Birds In the Barn, Too

Not only are cats common barn inhabitants, so are birds. Most birds are helpful and positive additions to the barn environment. Barn owls come by their name honestly and thrive as rodent control in many barn lofts. Judging by my barn cat, Fire, they are undoubtedly more effective than many cats.

More birds serve as bug control than as rodent control however. Domestic chickens and guinea fowl are notorious for eating bugs, including ticks. In fact, many of my friends swear by these birds for almost total tick control on their property. That does mean your dogs (if you have any) must be trustworthy around fowl if the birds are to free range. A side benefit is fresh eggs daily too!

Unfortunately there are horses who have allergies to bird dander and feathers. For those horses, a fowl free barn is really a necessity. You could keep chickens in a separate area and keep them out of the barn. Allergic horses who encounter birds outside don’t seem to be bothered.

Some horses who react to chickens and chicken dander are fine with ducks. We have ducks to work my dogs who compete in herding trials. And yes, herding trials may use sheep of course, but ducks, geese and even turkeys are popular as well. Ducks aren?t as great about tick eating but they do consume many bugs and provide great eggs for eating and baking. Spice the young donkey and Frodo the mini horse seem to enjoy watching the ducks ? and occasionally chasing them a bit.

The real ?work horses? of the bird world when it comes to bugs around the barn are the barn swallows. Barn swallows can be messy when their babies hatch and drop prodigious amounts of poop beneath the nest but overall these birds are minimal hassle. They arrive in upstate NY about mid April and immediately set to work on mosquitoes, flies and other insects. I love to watch them swooping over a freshly cut hayfield. They are truly poetry in motion.

The barn swallows never seem to hassle the horses or the humans (and have never pooped on any of us luckily) but they do harass the barn cat a bit. You also need to leave an opening for the parent birds to fly in and out all day delivering bugs to the nestlings. Our barn doors stay open most of the time in decent weather so it is no problem for us. I like the ventilation, especially as our barn is built into a hillside so the breeze and fresh air keeps mold down too.

Do you have birds helping out around your farm and barn’ I’d love to hear about it.

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