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Washington State University Dairy News

March 2017 WSU Dairy Newsletter

COMING SOON: Pest Bird Management Survey

A flock of birds is silhouetted above a dairy lot at sunset.

As we watch the snow melt and the grass grow green, you may notice a remnant from the colder weather lingering in your barns. This past fall, researchers from Washington State University and Trinity Western University recorded pest bird numbers on eleven Washington dairies. The number of pest birds (primarily European starlings) on these farms increased as temperatures dropped. The highest average number of birds recorded at any given time was almost 5,000 birds, with 92% of those birds being starlings.

Although temperatures are now rising, these large numbers of birds are expected to linger in dairy barns until mid-April to early May. Perhaps the number of birds we found on dairies surprised you but, according to a small survey of Washington dairy producers a couple of years ago, the pest bird problem seems to be a big problem for many dairies. Producers have self-reported losses from bird damage that range from $1,000 to $200,000 per year per farm. These losses, of course, cause concern. With this concern in mind, an interdisciplinary research team comprised of dairy producers, animal scientists, wildlife biologists, veterinarians, and agriculture economists. Our goal is to understand how the presence of pest birds on Washington dairies affects dairy cow welfare (including nutrition and health) and farm profitability.

Within the next month, our research team will release a wide-spread survey for all Washington dairies. Although this survey is thorough, it should only require minutes of your time to complete and your identity will be anonymous. This survey is your opportunity to share how pest birds impact your farm. Please help our team help you.

If you would like more information about this project, please contact Amber Adams-Progar (, 509-335-0673).

Pest Bird Management on Dairies

Amber Adams-Progar, Karen Steensma, Susan Kerr & Stephanie Shwiff

1. Washington dairy farmers said…

  • Pest birds cause $1,000 – $200,000 in damage every year on our farms.
  • Common bird deterrence methods are not effective.

3. What we plan to do…

  • Measure economic impact of pest birds in Washington dairies.
  • Test efficacy of alternative bird deterrence methods.

2. We responded by…

  • Establishing a research team to address these problems.
  • Obtained a $238,105 Western SARE grant for research and education.

4. What we expect to find…

  • Presence of pest birds negatively impacts dairy cow well-being and production.
  • Alternative deterrence methods may be more economically feasible and effective than traditional methods.

WSU Cooperative Dairy Students (CUDS) Update

CUDS is having an exciting spring semester in Pullman. We currently have 15 members, with 10 of them being new to CUDS. Our main focus is on training the new members to take shifts as well as take care of their newly appointed chair positions. Each member is assigned a chair position that is dedicated to improving an aspect of the herd.


Marcy Bartelheimer

Calves, Heifers, and Dry Cows

Brianna Parmentier and Adriana Lopez

Cow Comfort

Taylor Swick

Drugs and Supplies

Mica Jones


Marcy Bartelheimer and Caroline Vadino

Herd Health

Shelby Felder and Chris Mandella

Milk Quality and Udder Health

Tomoe Matsumoto-Hervol


Nathaniel Herrera and Heather Young

Records and Public Relations

Melissa Rauch

Reproduction and Sire Selection

Alecia Fox and Morgan Hawley

Lindsey Richmond, our President Emeritus, will be graduating in May. CUDS will greatly miss everything Lindsey has contributed to the group but we wish her the best in her future endeavors and know that she will serve the dairy industry well.

This group of students is excited to continue learning about the dairy industry. CUDS will have a booth at the National Holstein Association Convention in Bellevue, WA from June 28 – July 1, 2017. Please stop by and let us know if you have any questions.

Practical Biosecurity Recommendations for Dairy Farm Tours

Most Americans are now at least three generations removed from direct farming experience. This lack of knowledge and experience can manifest itself in consumers as misconceptions about modern farming practices; susceptibility to agenda-driven social media messages; and decisions based on inaccurate information. Farm tours can educate the public about best agricultural practices, strengthen connections between farmers and consumers, dispel misinformation, and cultivate the next generation of farmers.

