Fly-Control Minerals for Cattle

Mar 30, 2020

With springtime just around the corner, now is the time to begin planning for the coming fly season.  Fly season typically runs from the last frost in the spring to just after the first frost in the fall, when warmer weather allows these pests to thrive.  These external parasites can be quite costly in terms of lost production, treatment costs, and disease transmission, taking a significant toll on animals’ comfort and the operation’s bottom line.

The three major species for concern are houseflies, face flies, and horn flies.  Of these, horn flies are by far the most costly and are often confused with face flies.  The horn fly can be identified as a small, black fly about the size of a grain of rice, spending the majority of its life feeding in a head-down position on the back, shoulders, and belly of its host. 

Horn fly pupae overwinter in manure pats and emerge in the spring when average daily temperatures reach 65oF for a period of at least two weeks.  Having only a 10-to-20-day life cycle, the adult female leaves her host only long enough to lay eggs in warm, fresh manure.  Each female can lay up to 500 eggs during her lifespan, allowing populations to increase at a rapid pace.  Around 200 horn flies per animal is the documented economic threshold, and when left uncontrolled as many as 4,000 per animal may be observed when numbers peak in early summer.  Each horn fly takes 20 to 30 blood meals per day by inflicting a piercing bite through the animal’s hide.  The ensuing pain and irritation cause cattle to alter their grazing patterns and expend valuable energy attempting to dislodge the flies. This behavior translates into reduced rates of gain in stocker cattle and decreased milk production and lower calf weaning weights in brood cow operations.

In terms of total production losses, USDA research estimates the horn fly costs U.S. cattle producers nearly $1 billion per year.   Fortunately, stockmen have several effective options for controlling horn flies and minimizing their associated losses.  Insecticide ear tags, pour-ons, back rubbers treated with insecticides, premise sprays, and feed-through insect growth regulators (IGRs) can all be of use in keeping fly numbers in check.  The most convenient of these is a cattle vitamin-mineral supplement containing an IGR.  This method eliminates the stress, labor, and expense of handling cattle while allowing them to spread the horn fly control as they graze.

Feed-through IGRs control horn fly populations by preventing the eggs from developing into adult flies, greatly decreasing the numbers.  The compound is consumed and passes unaffected through the animal’s digestive tract, ending up in the manure pat where it interrupts the life cycle of the fly and prevents development into the adult stage.  For optimum fly control, these products must be consumed daily in adequate quantities such that all manure contains effective levels of the IGR.

In addition to fly control, a complete vitamin-mineral supplement containing a feed-through insecticide provides additional nutrients necessary for grazing cattle to get the most from pastures.  Forages can be deficient in several essential minerals regardless of season.  Phosphorus, copper, zinc, and selenium play vital roles in growth and reproduction of beef cattle and Co-op fly control minerals help bridge the gap between the animal’s requirements and those provided by the forage. 

For most effective results when using Co-op fly control mineral products, begin feeding before flies appear in the spring.  Offer minerals in covered feeders and monitor consumption throughout the summer, adjusting placement as needed. And finally, when beginning an IGR program midseason, use an appropriate spray or pour-on to quickly reduce the number of adult flies.

For more information about effective fly management programs, visit with your local Co-op feed specialist.

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