Fly control strategies for cattle producers: Understanding your options

Apr 16, 2019

Just how big of a problem are flies for the beef industry? Mark Robbins discusses the types of flies that are most harmful to cattle, their negative effects and what cattle producers can do to prevent the emergence of flies for a healthier herd.


Tom:      This is Tom Martin, and I’m joined by Mark Robbins, Director of Research and Nutrition Services at CRYSTALYX® Brand Supplements.

               Mark comes by his knowledge honestly. He was born and raised on a grain and livestock farm in Eastern South Dakota. And, for the past twenty-three years, Mark has focused on cow-calf and grazing animal nutrition, specifically with self-fed supplements.

               He joins us from Whitewood, South Dakota, where he lives and has offices.

               Greetings, Mark.

Mark:    Hello, Tom.

Tom:      Mark, we’re talking today about flies and how cattle producers across the country can help to control the excessive fly population. So, just how big of a problem are flies for the beef industry?

Mark:    Tom, the impact of flies on the beef industry is estimated to be between about 1 to 1.5 billion dollars. The majority of that comes from the horn fly; we’ll be talking today primarily about four different flies. The horn fly is definitely the leader as far as the economic impact, next would be the face fly, and then also stable flies and house flies.

               But, that’s – that’s a pretty good-sized number when you consider that some cattlemen really don’t include any fly control program with their grazing animals.

Related: The next generation of fly control supplements

Tom:      And, is there a difference in how potentially harmful each of these types is to cattle?

Mark:    Yeah, like I said, the horn fly seems to be about 70 to 80 percent of the problem. When we get to talking about our different types of fly control measures, there are some fly control active ingredients that only control the horn fly and they’re actually pretty popular.

               There are a couple of other additives we’ll talk about that actually control four different flies (the four that I mentioned there), the horn fly being one of them, the face fly, the stable fly and the house fly.

Tom:      So, Mark, what are the effects of the horn fly on cattle?

Mark:    So, basically what you have is the horn flies that are biting flies and definitely the largest impact of the four flies on our cattle. They take blood meals many times a day. It’s been estimated that large animals may lose up to a gallon of blood, which seems like an awful lot every day. But I think any of us can relate to have flies buzzing around your head or landing on you, let alone biting you and just being an overall nuisance.

               The other [problem] that you’ve got is that they can certainly spread bacteria and parasites from animal to animal. That’s just a common problem with flies that you have anywhere.

               So, in the overall aspect of this, it’s just reduced performance on pasture whether you [have] yearlings that are out there to gain weight or whether you’ve got cows and calves where you’re trying to get higher weaning weights and you may have reduced milk production and obviously, any time the animals are less comfortable, they’re not going to produce as well.

Tom:      A gallon of blood? Wow! What can livestock producers do to minimize the problem and help control those flies?

Mark:    So, there are several different things you can do. Number one, you can minimize the decaying organic matter you may have around your place. This is probably a bigger issue for confined cattle or feedlots, [but] we’re looking primarily at grazing cattle here; then you can kind of move into things like fly tags or pour-ons. And, what we would encourage people to look at are oral larvicides or growth regulators that actually are in the feed or in the supplement that the cattle consume, hopefully every day, for example, if they’re using a self-fed supplement. That goes through the manure and it affects the fly larvae in the manure of those treated animals.

Tom:      We’re seeing significant flooding and standing water this spring all across much of the United States. How does all of this excess water affect the fly population, and will that lead to more problems for cattle as the weather warms up?

Mark:    You know, it certainly could. I guess what I see happening there where you have a lot of flooded areas, you probably have a lot more areas that would have some of that decaying organic matter that I mentioned earlier. That’s primarily going to [have more of an impact] on the houseflies and the stable flies that generally lay their eggs in that.

               Now, they can also lay their eggs in manure which is what we would be treating with oral larvicides. But, you could certainly see an increase in those two fly types from the fact that obviously some of the places where these floodwaters are going to get to, it’s going to accumulate that organic matter that’s going to decay and that is actually an area that that some of those flies like to lay their eggs in.

Tom:      Can you explain how to properly feed these feed-through fly control additives? For example, how long do you need to feed them and when should cattle producers start their fly control feeding program?

Mark:    That’s a very good question. So, basically, the 40,000-foot view would be to say, hey, you want to start at your last frost in the spring and go through the first frost in the fall. That’s going to be the available time that those flies are going to be able to live and produce.

               So, if you start with the southern tier of states in the United States, that may be as early as March 1. As you work your way north and you get towards the middle of the country there, probably around April 15 is when you’ll want to look at starting. [When] you get to the northern tier of states along the Canadian border, you may be as late as May 15 or so.

               So, we’re right in the time right now today where most people should either be putting products out or have products ready to put out or be making plans to put products out.

Tom:      Are there any worries about resistance when feeding these feed-through fly control additives over continued use?

Mark:    You know, that’s a pretty good question, so let me go a little bit into how the products are used.

One of the products that we have available in our CRYSTALYX [line] is called Rabon®, and that is an organophosphate insecticide. That’s probably the only product for some people [who] might be concerned about resistance. I don’t know that we’ve ever run into that that I’ve seen. Some of the people with Bayer® that support that additive say there may be some places where they’ve run into resistance, but in most cases, if there’s an option then you can get around that if you alternate the type of fly control you use every year. So, I think it’s possible that you can get resistance with that one, but I think it’s very rare.

               The other two additives that we use are Altosid® and ClariFly®, which are actually insect growth regulators or IGR. For years, they’ve called Altosid IGR as an insect growth regulator. So, those don’t actually kill the fly larvae; they actually mimic a hormone in the fly that stops those flies from becoming adults. And, if they don’t become adults, then they don’t bite and suck blood and become the nuisance that they are.

