BEEF Daily

What Is The Best Way To Keep Flies At Bay?


Here are four ways to manage flies this summer.

Warm sunshine, green grass and long days aren’t the only things that come with summer -- so do pesky things like thistles, prairie dogs and parasites. One of the biggest nuisances for a rancher is fly problems. Flies can be stressful on cows, calves and herd bulls – and expensive, too. There are several ways to manage fly problems before they get out of control. Here are four options to consider:

1. Fly tags

This option is good if you work cow-calf pairs before turning out to summer grasses. We typically fly-tag our calves to help combat flies. If tagging cows as well, it is recommended to leave the tags in, not just during the summer months but throughout the year. Correction: As J. Allen Miller and Purdue University's Mark Hilton point out in the comments section below, when using fly tags it's best to remove them from the cattle in the fall as the tags emit less insecticide as the season progresses and there is the possibility of enhancing resistance to the pyrethroid insecticide if just a small amount is present.


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2. Pour-on or sprays

There are probably many ways to apply a spray or pour-on, but we usually take a tank full of fly spray with us and pump it onto the cows and herd bulls when we ride the four-wheeler through the herd in the evenings. This works well on tame cattle; otherwise it might be difficult to get close enough to pump the spray on the animals.

3. Dusters and oilers

We use both of these options in our pastures -- a dust bag for the cows to rub on and oiled rags tied to the bars of the creep feeder that the calves rub on as they go in to eat. This is a pretty cheap and easy way to apply some pest control to the cow-calf pairs. It’s important to locate these options close to a gathering area, like a stock dam, for example, and it’s important to keep them recharged.

4. Feed product added to mineral

According to an article written by Burt Rutherford entitled, “Tips For Controlling Flies On Cattle,” another option is feed-through products added to the mineral. These products target horn-fly reproduction by inhibiting the growth of the larvae as it develops in the fresh manure. While these products can be effective in killing the larvae, they don't kill the adult flies.

Of course, utilizing more than one option is the most effective route to managing flies. You can read more about how to incorporate multiple methods here.

Which methods do you utilize to manage flies? Which methods haven’t worked so well for you? What is the best way, in your opinion, to keep flies at bay? Share your thoughts in the comments section below.

The opinions of Amanda Radke are not necessarily those of or the Penton Farm Progress Group.


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Discuss this Blog Entry 11 (not verified)
on Jun 11, 2014

Amanda, contrary to the article, fly tags should NOT be left in all year. As the tag ages the pesticide is depleted and flies get a nonlethal dosage which results in the development of resistance to that pesticide. Spent tags should be removed when they lose their efficacy. Also producers should rotate to a tag containing a pesticide with a different mode is action every 3rd year to avoid resistance development.
J.Allen Miller, PhD

Lee Pritchard (not verified)
on Jun 11, 2014

Feeding a "RABO or IGR" in a low moisture block (Crystalyx product). Research illustrates that LMB's were
more attractive to grazing cattle than dry mineral and other forms of supplement with feed throughs for fly control.

W. Mark Hilton, DVM (not verified)
on Jun 11, 2014

When using fly tags you actually want to cut them out in the fall. The tags emit less insecticide as the season progresses and there is the possibility of enhancing resistance to the pyrethroid insecticides if just a small amount is present.

Tad (not verified)
on Jun 11, 2014

Rotate. Rotate. Rotate. Everything else costs me money year in year out.

cowmandan (not verified)
on Jun 11, 2014

Raw apple cider vinegar in the water trough.

Don L (not verified)
on Jun 11, 2014

Just started using an oiler that the cows must pass under to get to water. No issue there but we've had a lot of hot dry wind and the flags/wicks don't seem to retain enough oil to be effective. Will use a pour on when we AI in July.

Emily V (not verified)
on Jun 11, 2014

Crystalyx has two options available for fly control: Rolyx Max which contains Rabon and IGR which contains altosid. I prefer the Rolyx Max because Rabon prevents the larvae of the horn, face, house and stable flies from hatching. If you are worried about the dung beetle, there are still plenty of other fly larvae available for them to eat. Crystalyx is totally worth the money becuase every year you see results when you supply these barrels to your heard. (Rolyx can be also be fed to equine which is a Big Plus)

cowboy01 (not verified)
on Jun 12, 2014

We use fly rubs with diesel/insecticide near waterers and fly tags on the cows. We have had a serious pinkeye problem and discovered that commercial vaccines were ineffective against our local strain of pinkeye bacteria. We have had to have the new strain cultured and we have a specific vaccine we are trying for this year. Using fly tags and rubs helped to reduced number of fly's on our cows, calves, and bull and we are hoping that this new vaccine will help with the pinkeye issue.

cowboy01 (not verified)
on Jun 12, 2014

We have used fly tags for years and have added fly rubs near our watering points. The combination seems to be very effective s the fly counts on cows, calves and bull have dropped markedly.

We found out the normal commercial pink eye vaccines were in ineffective in our area and the neighbors had a vet come out and culture their cows after similar experience. We found that we have a new strain of bacteria and had to have a special vaccine made for this local area. Certainly dealing with the fly problem helps since flies spread the bacteria so we are hoping for a pink eye free grazing season this year.

W.E. (not verified)
on Jun 12, 2014

We have tried them all, but no longer use any of these methods, because they interrupt the natural balances of nature. The extra work and expense were futile because the flies adapted faster than we could poison them. For us, the best fly control and best defense against pinkeye is management-intensive grazing. Moving the cattle daily to a fresh new area of pasture, as they would do in the wild, and then back-fencing with temporary electric fences, allows tiny native parasitic wasps, no bigger than gnats, to lay their eggs in manure piles where their larvae eat the flies before they can hatch. The wasps are so small that you can't even see the critters unless you look very closely, but they do a fantastic job if you don't poison them, leaving the surface of each cow pie riddled with hundreds of little holes. After using feed-through insecticides on one of our farms, we had to buy pupae to re-introduce the wasps there. We noticed that the wasps appeared naturally every spring on a farm where insecticides had never been used. Now our pastures teem with a wide variety of native and migrating birds, along with toads, frogs, and other creatures that depend on flies for a living and do away with them in large numbers. Around loafing and shade areas, we hang some fly traps with a stinky attractant that draws in huge numbers of flies. Some friends of ours follow their cattle through their daily rotations with pastured chickens, broilers and laying hens in separate electrified net pens with portable shelters. The poultry thrive when they get to scratch through manure piles about three days after the cows have grazed there, doing away with parasites and greatly reducing fly populations while distributing and breaking down the manure. This diversified approach to fly control would perhaps not be feasible in the big acreages of the plains states and mountains, but can work very well here in the Upper South from Missouri and eastward to the Atlantic, where acres per cow are lower and where stocking rates can be doubled using planned management-intensive grazing. We have been selecting cattle that resist pinkeye and cancer eye for many generations, and vaccinate young stock. Some cow families have never had a case of pinkeye. We use bulls from those families.

on Jun 23, 2016

Works every time... no more cattle bunched up stomping and kicking (which is a HUGE amount of "down-time" on gain)
Google it... DefenderPac. Works, and its inexpensive to use

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BEEF Daily Blog is produced by rancher Amanda Radke, one of the U.S. beef industry’s top social media “agvocates.”


Amanda Radke

Amanda Radke is a fifth generation rancher from Mitchell, S.D., who has dedicated her career to serving as a voice for the nation’s beef producers. A 2009 graduate of South Dakota State...

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