Question of the Week: Birds in the Barn

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Four-legged animals are more likely to present a health threat to your horse than birds

Q: I have a lot of birds living in my barn. I’ve been told that bird droppings can be harmful to horses if ingested. I scrub my horses’ feed and water buckets twice a day. Should I be worried about the bird droppings? What kind of problems can they cause?

A: In all actuality, it is wildlife of the four-legged variety that is more harmful to horses than those with wings. Opossums, the definitive host of Sarcocystic neurona, the causative agent of equine protozoal myelitis (EPM), a progressive neurodegenerative disease, are a real threat to your horse’s health. Other mammals such as skunks and raccoons (as well as opossums) can harbor rabies, an all-too scary thought for any barn. While it is true that bird droppings can and do carry some nasty pathogens, horses seem to be somewhat resistant to their effects. The most common pathogens encountered with bird droppings are fungal, and are usually found in soil containing bird feces, rather than fresh bird droppings. In an environment containing such fungal spores, they are usually stirred into the air and inhaled, causing nasal or sinus infections or a fungal pneumonia. Rarely does a university veterinary hospital come across an equine fungal pneumonia, meningitis or colitis; these are more commonly seen in dogs, owed mostly to the fact that the barn dogs are the ones running around, sticking their noses into dusty, dirty places while the horses are staying out of trouble in the pasture!

The biggest concern about excessive bird droppings is merely general sanitation. Will your horse become deathly ill if he drinks from a bucket tainted with fresh bird droppings? Probably not. But no one wants to see bird feces in her horse’s clean water bucket. Or on the saddle you just polished. General barn upkeep, such as what you’re doing by keeping buckets clean, sweeping aisle ways, and ensuring feed bunks are bird and rat-proof are all things that lead to a generally healthier environment for your horse. Having said this, some barns, due to their design or location, seem to be havens for virtual flocks of birds such as barn swallows. If this is the case, they become a nuisance. There are numerous companies that make bird nets to place in the rafters of the barn to prevent roosting. You can also place some owl decoys around the barn. Additionally, I have had clients play recordings of bird distress calls on their speaker systems which, if you don’t mind listening to the noises, do a very good job deterring our feathered friends from hanging out in the barn. A few good barn cats may not hurt either.

— Anna O’Brien, DVM

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13 COMMENTS

  1. We try to keep birds out of the barns both for the horses sake, and if the cats are in the barn, then for the birds sake too.

  2. The birds at the barn I go to know which horses are the messy eaters, they wait for them to finish their grain and flock into the stall when the horse is out. They wouldn’t be quite so bad if they didn’t rip into the ceiling to make their nests!

  3. ok we have that problem and we have barn cats and still birds any thing else we can do cuz they are tearing up out insulation and its a mess to clean

  4. So happy to read this. Over the past two summers, sparrows have been driving me crazy in the barn. I too clean up twice daily and was worried about problems. I will continue to clean up after them, but not lose sleep at night now over them. Also I did get a couple of plastic owls, didn’t do any good, I found one bird resting on it’s head. So much for that theroy.

  5. There are hundreds of sparrows living in the main barn on the property where I board my horse. They are a terrible nuisance – the horses are pooped on, clean tack and covers are pooped on, and we are pooped on. Ugh! This time of year their is a lot of coughing and wheezing from humans and horses. How do we clear the main barn (50 head) of these messy creatures?? Our cats are going after the mice not the birds.

  6. I found this article very interesting. We have several pigeons that hang around the barn, pastures and arenas where my horses are boarded. Recently I had to treat both my horses for sinus issues, coughs, inflammed air passages, etc. One horse just got off a months steriod treatment. The other is still on antibiotics for a respiratory infection. Needless to say the vet bills have really impacted my budget. Heartless as it may sound, we now have a BB gun at the barn to take care of the interlopers, the mess they make and the health risks they cause to humans, horses, and dogs.

  7. Honestly, between mosquito’s , flies or birds. I will take the birds, as the bugs cause more health issues. And the birds will take care of the bugs population. I was in a barn that discouraged the birds and the flies were awful. Even when the place was kept spotless.

  8. Feel a little leary to believe your answers to be answer to end all questions, you didn’t even talk about Salmonella or coccidius (I”m sure that one is spelled wrong) but it is a big concern. I know someone who had their horse die in just a little over 26 hours after ingesting bird poop.

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