Tour members in the foreground look down a long aisle as cows are milked on either side.
Farm tours such as this can educate the public about the facts of modern dairy farm operations, for example, and help dispel misperceptions, confusion, and incorrect beliefs perpetuated through inaccurate sources. Photographer: Dorothy Elsner.

If you choose to allow farm tours on your dairy as a way to increase agricultural literacy, seriously consider the steps needed to reduce any risks such tours could pose to your farm, cattle, employees, and tour guests. Sponsoring educational events can be very rewarding, but it is no reason to lower disease-prevention standards. For more information about diseases of concern, contact local veterinarians and/or public health officials.

Why Care about Biosecurity?

Animal disease outbreaks have varying degrees of ripple effects on animal welfare and well-being, farm profitability, workload, product quantity and quality, ability to transport and/or sell animals, veterinary and medication costs, and human health. Incursions of new diseases onto formerly negative premises can result in the loss of added value of breeding animals that were previously disease-negative, as well. Education about the need for disease prevention should help moderate participants’ feelings of inconvenience regarding farm biosecurity requirements.

Biosecurity Strategies

  1. Assess Risk

    Biosecurity risk ranges from low to high. For farm tours, factors that increase risk include the number of different premises visited, degree of visitor contact with animals and/or manure, and the presence of contagious diseases in the area. The complexity of an event’s biosecurity plan depends on the specific pathogen(s) of concern and the desired degree of risk containment.

  2. Communicate with Participants before the Event

    Participants should pre-register so biosecurity expectations and other program details can be shared with them. Instruct participants to be punctual so access to the farm can be monitored. Explain what ages of children are allowed, if any. Do not allow visitors to bring dogs or other animals. Also, inform anyone who has travelled internationally within a week they will not be able to visit the farm.

  3. Park Visitors Away from Livestock

    Do not let participants drive their vehicles through your farm gate and onto your property where you drive your vehicles. Contaminated tires and overlap of farm and off-farm traffic is an important means by which some diseases are spread. Designate a location near the farm where people can park safely and walk onto the farm with clean rubber boots. If such a site is not possible nearby, consider running a shuttle service from a more distant site to the farm. Optimal parking sites are on paved areas that can be disinfected and where livestock are excluded. If pastures must be used for parking, livestock should be excluded from the area for several weeks.

  4. Display Clear Signage

    Post large, legible, waterproof signs that instruct participants where to park, where to go, and what to do. REGISTRATION, PARKING, THIS WAY, and EXIT are just a few suggestions that will help direct and control traffic and behavior. A WELCOME sign would help set a friendly tone for the event.

  5. Insist on Clean Footwear and Clothing

    It is critical for farm tour participants to wear clean clothing and disinfected footwear, especially if they live on a farm themselves. Anyone with soiled clothing or footwear should not be allowed access to the premises. The farm footwear and clothing policies should be shared during the pre-registration process and in all event promotional materials.

    Varying levels of restriction are possible, depending on host farm risk tolerance and ease of implementation:

    • Farm hosts could require participants to change out of street shoes and into clean rubber boots at the car parking area; participants might need to bring their own clean boots or the farm host might provide them.
    • A boot washing and disinfecting area may be established at the car parking area for people to use before they enter the farm property. Washing boots thoroughly with soap and water to remove all visible debris before stepping in a disinfecting footbath will extend the effective life the disinfectant in the bath. Provide an appropriate disinfectant and long-handled boot brushes. If a disinfectant footbath is used, it should be monitored so the solution can be changed before it becomes visibly soiled and inactivated. Tour participants should wash and disinfect their boots again when they leave.
    • The farm may provide heavy-duty plastic overshoes to be worn throughout the event and discarded at the parking area before participants go home. The rustling noise created by plastic boots in motion can disturb some animals, though, and a lot of plastic waste can be generated. Also, these boots can develop holes that render them ineffective.
    • Additional boot washes may be required before entering cattle housing areas.
    • For added biosecurity, some farms supply clean cloth or disposable coveralls for participants to wear during tours.Consult with your veterinarian regarding the most effective disinfectant to use. Follow label directions regarding proper storage, dilution rates, and disposal methods. Ensure disinfectant efficacy by changing footbaths before they become visibly soiled and inactivated. It is pointless to use disinfectants if adequate contact time is not allowed.
  6. Control Entry and Foot Traffic

