When it comes to raising cattle, every pound counts. And, as every veterinarian and producer knows, there are always several factors that can steal dollars from the bottom line. In fact, one of the most economically devastating threats, especially for pastured cattle, measures only about the size of a pencil eraser — it’s the horn fly.
“Even though horn flies are small pests, they can be a big problem,” said Roger Winter, DVM, technical services veterinarian for AgriLabs. “According to the USDA, the detrimental impact of horn flies is more than $1 billion per year in the U.S., with up to $60 million dollars spent on insecticidal control. Financial loss can be attributed to reduction in weight gains, feed efficiency and milk yields as well as loss of blood and energy used trying to dislodge flies.”
Blood Loss Equals Lost Gains
Horn flies take anywhere from 25-38 blood meals per day and with large numbers feeding on one individual animal. This can result in a significant amount of blood loss each day. Unlike most other flies, horn flies remain on the host animals constantly and leave only for a brief period to lay eggs on very fresh manure.
Horn flies have a piercing-sucking mouth part that is similar to a mosquito but is more painful because it’s larger,” said Bob Pennington, MS, consulting veterinary entomologist for SmartVet. “Hundreds of flies, each biting around 30 times a day, can result in up to one-third of a liter of blood lost per animal, per day. That’s a considerable amount of energy loss.
“Numerous studies have been conducted to understand the economic impact of horn flies on cow and calf-weaning weights. Very conservative figures show that horn flies can result in one-tenth to one-third of a pound in reduction in weight gains per calf, per day. For example, in a five-month period (150 days), that equals 15 to 50 pounds reduction in weaning weights. At approximately $1.60 per pound, a 30-pound weight reduction results in an average income loss of $48 per head due to horn flies. If a producer has 50 head of cattle, that equals $2,400 total income loss, and for 100 head it’s $4,800.
When to Treat
“Instead of feeding regularly, cows are fighting the awful bite from horn flies by switching their tails, throwing their heads, kicking and stomping to dislodge them,” said Pennington. “When doing this, they are not as efficient when it comes to grazing and meat and milk production.”