Shoo Flies from Livestock
It can be a daily battle, but keeping flies from taking over livestock is important.
By Alexis Griffee
As you know, every farm needs to have a pest control program in place, as flies can be far more than just an annoyance. They can be an actual health threat to both you and your animals.
It is estimated that the flies you see flying around only make up approximately 15 percent of the total fly population of the area. No single control method offers 100 percent eradication of pest flies and midges. A successful fly and pest eradication program on any farm has to be multifaceted. Regardless of whether or not your farm is employs natural, or chemical methods, with proper planning massive fly infestations can become a thing of the past.
A key aspect of fly control is to know your enemy. There are numerous different species of flies, some beneficial and some pests. Different types of flies require different chemicals to control, and different attractants. Also, by knowing what species of fly you are dealing with, you can also work to eliminate or at least reduce its preferred habitat, breeding grounds or attractants.
The two most common flies that farmers deal with are the housefly, Musca domestica, and the biting stable fly, Stomoxys calcitrans. The common housefly, while more susceptible to various control methods than other types of flies, is still a formidable opponent for any farmer. A single female housefly will lay approximately 500 eggs in her short lifetime! Common attractants for houseflies are wet areas, compacted or rotting hay (especially if wet), manure and household garbage. According to Spalding Labs, the housefly is said to spread more than 30 different bacterial and protozoan diseases.
Houseflies are usually easy to identify based on their habits. Generally, houseflies like to congregate around the eyes of livestock due to the moisture. They can also be found on other various parts of the animal’s body flitting around. They do not have a specific preference area that they always congregate to unlike some other fly species.
The stable fly is harder to control than the housefly. As if flies alone are not bad enough, the stable fly is equipped with a piercing mouthpiece and an appetite for blood. Both the male and female stable fly feed on the blood of mammals. Stable flies like to congregate around the legs of their victims. This is often why you will see livestock stomping angrily in a pasture. Requiring blood for the production of her eggs, a female stable fly is capable of laying over 800 eggs in her lifetime. Additionally, stable flies are also known for their ability to travel great distances, often over a mile.
As with the housefly, the stable fly has its own preference for attractants. Stable flies love old wet hay bales, chicken litter, and any type of moist vegetation like old straw or grass clippings. A recent study from Texas A&M University showed that more than one million stable flies hatched and matured in the leftover residue of one round bale of hay!
Elimination or minimization of these attractants are the first steps in a successful fly control program.
Far more than just an annoyance, pest flies can present many dangers to both you and your livestock. Since flies feed and breed around unsanitary areas, they are mechanical vectors of many diseases and parasites. Also, before feeding, houseflies will regurgitate their stomach contents in order to liquefy their food, further spreading germs and disease. Through this as well as biting, flies have been known to transmit salmonella, anthrax, tuberculosis and numerous other diseases to humans.
Animals are also susceptible to the diseases carried by these tiny pests. Flies commonly spread diseases like pinkeye, blue tongue and carry a variety of enteric pathogens that lead to gastrointestinal problems. Flies can also wreak havoc on lactating animals as well. When they land or bite an animal’s udder, they can introduce pathogens that have deadly consequences. These pathogens can then result in mastitis or other damage to the udder. If not caught quickly and treated appropriately, this can be fatal for the infected animal. Furthermore, animals, particularly horses, can be highly allergic to fly saliva. This allergic reaction results in hives, discomfort and often times a condition called “sweet itch” that is extremely hard to manage. A well-planned and executed fly management program is vital to the health and comfort of the animals on your homestead.
Fly spray is another time-tested method of dealing with nuisance flies. However practical, fly spray has limits. Fly spray is generally short acting and depending on the type of livestock you have, you must be careful regarding what chemicals you apply on them. With that stated, for animals with fly allergies or in cases on massive fly outbreaks, fly spray can provide much needed relief, even if temporarily.
Another common problem faced on the farm is how to keep flies away from your livestock guardian dogs. Here in the South, the biting flies can wreak havoc on your working dog, especially by biting around their nose where the hair is sparse. However, this presents a problem as an owner is limited by what products they can use that won’t simply be licked off. Several fly spray companies have created blends of creams and gels that are safe for use on canines and will stay put on their noses.
Aside from the sprays that you apply directly on your animals, there are other sprays that can be set up as part of an aerosol spray system in your barn. These systems can range from very small automatic sprayers that hold small aerosol cans to large full barn systems that draw from a 55-gallon barrel of the particular spray. The benefit to this is that you do not have to be present for the spray to be applied. These systems are often used in horse and dairy animal barns as an extra preventative measure. Often times these systems are designed with specific type of livestock in mind. The companies that design these systems tailor different spray formulations to not only control the most common fly that plagues that particular livestock species, but is also safe for them as well. Certain formulations are also approved for use on dairy and meat animals with no withdraw time.
