by: Skip French
KMG Animal Health

On the farm or ranch, procrastination usually translates to lost productivity and the accumulation of chores that eventually have to be dealt with – except now in a shorter time frame requiring more effort and expense. Putting things off also goes against the grain of the farm and ranch work ethic for getting things done.

In the business of beef cattle production, however, there is one situation when the early bird doesn't get the worm. Or the horn fly in this case.

Tagging cattle with insecticide ear tags as early as April is not that unusual for cattle producers around the country. But the ‘let's-get'er-done' attitude of many cattlemen can backfire. By June when the fly season starts to hit its peak and fly populations get heavier, those tags applied in April have lost most of their effectiveness. With the exception of Avenger and Patriot, which has been proven in several field trials in Southwest Texas to control flies for more than five months, most ear tags do not provide more than three months of fly control.

In the Southeastern part of the country, for example, the height of the fly season is late May/June. By then, though, the tags put on in March/April are pretty much done. Elsewhere around the country where fly seasons don't peak until late July and into August, producers who tagged as early as April – and it is not all that uncommon – have an even bigger problem.

At least in the Northern Plains you can expect the first freeze in early to mid September. That one beneficial aspect of the usually harsh Northern Plains weather patterns tends to reduce the time horn flies have to harm cattle and cause production losses.

But in friendlier climates, early tagging results in more than spent tags and ineffective control just when the flies are reaching their highest populations and heaviest concentrations. The consequences of prematurely initiating insecticide ear tag fly control programs can include the onset of costly medical problems and production losses – lower weaning weights, reduced weight at sale, higher feed costs and smaller milk production rates.

While we can't necessarily change the tagging habits and routines of cattlemen, as a supplier of the most comprehensive line of fly control products it does offer a wide range of options that producers can incorporate and customize into their own fly control programs. Circumstances vary for cattlemen around the nation. In certain parts of the country, you sometimes tag early out of necessity because producers have to get the cows and calves out to the pasture in spring before the grass gets drier. In cow-calf operations with 10,000 acres, once you let the animals out you don't see them until August.

Now with Avenger and Patriot and their five-month protection, they can still tag in April; but the viability of their fly control program extends for the whole season.

Although the early freezes in the Northern Plains may benefit ranchers as far as their fly control efforts are concerned, I recommend that beef cattle producers in the lower latitudes initiate comprehensive fly control strategies that take into consideration their individual circumstances in terms of land features, acreage, weather and budget. If the ranch has ponds, then producers ought to provide feed blocks mixed with oral larvicides. If you're setting up stock tanks or hauling water out to the herd, I additionally recommend setting up dust bags around the facilities, along with the mineral feeders.

The intensity of horn fly infestations depends on weather patterns, resistance build-up, pasture conditions and facility maintenance. In most operations sprays, pour-ons and premise dusts and sprays work well in combination with insecticide cattle ear tags. If you are raising cattle in Florida, for instance, flies start attacking in January and don't let up until November. In these climates, you must use a long-lasting ear tag in combination with dust bags, spray-on products and where possible, oral larvicides.

In the event that early tagging or the late arrival of the fly season leaves your cattle unprotected, retagging with Patriot (40 percent diazinon) or the even less expensive Terminator II (20 percent diazinon) immediately puts an end to any advantage horn flies (and face flies) might have enjoyed. If the unpredictable climate and environmental conditions in your area make it hard to pinpoint the onset of the fly season, then use the Avenger or Patriot tags. You and your cattle will appreciate the five-month comfort zone.

About this author: Skip French is Eastern Region Sales Manager for KMG Animal Health and has been recommending comprehensive insect and pest management plans for more than 10 years from his home in Valdese, North Carolina.

Don't forget to BOOKMARK  
Cattle Today Online!