Spring is just around the corner, and with it is another invasion of troublesome flies. Keep in mind that some flies do more than distract cattle; the seasonal increase in horn and face flies can seriously affect the health and selling weight of your animals.

As Dr. Larry Hawkins, Senior Technical Services Veterinarian with Bayer Animal Health, points out, “All flies are a nuisance, but horn and face flies wreak real economic damage on cattle production, especially on our calves and stockers. It’s critical to get these flies under control.”

Recognizing the behavioral and physiological changes in your animals is a good place to start, but there’s more that you can do to combat this problem. By  using insecticidal products such as ear tags, you can reduce the impact of these flies, on both your cattle and your bottom line.

The impact of horn flies
Typically, horn flies live 7–21 days on the shoulders and back, or around the head and neck of cattle. Using piercing and sucking mouthparts, horn flies take 20–40 painful blood meals a day. The stress of this ongoing disruption can lead to elevated heart and respiration rates, and increased body temperature.

What’s more, it can cause a reduction in appetite, weight gain, and milk production while contributing to the spread of disease.

Dirt pawing, tail switching, leg scratching, and body licking are common behavioral signs associated with horn fly stress.

Using insecticides, such as pyrethroid- or organophosphate-based ear tags, have been proven to reduce the number of horn flies that feed on cattle. In fact, research has shown that cattle free of horn fly stress gain 15–50 more pounds per head.1

Face flies and the spread of infection
Unlike horn flies, face flies do not bite. Instead, they cluster around the eyes and nose of cattle in order to feed on protein-rich tears, saliva, mucus and blood. Using abrasive mouthparts to stimulate tear flow and nasal secretion, face flies not only irritate cattle by taking several meals a day, but they also put them at risk of contracting pinkeye—a bacterial infection causing inflammation around the eyes and sometimes damage to the cornea of the eye.

Much like the financial impact of horn flies, calves with pinkeye sell for $10–12 less per hundred weight than healthy calves.2

Ways to control horn and face flies
Improvements in animal performance more than offset the cost of fly control programs. For every dollar spent on fly control, producers can expect to receive three dollars return or more. Recent advancements in cattle ear tag science make the seasonal rotation of pyrethroids and organophosphates an effective type of fly control. Other useful insecticides include pour-ons, sprays, back rubbers, dusts and feed additives.

The start of spring is a critical time to watch your cattle—as soon as horn and face flies appear, be prepared to start your fly control program. Protect your animals and your investment before horn and face flies become a liability.

References: 1. Campbell, John B. Horn Fly Control on Cattle. University of Nebraska-Lincoln. Nebraska Guide G1180, June 2006. 2. Neel, James B.; Burgess, Gene; Hopkins, Fred. Controlling Parasites of Beef Cattle Improves Performance and Value. The University of Tennessee Agricultural Extension Service. Info Series