Fly season has begun. They are always a challenge when you have livestock. Fortunately our animals don’t spend much time in the barn when it’s warm and the chickens do a pretty good job cleaning up the pasture and eliminating the flies. They still make me a bit paranoid. Growing up we were obsessed with eliminating flies because they caused so much disease and distress which resulted in lower productivity. This fear is pretty prevalentin the cattle industry. All sorts of chemical concoctions have been invented with lots of creative ways of applying them. Sprays, powders, rubs, automated misters, fly traps, scratching posts that administer the chemicals while the cow rubs against it, etc. I’ve even seen a pasture vacuum to suck up all the manure and any bugs that it may harbor. For us, beyond the chickens and careful attention to manure management, we don’t do much in the way of fly control. When I tell farmers around here what we do for flies, the first response I get is “that wouldn’t work for us.” The second thing (sometimes the first thing) that is said is “you must have a lot of problems with pinkeye.) For a lot of people that seems to be a real problem. I remember using all kinds of shots, sometimes right into the eye, powders, and glue on patches to try to treat pinkeye and keep it from spreading in a herd. I know natural beef producers who have 10 – 15% of their calves dropped from the program because of pinkeye and the treatment options they use. I’ve seen animals blinded, eyes exploded and then removed, and pinkeye that has turned into an abscess and killed the animal. It can be a huge problem, and flies are a vector for spreading it. A few years ago I managed a herd of dairy goats. We had a good, natural, fly control program similar to the one I currently use. We hadn’t had a case of pinkeye in years. One summer we planted a new field with sorghum/Sudan grass to increase our hot season forage. With in three days of turning the goats into the new pasture we had our first case of pinkeye. Several more showed up the next day. This was a problem. We were milking these goats in a Grade A Organic Raw Milk dairy. Most of the treatment options the vet recommended would make the milk unusable and the goat no longer Organically certified. Not a good option. After some more research into alternatives, we hit on cod liver oil. Two ml squirted into the eye and 10 ml given orally. We treated the goats with pinkeye and then the whole herd with oral cod liver oil. As fast as the problem appeared it disappeared. It turns out that pinkeye is an indicator of vitamin A deficiency. Most of our pastures were minerally well balanced and had a diverse mix of grass, forbs, and legumes. The new pasture hadn’t had enough work done to balance the soil, and was planted in a single crop. (I suspect the sorghum/Sudan grass isn’t as well balanced even in good soil. I’ve seen lots of problems associated with it.) Once we identified the deficiency we were able to meet the need with a suplement. The only other time I had a pinkeye problem was when I was feeding hay purchased from an “organic” farm that was not minerally ballances. Attending to the quality of the soil and the feed produced on that soil will get you much better results than waging war with the flies.
I think there are lessons to be learned here as far as human health is concerned. Food grown in soil that is properly ballanced promotes health. Food that is deficient in something, because it was grown in soil that was deficient promotes disease.