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Best Way to Keep Flies Off Cattle – From Zebra Stripes to Pour-On

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This article is part of our Insects on Farm Animals series.

It’s a beautiful spring day but, rather than enjoying the fresh new grass, your cows are all swishing their tails and stamping their feet.

Why?

Because they’re surrounded by flies.

Not only are flies annoying, but a heavy infestation can also cause all manner of unpleasant side effects for your bovine buddies.

Biting flies not only affect your cows’ behavior but can also lead to weight loss and low milk production.

Face flies, for instance, “carry the bacteria that cause pink eye, Moraxella Bovis” that can quickly spread throughout the herd, requiring expensive treatment.

Commercial cattle farmers usually opt for chemical fly repellants and feed supplements to deal with any fly infestations, but, by and large, homesteaders prefer a more environmentally-friendly approach.

Come, fly with me, and together we’ll identify the types of flies we want to deter. We’ll look at what is the best way to keep flies off cattle, as well as the fly control options available.

Which Cattle Flies Cause the Most Distress?

best-way-to-keep-flies-off-cattle

All flies are annoying, but some “are considered to be significant pests of both free-ranging and confined cattle.”

These are primarily blood-feeders like the horn fly, face flies, as well as deer and horse flies.

The horn fly‘s Latin name, Haematobia irritans couldn’t be more fitting. It roughly translates as “blood irritant” and indicates how the horn fly uses its “piercing/sucking mouthparts” to deliver a painful bite to a cow to take its required 20 to 30 blood meals a day.

Close up of horn flies (Haematobia irritans) on a black cow. These flies bite and draw blood. They are extremely damaging to cattle and result in great economic loss.
Close-up of horn flies (Haematobia irritans) on a cow. These flies bite and draw blood. They are extremely irritating and damaging to cattle. The horn fly can result in economic losses in cattle production.

At the height of the fly season, there may be hundreds of horn flies on each adult animal, collecting around their horns, and congregating along their backs and sides.

These “biting flies are a serious concern for livestock owners because they affect cattle’s behavior and can lead to economic losses.” (source)

Deer and horse flies also inflict painful bites, causing significant blood loss and negatively affecting weight gain.

Face flies don’t hurt cows with painful bites, but the females “use their rasping, sponging mouthparts to stimulate tear flow from the animal’s eyes and noses,” (source) and then feed on cattle secretions, such as blood, nasal discharge, and saliva.

In doing so, they also transfer eye infections, wound viruses, and even dysentery from animal to animal.

What Is the Best Fly Control Program for Cattle?

File:CSIRO ScienceImage 1887 A Closeup of the Buffalo Fly Trap.jpg

“File:CSIRO ScienceImage 1887 A Closeup of the Buffalo Fly Trap.jpg” by division, CSIRO is licensed under CC BY 3.0

Controlling your fly population will generally involve regular spraying of cattle, especially during the heavy fly season.

You also need to consider how you manage your manure piles, as these are breeding grounds for all types of flies.

The type of food you feed can also affect the fly population, so persistent fly control may require certain supplements, as well as external fly repellants.

Using Insecticides for Optimum Control

If you’re comfortable using chemicals on your cows and your land, the following solutions can reduce the number of flies per animal and protect your livestock cattle herd from irritation, infection, and disease:

1. Types of Feed and Larvicide Supplements

Some feeds contain an insect growth regulator or larvicide, such as Altosid, which prevents horn flies from breeding in your cows’ manure, making it an effective form of horn fly control.

 Alternatively, you could add a larvicide supplement to your cattle feed which will have the same effect.

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Here's a yummy salt lick snack for your cattle that helps manage files. It weighs 44 pounds and offers 700 feedings. One of these salt licks will keep up to seven cows busy for three months. Perfect for the fly season and for managing flies without stressing your cows.

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04/05/2024 02:27 pm GMT

 2. How to Use Insecticide Fly Tags

Ear tags can help reduce heavy populations of the horn fly, and combat attacks from face and deer flies. While they’re not usually recommended for lactating dairy cows, they’re safe to use on pastured cows.

Ear tags are most effective once you have 200 or more flies per animal. Using them any earlier than this may decrease efficacy.

3. Pour-On Horn Fly Insecticide

Safer than an ear tag, pour-on insecticides can be used on lactating cows and provide effective fly control in calves.

Most pour-on products are effective against horn and face flies and biting and sucking lice.

CyLence Pour On Insecticide for Itchy Goats, Beef/Dairy Cattle - Pint (473 mL)

Help Protect Your Bottom Line from Sucking

CyLence Controls:

  • Stable flies
  • Horn flies
  • House flies
  • Face flies
  • Biting and sucking lice

Cylence Pour-On requires only one application to treat biting lice, sucking lice, and louse eggs (nits) before they hatch.

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The Best Natural Control Solutions to Keep Flies Off Cattle

Not everyone wants to use chemicals on their cows, and nor do they have to.

Admittedly, during a particularly heavy fly season, you may not have much choice. Still, natural fly solutions can often be just as effective, or even more so, than their chemical counterparts.

Animal sprays are one of the easiest ways to control horn flies and other pests, and making them is pretty simple too.

How to Make Homemade Fly Repellent For Cows

Learn how to make a homemade fly repellent for cattle using natural ingredients!

