Consumption, contamination and crud. All these profit-robbing attributes accompany every pest that makes a feedyard its home. Whether it's birds, rats, mice, skunks or even coyotes, each species brings its own challenges when it comes to control.
Charles Lee, Extension wildlife specialist with Kansas State University, says birds make up the majority of complaints his department receives.
"Most problems seem to be in central and eastern parts of the state, although birds are starting to concentrate in western Kansas as well," Lee says. "Most of them are starlings, redwinged blackbirds and cowbirds, among others. They're slow migratory birds that move north to south depending on the season."
That migratory pattern may be almost unnoticeable at the feedyard because as one group of birds moves out, another kind flies in with about the same number in the flock.
Birds aren't cheap. Besides the potential coccidiosis risks, contaminating facilities with feces, plus the public relations problems they cause, they eat a lot of feed.
"Several studies document that each bird consumes about a pound of feed per month from bunks," Lee says. "In total, they consume about two pounds but they pick up the rest from waste grain and manure. If there are 300,000 birds present - which isn't uncommon - that's 150 tons of feed eaten by birds in just 30 days."
The Texas Cattle Feeders Association estimates a ration on an as-fed basis runs in the vicinity of $140/ton. Multiply that by the amount of feed birds consume and the monthly feathered feed bill easily hits $21,000 and up.
That's only the feed lost to consumption. You also can tally in a higher disease risk and the time spent cleaning water tanks and other equipment.
"Following an integrated pest management program is one of the best ways to reduce bird exposure," Lee says. "If possible, feed early in the evening or late at night when the birds aren't in the feedlot. Continually having feed available attracts them.
"You can also try using half-inch or larger pellets if your nutritionist recommends it. Birds can't eat pellets that big, which are the costliest part of the ration."
Rats And Mice Also A Problem Rats and mice follow birds as nuisances. Lee says rats will consume about 30 lbs. of feed a year. However, they can contaminate 10 times that amount with urine and feces. While that doesn't negate the feed from being used, they can carry typhus, lepto and salmonella among other maladies.
"Rodent control equals population reduction," Lee says. "You can't eliminate the pests because you can't eliminate their food supply. You can reduce it, though. If you're having rodent problems in buildings with bagged or pelleted feed, keep it up on pallets and clean up spilled feed.
"Plus, find a bait that works and one they'll eat. Use bait stations and keep the lids on them to keep out dogs, cats and kids."
Pesky Critters Coyotes and skunks primarily fit into a nuisance category and generally can be kept in check by following good sanitation practices.
"Coyotes may feed on dead piles or steal from sick pens," Lee says. "Prompt removal of dead livestock keeps the problem under control.
"Skunks will feed on rodents if they're readily available, but they're less of a problem if the rodent population is under control."
Access to pest control information is readily available from state Extension services, associations and some lobbying groups. Lee advises feedyard management to dedicate the time to train the right people. Applicators' permits are required for some pesticides, so training is critical.
"Whatever you do, don't try home remedies," he says. "Make sure the product you're using is registered for the specific application. Follow the label directions. If the instructions state to 'pick up the dead rats,' do it. Also, be sure rodenticide containers are disposed of properly."
By starting early, maintaining safety standards, using a qualified applicator and realizing pest control is an ongoing effort, Lee says you'll achieve greater success with a pest control plan. And, it's not likely to cost $21,000 a month.
Additional feedyard pest control information is available online at: www.oznet.ksu.edu/library/wldlf2/welcome.htm www.okstate.edu/ag/agedcm4h/pearl/pesticid/pesticid.htm.