Black vulture depredation: Lessons learned from my first calving season at the UKREC

– Dr. Katie VanValin, Assistant Extension Professor, University of Kentucky

This year has held a lot of “firsts” for me, including my first calving season at the UKREC in Princeton, KY. Our beef herd is comprised of 150 fall calving cows. We are now at the very tail end of our calving season, however early on in our calving season it became apparent we had a black vulture problem on our hands.

You could make your own black vulture effigy to deter live birds.

Black vultures are native to Kentucky, but increased populations have made them a problem for livestock producers across the state. Like most animals us humans deem a nuisance (like I do snakes), black vultures play an important role in our overall ecosystem. These birds consume and dispose of animal carcasses. However, when their feed supply becomes limited, they will resort to killing live animals, such as newborn calves.

Vultures are keenly aware of one another, which can work to our advantage when combatting them. The use of vulture effigy’s can be a deterrent to live birds causing them to leave the area. In order to harvest a vulture for use as an effigy you must obtain a sub-permit through Kentucky Farm Bureau (in Ohio, contact the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service). Other alternatives include purchasing or making your own black vulture effigy. Faculty in the University of Kentucky Department of Forestry and Natural Resources have created a publication with step by step instructions and a pattern for creating an effigy (FORFS 18-03).

Like any cattle producer, my staff and I were frustrated by the problem that we faced. You try to do everything right to get a calf on the ground and then something like this happens and takes all of that hard work away. We wanted to act quickly to put a stop to this problem before it got any worse, so on a Saturday morning I set out to make an effigy using the UK extension publication mentioned above. I was able to obtain the supplies needed at a local farm store and set to work making these effigies. A few hours and a bit of elbow grease later, the “birds” were cut out and assembled. I was able to make 4 effigies for the price of a single commercially available one on the internet. The instructions in the publication are very easy to follow, if I can make them so can you!

We hung the completed effigies in the pastures where we were calving. Now I think it is important to note the correlation is not causation but after placing our effigies we have not faced any more problems and have had fewer vulture sightings. Note this is just our anecdotal findings and was not a controlled research trial. However, I wanted to share this experience and a resource that is out there to help try to combat this issue facing many producers.

Effigy can be effective when hung in the calving pasture.