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As the weather warms up, so do farm fly populations and it’s important to
make sure your stock are well protected. While cattle are at grass it’s generally
time to get on with other jobs around the farm – the animals may not be
attracting your attention, but they will be interesting the local fly population!

David Thornton from Rumenco highlights the new season summer fly threat
and how to minimise the problems these irritating disease vectors can cause
on your farm.

It may have been a long, cold winter – and no-one in the Scottish Borders and North
of England would argue about that – but it’s a myth that prolonged freezing
temperatures kill off over-wintering fly populations. Entomologists tell us that they can
survive deep in the soil and, in any case, heavy snow cover actually protects many
flying insects from the extreme cold temperatures.

What’s more, the cold winter was followed by a warm and sunny March, which has
accelerated some fly cycles. At the time of writing, scientists says the 2011 fly
season is already 2-3 weeks ahead of where it usually is. This means that by the
time you are reading this, fly populations are probably well established and enjoying
plenty of meals on your livestock!

Flies and midges that affect livestock are not only a nuisance and irritation to the
animal, depressing performance, they can also transmit diseases. And with the
emergence of bluetongue in recent years, we have become only too aware of the
potential threat from these air-borne vectors.

As the weather warms up, there are two main groups of flies which cause problems
for cattle producers: flies which bite and feed on blood; and flies which feed on the
secretions from the eyes, nose, udder and the sweat on the animal’s coat and skin.

Within the two groups there are a number of different types of flies, some of which
transmit disease, and others which are just a plain nuisance, but still distract the cow
from feeding.

Control of flies around your livestock involves a combination of applying insecticides
directly onto the animal, feeding garlic-based supplements which create an invisible
odour barrier around animals to deter flies from landing, and cleaning up potential
breeding sites.

Understanding how your own farm appeals to flies is an important step forward in
better fly control. In fact, knowing where and when flies are breeding and then taking
action to restrict the potential farm fly population is just as important as controlling
flies on or around the animals.

Flies prefer damp, sheltered areas where they are protected from the wind and can
find shade during the heat of the day. So if your stock are susceptible to summer
mastitis or New Forest Eye disease, for example – which are transmitted by the head
and face flies respectively – dry cows and maiden heifers particularly should be
grazed on fields away from trees and water courses.

Most of the flies that bite cattle breed in dung or decomposing vegetable matter, and
near water, so it is important to ensure their proliferation opportunities are as limited
as possible by eliminating breeding hotspots around the farm – or keeping livestock
well away from water – and good hygiene. And it’s a good idea to remove soiled
bedding, spilled feed and silage at least once a week.

Stored manure should be kept as dry and compacted as possible and it is important
not to overfill lagoons and to keep the free from floating solids. Improving ventilation
to reduce humidity and lower temperatures will also create less favourable breeding
conditions for flies. On the dairy farm, increasing air movement with fans or creating
a water spray barrier at the entrance to parlours will also reduce stable fly nuisance
and milking time. Keeping walls clean and bins empty will also discourage flies from
the parlour.

Feeding garlic to deter flies

Special nutrition supplements can help keep livestock free from flies. A number of
studies have shown that the oil fraction of garlic can be effective against a wide
range of insects. After ingestion, garlic creates an invisible odour barrier around
animals. In addition, garlic has documented activity as an antibiotic and antiviral
agent, helping to further protect livestock.

Two products from Rumenco can help control the summer fly threat to livestock.
Supalyx Garlic buckets and Rumevite Garlic blocks have both been formulated as
summer grazing mineral supplements, but also incorporate the sought after fly
repellent benefits of this valuable member of the onion family.

After a few days, cattle offered these supplements will start to emit the strong garlic
compounds through their skin. The strong smell can confuse flies and make it harder
for them to seek out their next blood meal!

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