               So, a couple of different ways of looking at how that works, [but] overall, I don’t think resistance with any of them is a very big issue at all.

Tom:      What about dung beetles? We know that they can be beneficial to cattle; they help destroy manure piles. Are there any problems with dung beetles when feeding these additives?

Mark:    Yeah, Tom. That question comes up almost all the time. And, the manufacturers of Rabon, ClariFly, and Altosid all have papers or statements out that indicate that their products do not negatively impact the dung beetles.

               The other thing when you think of these products, they’re all active for a limited amount of time in the manure while you’re feeding them. And that may be, you know, three to four weeks or so, which, when you look at the horn fly and the face flies, they lay their eggs in pretty fresh manure. In fact, they say the horn fly [will use] just seconds-old manure [to lay their eggs], as it hits the ground.

               So, the fact that those ingredients are active in there and working for three to four weeks is plenty of time for that to work. So, that also kind of helps [us to] understand that if that active ingredient isn’t there for months and months at a time, it has very little, if any, impact on the dung beetle population.

Tom:      What types of fly control products does CRYSTALYX offer for livestock, and are they approved for cattle and horses as well?

Mark:    Yeah, very good question. I mentioned the three additives we have are Rabon, ClariFly and IGR. I’ll start with Rabon. That’s the older product that we’ve had. Our products are called Rolyx® and that stands for Rabon oral larvicide and then we put the “lyx” on the [end of the] name there. There’s a mineral and a protein formula there, so, in late spring when you need protein and fly control that’s handled there or maybe getting into early fall when you want to move from a mineral into a protein product, you’ve got that option. Of course, through the summer you would just use the mineral version when generally green grass [meets] your protein needs.

               So, Rabon is one of the products that does get all four flies — and that’s the horn fly, stable fly, the face fly and the house fly. As I said, that is an organic phosphate insecticide; it has been used for many years. It’s very popular in our CRYSTALYX products.

               The next product I’ll talk about is Altosid. That is the product that I mentioned that just targets the horn fly. And, again, [horn flies are generally] 70 to 80 percent of the problem, [but] for a lot of our customers [they may] be almost 100 percent of the problem. That’s a fairly well-known product, too. Some people refer to it as IGR, [which, again, stands] for insect growth regulator. We have that product available as well in a protein formula and a mineral formula for the same reasons.

               Now, the newest product we have — just in the last couple of years — is ClariFly. And ClariFly is very similar to IGR in that it is [also] a growth regulator and stops the maturing of those flies. ClariFly then is also very similar to Rabon in that ClariFly gets the same four flies that Rabon gets.

               The next thing where that’s pretty important here are horses. So, that was [part of] the attractiveness of Rabon, is that it’s also — in addition to beef cattle or dairy cattle in general — it is approved for [equine use]. ClariFly is also approved for [equine use]. So, you have two products there that are very similar to [one another] as far getting four flies and they’re both approved [for use] in equines.

               With the ClariFly products, we would again have a CRYSTALYX Blueprint® mineral and a CRYSTALYX Blueprint protein product. We have a couple more products in addition to that. There is a Stable-lyx® product with ClariFly. Stable-lyx is our dedicated equine product. You can get that with ClariFly.

               We have an older mineral product called Mineral-lyx® that’s been in the CRYSTALYX line for thirty years or more. You can [also] get [that product] with ClariFly in it. And, just recently, we added a Blueprint CRYSTALYX product for fescue forages; it’s called Fescue-Phos with ClariFly. That product has the ClariFly in it, it’s a mineral and it also has an Alltech® ingredient called FEB-200® in it that’s designed to work with fescue forages.

Tom:      Mark, as they’re considering these products, livestock producers are going to want to do the math. What’s the cost?

Mark:    The cost of the additive itself, I can give you that here in a second. But the thing people need to remember is that’s just going to be the cost of the additive and it will be a portion of the overall cost per head per day for any mineral or protein program.

               The other portion of that program that’s going to be much larger is going to be the rest of the makeup of that mineral whether you’re feeding something that’s four, six or eight percent phosphorous, whether it has 10, 15 or 20 percent protein, or in situations where there may be 100,000-200,000 units of Vitamin A.

               So, when people get to comparing costs, I just kind of want to [put out] a disclaimer here that you need to look at more than just the fly control portion of that; look at the other nutrients that you’re providing because they’re going to impact that end cost per ton and then the cost per head per day probably much more so than the fly control.

               But, in general, when you look at IGR for a 1,000-pound cow, that’s going to cost you about 2 cents per head, per day. If you look at the ClariFly product that’s a little bit newer that gets the four flies, that’s around 2.3 cents per day. And, if you go with the Rabon product, that’s closer to 2.9 or 3 cents per head, per day.

Tom:      Where can producers go to find more information about CRYSTALYX fly control products and where can they purchase CRYSTALYX products in their area?

Mark:    Good question there, Tom. I listed an awful lot of products. If you’re not writing notes down, you’re probably kind of wondering what the names of all those were again. So, I suggest going to the website and you can do a search for fly control products there under a dropdown menu that has — that will list what category you’re looking for in products.

               We have an awful lot of CRYSTALYX products and that’s one way you can kind of narrow it down. Just choose fly control from the dropdown menu there.

               As far as where you can buy them, you can also get some help from that at the website. We have a dealer locator there, so you can enter in your zip code, hit the button, and it will return the dealers in your local area there that would handle our CRYSTALYX products.

Tom:      Mark Robbins is Director of Research and Nutrition Services at CRYSTALYX Brand Supplements.

Thanks a lot, Mark.

Mark:    You bet. Thanks, Tom. I appreciate it.


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