    Establish a single entrance for visitors. This will ease communication, information sharing, and monitoring of compliance with biosecurity protocols. After a reasonable arrival time has been allowed for the event, lock the gate and post a phone number latecomers can use to contact the host to request entry to the event. Unmonitored entry of latecomers will not ensure compliance with biosecurity protocols.

    Farm visitors do not need to access all your property. Use gates—even temporary ones—to control access and foot traffic. Permanent locking gates in key areas help with overall farm security and are a good investment that helps prevent theft and damage.

  7. Have a Greeting Area

    Visitors should be funneled to a registration table or greeting area where they can meet the tour host, get a schedule, learn the locations of bathrooms and hand washing stations, and sign in. Visitor logs with accurate contact information are very important in case a human or animal disease outbreak necessitates follow-up contact after the event. This is a good time to welcome everyone, share your farm mission, and preview what will be shared during the tour. Be sure to review biosecurity expectations and see if participants have complied thus far with disinfected boots, clean clothing, and other guidelines. Use this time to ask participants to wash their hands, address any biosecurity deficiencies, and/or dismiss non-compliant visitors.

  8. Keep Visitors Safe

    A man crouches in front of a robotic milking machine. Yellow striped warning tape on floor delineates danger area from machine motion.
    Thanks to close supervision and clear delineation of danger area, this robotic dairy tour attendee can get a close look at the system without risk from cattle or equipment. Farm tours such as this can educate the public about the facts of modern dairy farm operations, for example, and help dispel misperceptions, confusion, and incorrect beliefs perpetuated through inaccurate sources. Photographer: Dorothy Elsner.

    Do not permit visitors access to high-risk areas with working machinery, bulls, cows with calves, guard dogs, barbed or electric wire, grain bins, manure lagoons, gravel pits, etc. Do not allow strollers, pacifiers, eating, smoking, or drinking in livestock areas. If children are allowed on the tour, be sure parents supervise them at all times—this may require handholding.

    Have hand-washing stations available for use after livestock area tours, at rest rooms, food service areas, entrances, and exits. Remind participants to wash hands after contact with animals, using the bathroom, and before eating or smoking. Alcohol-based hand sanitizers are not very effective if hands are dirty or greasy; such hands should be washed with soap and water. Hand sanitizers with at least 60% alcohol can be quite effective on visibly clean or lightly soiled hands.

    Any food and beverage provided should be served in compliance with standard food safety practices: keep cold foods below 40°F and hot foods above 140°F, protect all food from insects, and use only potable water for beverages.

  9. Control the Flow

    Have a plan for the day with an established route and approximate amount of time needed at each station. Ensure there is enough room for all to see and hear what is being presented—this may necessitate dividing visitors into groups and using PA systems. Additional farm staff or volunteers may be needed to keep all participants in view at all times. Provide seating if needed for those who need to sit. Keep foot traffic away from cattle feed and feeding areas, manure, and carcasses. Visit young animals before mature animals. Keep visitors away from intake fans that bring air in from outside, past visitors, and onto cattle.

  10. Limit Direct Contact with Livestock

    Prevent needless contact with cattle—participants with limited previous livestock contact are at higher risk of contracting common but relatively innocuous conditions such as ringworm and sore mouth; this is particularly true for children. People who do contact livestock directly should be advised to wash contacted skin with soap and water promptly. Better yet, provide disposable gloves to those who might be learning hands-on skills.

