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Natural Methods for Cattle Fly Control

Creating Your Fly Control Plan

Cattle in a pasture with fliesSpring is almost here. Before temperatures start to rise, it’s important to have a fly control plan in place for your cattle herd.  Flies are not only an annoyance to your herd, but they can also have a dramatic impact on your bottom line. According to Montana State University Extension, horn flies alone account for $780 million in annual losses in cattle production and control costs.

Fly irritation results in reduced feed conversion efficiency and poor general health. Flies also add stress to you herd, which in turn can result in lower birth rates and weaning rates. Rather than letting these pests eat up your cattle and profits, let’s come up with some preventative measures. Did you know there are natural ways to control flies that bug your cattle?

Waste Management

Manure piles are fly breeding heaven. Therefore, waste management is the first line of defense in creating a fly management program. With the average 1,250lb. beef cow generating 75lb. of manure a day, this isn't a small task.

On average, the fly life cycle lasts anywhere from 10 to 21 days. In order to break the fly life cycle, you need to remove or spread fly breeding materials (manure, wet grain, spilled silage, moist hay, etc.) on a regular basis. Start by removing manure from livestock pens as frequently as possible. Take this manure and spread it thinly on fields or other large outdoor areas to facilitate drying. In addition to cleaning up the pens, try to avoid letting manure pile up in your fields. Drag your fields to more evenly distribute manure. Flies cannot develop in dry environments, so spreading manure thinly is the first step in trying to break the fly life cycle.

Pay special attention to areas where your herd congregates, such as water troughs, shady areas and gates. These areas should be cleaned weekly at a minimum to diminish fly breeding and control parasites. Remember, it’s easier and more cost effective to prevent fly breeding than to control adult flies. So the quicker we can remove their habitat, the less likely we are to see these pests.

Fly Predators

While waste management should be your first line of defense in the battle against flies, fly predators are nature's first line of defense in controlling flies. Fly predators are tiny non-stinging wasps that are part of a total farm fly control program. These tiny beneficial insects eliminate flies before they hatch into pesky, disease-carrying adults.

How do the fly predators work? These wasps work by both laying eggs in the fly pupa and feeding on fly larvae while it is in the manure around your farm. The wasps "bug" the bugs but not your cattle or pasture plants.

Although a natural method of controlling flies, fly predators aren't generally found in large enough amounts to control the fly population on your farm. However, many companies sell fly predators and can ship them to you farm. Once they arrive all you have to do is sprinkle the predators on manure piles at dusk. Then they will go to work eliminating your fly population.

Start thinking about purchasing fly predators now. As a rule of thumb you should replenish your fly predator supply once a month from April to September. It's important to use them during the entire fly season; otherwise the fly life cycle will only be broken for a few weeks when you first replenish your supply.

Walk-through fly traps

Another green way to get rid of flies is with a walk-through fly trap. As horn flies spend the majority of time during the summer on the backs and sides of cattle this trap helps reduce their numbers. As cattle walk through the device, the flies are brushed off of them.

Willis G. Bruce refined the walk-through fly trap in the mid-1930s to try to reduce the number of horn flies on cattle without using insecticides. After being knocked off the animal the flies are trapped in a screened chamber similar to a minnow or lobster trap.
Once the fly enters the trap it generally cannot find any way to escape the trap.

Walk-through fly traps should be put in "forced use" situations just like chemically treated dust bags and back rubbers.  Make sure your herd has to pass through the fly trap to get to their food or water source. Placement is key when it comes to the effectiveness of walk-through fly traps.

Other fly control methods

Did you know spiders, chickens and Muscovy ducks are also known to help keep the fly population down? They all do a great job of catching and eating flies in their paths. Do you have any other unique natural fly control methods? Let us know.

Remember - there is no single method that will eliminate all the flies around your farm. Figure out what works best for the fly population in your area. Need help? Visit your local Southern States® store.

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