Ingredients

The dishwashing soap acts as the emulsifier in this recipe to mix the oil and water ingredients.

Alternatively, you can use a solubilizer, such as polysorbate, to make a stable emulsion. Generally, use polysorbate and oil ingredients on a 1:1 ratio.

For example, in the ingredients list above, there is 1 cup of mineral oil, 1 1/2 teaspoons of lemongrass, bitter orange, and citronella oils, as well as 1/2 teaspoon of eucalyptus and clove oils. To emulsify this recipe, add 1 cup and 2 teaspoons of polysorbate.

You can make a beautiful room spray in the same way!

Simply mix equal amounts of your chosen fragrance / essential oil and polysorbate with water in a spray bottle!

Method

Mix all the ingredients in a mason jar or other glass storage jar.

How to Use Your Homemade Repellent

  • In a spray bottle (you can use plastic or glass spray bottles, which are amber-colored to preserve the potency of your essential oils), combine your fly repellant concentrate with water in a 1:5 ratio.
  • Shake well both before and during use.
  • Apply all over the cow every day or, with heavy infestations, twice daily.
Mineral Supplementation and Fly Control | Regenerative Ranching

How a Walk-Through Fly Trap Works

File:CSIRO ScienceImage 1929 The Buffalo Fly Trap.jpg

“File:CSIRO Science Image 1929 The Buffalo Fly Trap.jpg” by division, CSIRO is licensed under CC BY 3.0

The walk-through horn fly trap was designed by entomologist Willis Bruce almost 100 years ago and remains just as effective today.

The cattle enter at one end and walk through the 10-foot trap, making contact with a series of canvas or carpet strips as they go. “These strips dislodge most of the horn flies on the animals’ backs and sides” so “the animal exits the trap with fewer flies on it, and the trapped flies cannot escape.”

Not just clever, but entirely eco-friendly to boot!

Some Alternative Natural Cattle Flies Remedies

chickens-help-to-keep-flies-off-cattle

1. Bring In The Predators

Introducing or encouraging natural fly predators to live and breed on your farm can help control fly populations, especially amongst pastured cattle, which may be more challenging to spray or treat than confinement cattle.

Ducks and chickens can be very useful for eating all the bugs in their path (see The Best Farm Birds for Insect Control!). You could introduce beneficial bugs like fly predators, which are tiny, non-stinging wasps that lay eggs in the fly pupae and feed on the larvae.

Read more about ducks vs chickens on your farm, or how to keep the chickens out of your gardens while they do their fly-catching work!

2. Go With Garlic

In addition to using your homemade fly spray, you could add a little garlic powder to your cow’s feed.

Canadian researchers found that “cows fed trace mineral salt fortified with garlic powder had 52% and 56% fewer flies on average than the two control groups fed plain trace mineral salt.” (Source)

Hilton Herbs 18426-2 Bye Bye Fly Garlic Granules 4.4lb
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04/05/2024 03:16 pm GMT

3. Zebra Crossings

If none of the options listed above strike you as the best way to keep flies off your cows, then you could try painting your cow to look like a zebra. I know it sounds silly, but it’s very effective if a little time-consuming!

A study performed by Japanese scientists in 2019 revealed that painting zebra-like stripes on a cow could reduce the number of flies per animal by over 50%. “The scientists believe the striped pattern confuses the fly’s motion detection and deters the pests.” (Source)

Best Way to Keep Flies Off Cattle FAQs

How Do I Keep the Flies Off My Cows?

There are several effective ways to keep the flies off your cows. Some of the most effective fly control methods include a buffalo fly trap, back rub station, ear tags, pour on, and natural repellents such as garlic lick blocks and supplements and homemade fly sprays.

How to Keep Flies Off Cows Naturally?

You can keep flies off cows naturally by making your own natural fly spray. These sprays include eucalyptus, bitter orange, and lemongrass to deter flies. Removing manure can reduce the manure-breeding fly population. Adding garlic to your cows’ feed or purchasing a garlic lick block can help keep flies off cows as well.

Do Fly Tags Work for Cattle?

Yes, fly tags work well on cattle. There are advantages and disadvantages to using fly tags. They are effective and long-term solutions for fly control, but they can be tricky to administer and remove. And, if they are not correctly used, their effectiveness is reduced.

What’s Your Best Way to Keep Flies Off Cattle?

While insecticides and chemical repellants are used widely to keep flies off cattle by commercial livestock farmers, they’re not always the best option for small-scale farmers and homesteaders, many of whom have a more holistic approach to farming.

Although insecticide ear tags, pour-on fly repellants, and larvicide supplements effectively control fly populations, more natural approaches can produce similarly positive results.

In my opinion, the best way to keep flies off cattle is to make them all zebra-striped pajamas but, realistically, a more sensible approach may be just to add garlic to their feed and concoct a homemade animal spray.

At the end of the day, the choice is all yours.

Keep reading!

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7 Comments

  1. Can mixing garlic alone help keep off the flies? Like mixing garlic with water and spraying the cows

    1. Hi Eugene! Yes, mixing a solution of one part chopped garlic to five parts water makes an excellent fly spray! Just make sure you dilute the garlic. If the spray is too concentrated, it may make you cows itchy and uncomfortable.

  2. What can you paint them with that’s age especially if they lick it while it’s wet??? Thanks for all these solutions!

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