efforts to be sustainable.

Energy-efficient lighting, no-till practices and reclaimed hot water are just a few of the ways the more-than-100-year-old farm is trying to be “green,” says Robert Fulper.

The biggest threat to this fifth-generation farm’s future success is the area’s wildlife which, having few other options, has targeted the Fulper Family Farmstead as a food source.

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“We’re the best meal in town,” he says wryly. “Deer damage is the biggest expense on the farm. There are supposed to be 18 to 20 deer per square mile around here, but we’re seeing more like 300. We’ve shot up to 370 deer in a year.”

or scroll down to view a related video.

Fulper has worked out agreements with local hunting clubs and does his best to maintain a good relationship with the New Jersey Division of Fish and Wildlife. But beyond that, due to wildlife management regulations, his hands are tied.

In recent years, Fulper has turned his attention to birds. Though only an issue in late fall and winter months, he’s been told flocks of birds can eat as much as $230 in feed per day. And they’re picky eaters.

“They eat the high-fat feed, so it changes the ration the cows eat,” he says. “And since they’re here in the winter, and we’re counting on that fat to support the cows’ energy needs, it’s a big problem.”

Beyond the feed theft, birds bring the risk of disease.

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“We had a listeria problem a few years ago,” Fulper says. “We did autopsies, but we were never able to pinpoint what the issue was. I’ve always wondered if it was because we couldn’t control the bird problems that we were having.”

Marc Sholder, a local nutritionist for Cargill Animal Nutrition, agrees.

“Weird things happen when starlings are around,” he says. “They’re pooping in the feed, and then you start to see salmonella problems and loose manure.”

And once the birds have identified a place to get a free meal, they’re hard to get rid of.

“These birds start to get smart,” Sholder says. “They can tell the owl in the barn has manure over it and isn’t chasing after them. That’s why the wider approach you can take, the better.”

While Fulper has tried more than the old owl in the barn trick, many of his attempts have been about as successful. Part of the problem is his setup.

“Our feedbunk area is open to the outside,” he explains. “We’re in an older facility that’s been modified. In the newer setups, you can just shut the doors.”

Fulper says the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service used to poison the birds, free of charge, as part of the services they offered. Then they wanted money. Baiting was another option that also got to be expensive, upwards of $2,000 per baiting.

Electronic sound device

Then Fulper teamed up with David Lee, an extension specialist with Rutgers University.

Lee recommended a product called BirdGard, an electronic device that emits predatory and distress sounds to repel flocks.

Fulper had actually heard of the product before and tried just one unit.

“It was an older model and didn’t have all of the new technology in it,” Fulper says.

“It worked a little bit, but it didn’t take long for the birds to get used to it. The key to this equipment is to use multiple venues. In other words, you have to keep changing things up.”

“Like anything else on the dairy, it has to be managed properly to work properly,” Lee agrees.

Fulper and Lee worked together to install one main unit and two satellite units which are controlled by the main unit.

The first step, Lee says, was identifying the problem birds. For the Fulpers, the main culprits were starlings and grackles, with a few sparrows and pigeons as accompanying nuisances.

The device comes with computer microchips loaded with predatory and distress sounds specific to each bird species.

Once the proper chip is identified, the producer has to constantly change the settings on the device, playing at different times of the day and offering a variety of sounds.

“It only takes one brave bird to test it out, realize it’s not a real predator and get the flock to follow,” Lee says. “You can’t just turn the device on and go home.”

Lee and Fulper have collaborated to switch out the settings, and every so often, harass the birds with noisemakers so that they’re not getting used to a particular schedule.

The noise of the device doesn’t seem to bother cows, Lee says, but it’s best to slowly introduce the herd to those other noises.

Unfortunately, the device does not yet have chips for pigeons or sparrows, so Fulper is back to shooting, trapping or poisoning for options of pigeon control.

“You’re always going to have sparrows in an older barn. And the pigeons come from Philly during the evening to roost,” Lee says. “So you have to use those scare tactics with the noisemakers to prevent them from nesting and roosting.”

“Sometimes it feels like we spend all our time killing things – killing weeds, killing insects, killing birds, killing deer,” he says. “I still love wildlife. I just want it controlled so that I can have a livelihood.” PD

PHOTOS
TOP: Fulper uses many options for controlling pigeons. He traps, shoots and shoos them.

BOTTOM: Dairyman Robert Fulper of Lambertville, New Jersey, has found some success in bird control with an automated electronic sounds device. Photos by PD Editor Emily Caldwell.

VIDEO
Below, view a video with photos from David Lee of the damage birds can cause on farms. Also, hear the bird control device in action .

00_caldwell_emily

Emily Caldwell
Editor
Progressive Dairyman

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