Date of this Version
Carlson, J.C., R.S. Stahl, S.T. Deliberto, J.J. Wagner, T.E. Engle, R.M. Engeman, C.S. Olson, J.W. Ellis, and S.J. Werner. 2018. Nutritional depletion of total mixed rations by European starlings: Projected effects on dairy cow performance and potential intervention strategies to mitigate damage. Journal of Dairy Science 101:1777-1784. doi: 10.3168/jds.2017-12858
European starlings are an invasive bird species in North America that are known to cause damage to commercial dairies through the consumption of total mixed rations (TMR) destined for dairy cows. We hypothesized that large foraging flocks of starlings alter the physical composition of TMR, and that this change may be significant enough to affect milk production. To better determine if production losses could potentially occur in commercial dairies as a consequence of feed consumption by foraging flocks of starlings, we conducted controlled feeding experiments using a TMR sourced from a commercial dairy that is chronically plagued with seasonal starling damage. European starlings selected the high-energy fraction of the TMR and reduced starch and crude fat availability. Using the dairy National Research Council production model equations, the nutritional changes measured in the controlled feeding experiments could potentially reduce the productivity of dairies. Model output suggests that for Holsteins producing 32 kg of milk/d, total required net energy intake (NEI) was 31.5 Mcal/d. Within the reference TMR, NEI supplied was 29.3 Mcal/d, whereas within the starling-consumed TMR NEI supplied was 27.7 Mcal/d. Following our nutrition experiments, we assessed the efficacy of pelleted feed as a deterrent strategy for bird damage management in commercial dairies. Six different pelleted feed treatments of differing diameter were offered to starlings. All pellets of 0.95 cm diameter or larger inhibited starling consumption by ≥79%.