  11. Just Say No

    Do not allow participants to bring dogs with them. In addition to disease transmission, injury to animals or people is possible if strange dogs are allowed on the farm premise. Also, unpleasant interactions are likely to occur between resident farm dogs and visiting dogs.

    It is difficult to disinfect baby strollers, chairs, and wheelchairs properly, so discourage their use. Young children should walk, be carried, or left home. Farm-origin vehicles such as four-wheelers or golf carts can transport those who need assistance. Provide chairs, lawn area, or bedding bales for sitting.

  12. Keep It Clean

    Avoid conducting farm tours during rainy/muddy weather if possible. Situate garbage cans and paper towels throughout the tour. Give each participant a garbage bag to take to their vehicle for dirty boots and/or clothing to take home for laundering, disinfecting, or discarding.

  13. Use the Right Disinfectant

    A wide array of products is available to inactivate pathogens on farm equipment, tools, boots, livestock facilities, footbaths, and other surfaces. Disinfectants are not a shortcut to biosecurity and are just one aspect of disease control. Your veterinarian can suggest the most appropriate disinfectant to use. To increase the likelihood of disinfectant effectiveness and safe use, follow these recommendations:

    • Clean surfaces before using a disinfectant. Surfaces must be cleaned with soap and water and thoroughly rinsed or disinfectants may be inactivated by organic material present.
    • Read the label! Use a product with documented effectiveness against pathogens of concern under typical farm conditions of use.
    • Follow mixing instructions on the label and abide by safety warnings and recommendations for personal protective equipment use. Do not mix different types of disinfectants unless specifically indicated on their labels to do so.
    • Determine if farm water hardness or other factors will effect successful product use.
    • Store concentrated and diluted disinfectant as indicated on the label; create fresh solutions before each use of short-stability preparations.
    • Allow recommended contact time to ensure maximum kill of pathogens.
    • Do not let disinfectants contact livestock unless specifically stated on the label as safe and allowable.
    • If disinfectants are used on feeding surfaces or other livestock contact areas, rinse them off after the required disinfectant kill time and before animals contact the disinfected surfaces.
    • Dispose of used or non-storable chemicals as instructed on the label, paying close attention to personal and environmental safety.

Costs vs. Benefits

The biosecurity steps responsible for the greatest reduction of risk for the least cost are:

  • Changing clothing for employees who leave and return to a farm on the same day.
  • Establishing requirements before a vehicle can enter a premise.
  • Establishing parking areas away from dairy barns.
  • Preventing access to restricted areas if visitors have been in contact with cattle.
  • Providing plastic booties for visitors.
  • Installing signage advising visitors without authorization to stay off the farm.

Special Considerations for Certified Organic Livestock Production Systems

Organic livestock producers and processers must abide by the USDA’s National Organic Program regulations when using sanitizing agents that will contact organically certified crops, livestock, or food products (milk, eggs, and meat). Products not on the national list of approved substances might be allowed on a case-by-case basis by the organic program certifier if contacted in advance of the event and a determination of non-contamination is made. For example, a chemical not on the USDA’s National Organic Program list could be approved for use in a foot bath or boot wash if there is a safe place for legal disposal of the chemical residue off the organic property where it will not contact organic crops or livestock. Organic producers should always contact their certifier if they have any questions about products they would like to use for biosecurity purposes on a certified organic farm.


Although highly educational and enjoyable, farm tours come with certain risks. These risks include introducing new diseases or pathogen strains to host farm or participants’ animals as well as zoonotic (animal-to-people) disease risks to participants. Such risks can be mitigated through careful pre-event planning and protocol development. Transparent education about biosecurity concerns can add to the value of the event for prospective dairy cattle owners in attendance as well as keep the event enjoyable and safe. Each farm host will have to weigh the potential risks of hosting an event with potential benefits. If an event for the public will be held, following the above-mentioned suggestions should help reduce risks significantly. Consult your veterinarian for information about diseases of concern, appropriate disinfectants, and designing your biosecurity plan.

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