Farms provide food and shelter for feathered pests when the weather turns cold. Mat Manning has the best advice if you’re hoping to clear those birds from the farm
After the arrival of autumn, farmyard pest control tends to go up a gear. The bulk of the year’s arable crops will have been harvested and avian pests like feral pigeons, collared doves, and even jackdaws and magpies head for the farm buildings in search of food.
These unwelcome visitors not only cost the farmer in terms of the animal feed or stored grain they munch their way through, they also pose a serious threat to hygiene. With ‘biosecurity’ rating high on farmers’ ever-growing list of bureaucratic headaches, the last thing they want is flocks of winged pests showering feed and water troughs with a hail of droppings.
If you leave it too late to cull their numbers, they’ll spiral out of control – and even though peak nesting season has passed, feral pigeons and collared doves have the ability to breed throughout the year if the weather stays mild. Lured in by precious morsels of food, they will often find perfect places to set up home; ferals love to nest among the rafters and ledges of barn roofs, while collared doves tend to favour copses, overgrown hedges and orchards close to the farmyard.
Jackdaws are also adept at setting up home around farm buildings, forcing twigs and straw under roof tiles or even dropping them down the farmhouse chimney to create a nest within. The build-up of debris is a nuisance at best, but also brings the very serious risk of a chimney fire.
My favourite time to target the farmyard is during brief lunchtime sessions or on Sundays, when there’s less likelihood of interrupting the farm workers. It’s important to bear in mind that these holdings are places of work and, apart from the obvious danger a misplaced pellet could pose to workers, your own safety must also be considered. Busy periods could see tractors whizzing around, heavy machinery working and stock being moved from one area to another – all of which could be fatal to an oblivious shooter lurking unseen in a dark corner.
“Look around for the trough or stores that seem to be getting the most attention – feathers and droppings are reliable calling cards”
My advice is to contact the farm owner or manager prior to your visit, check that it’s a good time to visit, and ask that any workers be made aware of your presence if there are any around. Remember also to ask what works are likely to be taking place on the holding, so you can stay safe and also avoid any areas where noisy machinery might spoil your chances of encountering quarry anyway. If it sounds like the risk to you or farm workers is too great on that day, you can always hold off until another time.
Once you’re on the farm, the real detective work begins. If there’s an established population of resident birds, culling them will probably be quite straightforward, but if you’re dealing with opportunistic scavengers, you may need to adopt a more subtle approach.