Flies Really Bite. Are they Bugging the Cows?


Biting flies can sure make life miserable for cattle, horses and even people! Big or small, those insects can inflict painful sores on the eyes, face, teats, and bags of the animal. When I was a kid we would pour a stinky liquid on cattle – and it seems that that is the most popular solution today. BUT! It turns out there are excellent solutions without toxic gick!

1) This is a very long term solution, but don’t panic! Items further down the list can provide solutions for the short term. If you watch carefully, you will see that some cows get flies and some don’t. Breed the cows that don’t get flies. Sell the cows that do get flies. It really does work. Some people that have reported success with this say that the cows that don’t get flies appear to have oilier hair.


Photo by Kristie Wheaton

2) Move the cows daily. Run chickens three days behind the cows. This gets the cows to move away from the poop that is now hatching new flies. The chickens dig through the poop to get the maggots. Yum!

2.1) Move the cows more often even if you don’t tun the chickens behind the cows. This may help as much as 40%.

2.2) If you are going to move the animals just once a week, put the chickens in there with them.

3) Build dozens (hundreds) of bird houses. Or, as a shorter term solution, throw out heaps of bird feed. Lots of birds will then be around the flies and birds think flies are made of ice cream.

4) Parasitic wasps. These are teeny tiny little insects that think it is hilarous to make biting fly maggots into parasitic wasp baby nurseries. This usually has a deadly effect on the maggot so it never gets a chance to be a fly. Here in Montana you would have to buy new wasps every month or so during fly season. Want to give them a try? Check them out here.


Photo by Madeline Dennis

5) Bats will eat a few of the flies, but they will eat a lot of things that other fly-eating things like too. One fly-eating example is birds. So it turns out that when birds are hungry for insects, there isn’t much else to eat but biting flies.

6) Hummingbirds (grow lots of plants that hummingbirds like). Hummingbirds are famous for their love of nectar, but they eat insects too. And hummingbirds are mighty quick. Quicker than a fly.


7) Fly Traps.

Here is an example of a fly trap from Peaceful Valley Farm Supply.


Wood Fly Trap

And another example of a fly trap from Peaceful Valley Farm Supply.


Five Gallon Bucket Fly Trap

8) I once saw a contraption that was a big plastic, vertical sheet about the size of a cow.

I found a picture:


The one I saw was much simpler than this, but this should do to give you an idea. The big vertical sheet makes the flies think “snacks!” and they bumpity-bump around the plastic until they end up in the soapy water. Their teeny tiny screams cannot be heard.

This guy is pointing out that with just this one thing, he has a complete solution!

Several of these solutions will be a complete solution by themselves, but I would probably implement three or four just to be sure.


See the entire Paul Wheaton archive.

paul-wheaton-bioPaul Wheaton is the tyrannical dictator of Permies.com, the largest permaculture forum on the web. As a certified master gardener and permaculture designer, he’s built an empire around what he calls, ‘infecting brains with permaculture’. His forums are full of rich information, and there are a number of great free resources, guides, and articles that can be found on his sister site, Richsoil.com as well.

Most recently, he has worked with rocket mass heater experts Ernie and Erica in developing a DVD set on making your own rocket mass heater, and has produced another video series on permaculture gardening, which detail how to use hugelkultur, swales, and natural ponds to capture and utilize water without irrigation. His recent work with natural buildings based on Mike Oehler’s designs have resulted in the creation of the Wofati, a semi underground natural home design.

Crowned the Duke of Permaculture by Geoff Lawton and the Bad Boy of Permaculture by the Occupy Monsanto movement, Paul continues to educate and inspire at his property – dubbed Wheaton Labs – in western Montana, where he conducts experiments in permaculture and natural building, hosts workshops, and entertains the curious passerby. More information on stays at the property can be found here.