As a beef producer, you wage war every spring and summer. The enemy? Face flies, house flies, horn flies and stable flies.
According to the Journal of Economic Entomology, flies cost United States beef producers between $1-2 billion annually, with the horn fly and stable fly being the most damaging.
What Flies Impact Cattle?
There are four primary types of flies with which cattle producers contend.
Horn flies are small black bloodsucking flies. At peak times of summer, there can be between 1,000-4,000 horn flies per cow, causing significant damage as they remain on cattle day and night. An animal with 1,000 horn flies can suffer up to 30,000 bites per day. This number of flies could drain a half-pint of blood per day from a cow or steer.
Face flies are larger than horn flies and are nonbiting. However, face flies will feed on blood from cuts or open wounds on the animal. Face flies are also known for transmitting diseases in cattle such as pinkeye and infectious bovine rhinotracheitis (IBR).
Stable flies are painful blood feeder flies that are more irritating to cattle and mainly attack the front legs. Stable flies do not suck blood like horn flies but rip the skin causing blood to flow and become slower to clot. It takes as few as 4-6 stable flies per cow to cause an economic impact.
House flies are also an irritant to cattle and can spread significant diseases such as bovine viral diarrhea (BVD), IBR, E. coli, pinkeye and mastitis.
Fly Control Methods for Cattle
The goal for fly control in cattle is to keep fly populations below the economic threshold. Meaning, instead of 1,000-4,000 horn flies per cow, it’s suggested to keep flies below 200 per cow with fly control methods.
Various fly control programs exist today including:
Pour on dewormers
Dung beetles and parasitic wasps
Unfortunately, fly resistance can occur. Meaning, flies that survive control methods go on to reproduce and produce offspring that are also resistant to many of the commonly used chemical control methods. That’s why beef producers must take a multifaceted approach to controlling flies, using more than one method at a time.
Below is an in-depth look at each fly control method in a webinar by Dr. Jeff Hill.
Garlic for Fly Control in Cattle
Garlic is being added to mineral as another tool in the war on flies. Recent studies have shown it to be successful.
A Canadian research project in Saskatchewan found that adding garlic to mineral helped reduce the fly population by 50% in cow-calf herds. The research study used three cow-calf herds, each in different pastures about 2 miles apart. Two herds received a salt-mineral mix and the other received garlic included in the mix.
The cow-calf group eating the garlic had the lowest fly count. Fly counts done by picture and technology programs throughout the summer counted 75 flies per cow as the average for cows fed garlic.
Average Fly Counts By Cow-Calf Group
Chart: Canadian Cattlemen
The properties of garlic are what make it so powerful in managing flies. Most of garlic’s flavor and odor can be attributed to sulfur compounds contained within the garlic clove. Once ingested, active garlic compounds are excreted through cattle’s skin and respiratory system to repel insects and flies. Garlic research has also shown that it can also help repel ticks.
Beyond just an insect repellent, garlic has other benefits. Garlic can help with digestion and gut health in ruminants. It’s recommended to add garlic to your spring mineral through the fall.