Feed-through fly-control products are one of the top used and regarded fly control options available. Feed through fly control is a feeding supplement that is added to the feed of your livestock. This method does not harm the livestock; however, it breaks the life cycle of the fly by killing fly larvae that is in the manure of the treated animals. Currently, there are feed through products for equines, swine, cattle and goats. Some companies claim that this method alone can reduce your fly population by 97 percent.
Another variation of this product is made into a molasses stock block. This option is used frequently by large-scale cattle producers that are unable to singularly dose their stock.
If using any feed through products on your livestock that are used for dairy or meat production, be sure to read the manufacturers’ suggestion regarding withdrawal times. In these circumstances, there are other natural methods that can be employed as well.
One of the most common sense natural methods of fly control is a bit of elbow grease. Cleanliness is next to flylessness. (Isn’t that how the saying goes?) Manure is a fact of life around a farm. One way to reduce flies, or at minimum control the areas that they congregate, is to control the manure and the old trampled hay. It is easy to get behind on cleaning the barn if you miss even one day. One day means a lot to a fly when you consider its life cycle! Be sure to keep up on cleaning stalls, barns and pastures. If you clean and move the manure to one certain area, then you will have a main specific place to concentrate your fly control efforts.
Always be mindful of where you place your manure and compost piles. While it may be the most convenient location, you do not want a large pile of manure by your back door. Similarly, you want to encourage composting action to take effect. Composting will heat up the manure, often times to temperatures that will make it uninhabitable for flies at their various stages.
One of the most successful natural fly control methods is the use of pheromone attractant traps. These odor traps work by appealing to the primal nature of reproduction by mimicking specific pheromones to attract flies. This method is extremely effective for catching adult flies without having to use any sprays on your animals. However, odor traps do not work on biting flies!
While fly pheromone products may smell like love and food to flies, humans do not share the same admiration for this odiferous combination. Due to this, you have to be very mindful when placing these traps. Also, since they are an attractant, you do not want to place them directly in an area where you are trying to eliminate flies. Proper placement of these traps would be near enough to the target area to draw the flies away, yet far enough that you do not draw flies from other locations to the place you are trying to make fly-free. One word of warning for those who have farm dogs: dogs often find the smell of the pheromone very attractive as well. Be sure to place these traps where dogs cannot reach them.
For larger livestock like horses and cows, fly masks can be a great tool when combating flies and other pests on a small scale. Fly masks for cows and horses can not only prevent the annoyance and painful bites of flies but also aid with disease control. In cattle especially, flies can spread diseases like pink eye quickly through a herd resulting not only in problems for the cattle but also increasing the work and financial burden on the farmer.
In regards to keeping pests off of your horses, many companies also make fly sheets, and neck and leg guards as well. Some equines are severally allergic to the saliva of flies and midges and need extra protection methods to keep them comfortable. Although these items do nothing to combat the fly problem, they are a tool to keep your animals happy while you use other methods to eradicate the problem.
Far better than trying to control an outbreak is preventing it altogether. One very effective tool in your fly combatting arsenal is fly predators. The trick to a successful program with fly predators is to start early in the season before you get into a massive infestation. Pest flies reproduce up to nine times faster than fly predators, so it is vital to keep your application of new beneficial insects timely.
Different companies use different species of fly predators. A common mixture of fly predator species includes Muscidifurax raptorellus, Spalangia cameroni or Spalangia endius and Muscidifurax zaraptor. Certain species have also proven to be more beneficial on when working with different species of livestock. It is always wise to contact the company directly before ordering to work out a tailored fly predator plan to ensure the maximum benefits. The effectiveness of this method really depends on several variables. To be at all effective, it is vital that you keep up the routine of at least monthly application of the fly predators during the warmer months.
One thing to remember is that fly predators have an approximate range of around 150 feet only. However, pest flies have a range of over a mile. While fly predators are a fantastic option for control, it does need to be used in conjunction with other methods due to the limited range of the beneficial insects.
Regardless of whatever method, or methods, that you employ for fly control, consistency is the key to success. The battle with flies is won by persistence, strategy and diligence on behalf of the farmer. The most successful plan for controlling flies and keeping your animals happy and healthy through the summer is to use a variety of methods that target specific aspects of the fly’s life cycle. A solid strategy that encompasses all of these aspects—and has a broad reach for numerous different species—is a plan for success. Regardless of whether or not you choose to use chemical, natural or a combination of control methods on your farm, proper fly management is no longer a just a dream on today’s farms and homesteads thanks to the knowledge and products at our disposal.