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Summer bugs cost farmers and ranchers

Summer bugs are out in full force.

For livestock producers, that does not only mean comfort issues and disease risk. Insect pests can cause economic loss.

Flies are the most common pests. They plague cattle, swine, poultry, horses, sheep, goats, and household pets – as well as people.

Cassandra Olds, Assistant Professor of Entomology at Kansas State University, says horn flies are the greatest problem for cattle on the pasture, and the species with the most potential to do economic harm.

“It's been estimated that economic losses associated with the effects of horn flies can exceed $1 billion annually across producers in the United States,” David Boxler, University of Nebraska-Lincoln entomologist told Successful Farming in a recent article.

Feeding on its host 20 to 40 times a day, the horn fly can consume up to a pint of blood daily, according to Texas A&M AgriLife Extension. They like fresh manure and will stay on the same host or in the same herd for life, making them costly to control. Sprayers, dust bags, back rubs, ear tags, and mineral blocks all help.

In the feedlot, Olds says stable flies are the pest du jour.

Stable flies pester cattle, swine, horses, sheep, goats, and dogs with painful bites and blood loss, leading to reduced milk production, feed efficiency, and rate of gain. Like many insect pests, they transmit disease — particularly swamp fever — as well as pathogens including anthrax, brucellosis, and Salmonella.

While many methods and products are available to manage livestock pests, the only sure way to make a dent in stable flies is with manually applied insecticide, according to Boxler. They like compost piles, spilled feed, soiled bedding, and manure. They prefer shelter from the wind, and will travel many miles to find a host.

Face flies prey on cattle and horses, spreading pinkeye and nematode eyeworms.

There are also black flies that plague cattle, swine, horses, sheep, goats, and fowl. These flies can be deadly. When fowl are under heavy attack, trauma-induced shock often results in death. During outbreaks, death by suffocation has occurred in large animals from inhaling flies. They are known to transmit viruses, especially in poultry.

Raising livestock in confinement, like much swine and poultry, can help eliminate exposure to insect pests, but Olds warns the closed environment can make it much harder to rid the facility of an infestation once they get in.

Deer flies affect most animals except fowl; horse flies infect more than just horses and can cause severe blood loss. Then there's the common house fly — they bother everybody.

More than flies

There are also grubs, bots, and keds.

Cattle grubs cause losses at slaughter, due to holes in hides and carcass trim to remove injured tissue. They can be transmitted by shipping grub-infested cattle.

Sheep keds may cause anemia in young lambs and reduced rate of gain in older lambs, as well as affect wool quality.

Lice, mites, and ticks do their damage as well. Olds says ticks are perhaps the most prevalent and dangerous next to horn flies. Ticks prey on all domestic animals and humans, and while the blood loss from their daily feeding may be minimal in large animals, they carry several serious diseases.

Lice prey on most domestic animals, making a host miserable and affecting feed efficiency.

The impact of mites ranges from relatively benign mange to serious infections. Mites are spread by host-to-host contact, exposure to bedding, grooming tools, or transportation that has been exposed to infested hosts of the same species.

Mosquitoes can be the bane of an animal’s existence.

What helps?

There are many insect pest treatments available.

Manual insecticide application includes sprays and pour-ons.

Dust bags, along with back rubbers and oilers, capitalize on forced-use scenarios and the animal’s need to scratch. Texas A&M offers a tip: Be sure to have dust bags at shoulder height or lower so cattle must lift the bag with their head to pass under it.

Feed-through insecticides are consumed via feed additives or mineral blocks. The active ingredients travel through the animal and kill larvae in in the manure.

Fly tags are especially effective in controlling horn and face flies.

Most producers will find a combination of treatments work best. Olds emphasizes the importance of always following label directions.

“Resistance is a great and growing problem,” says Olds, “and improper use of chemicals is one of the causes.” A lack of new products over the past several decades also adds to the challenge.

She advocates for Integrated Pest Management practices that address the entire ecosystem.

“Sanitation is key,” says Olds. “You can have the biggest impact by eliminating breeding grounds.”

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