“The black flies this year are just terrible.”
– MELISSA ATCHISON
The hordes of mosquitoes breeding in flooded ditches and potholes may drive men mad and horses crazy, but the good news is that they don’t bother cattle much.
That’s because the needle-shaped beak of a mosquito can’t penetrate the bovine’s much thicker hide, especially on its back and neck. Other types of biting insects, which have different-shaped mouthparts, are able to chew away at the skin and drink the blood that wells up.
“The black flies this year are just terrible,” said Melissa Atchison, a farm production advisor based in Melita who also raises cattle near Pipestone.
The whole southwest is much wetter than usual, but the biggest concerns in her area are foot rot and accessibility of pastures. The lushness and height of the grass is deceiving, because in some cases they offer poor feed value and excessive water content.
Production losses from insect pests aren’t a huge issue, she added, but the annoyance they cause may affect overall herd happiness.
“They might just want to lay in the shade and huddle up. The bulls won’t work and the cows won’t be out grazing,” said Atchison. “But if you have a cattle oiler in your pasture, that usually helps.”
It isn’t practical or cost-effective to put mosquito repellent fly tags on the herd, and most ranchers only use them if they have to run individual animals through the chute for foot rot, lump jaw or pink eye treatments.
There’s barely any room left for another tag in their ears, and at best they only last for a month or so.
“They’re sure good if you’ve treated it for something and you want to keep the flies off of it,” she said. “A sick animal gets more flies on it than a healthy one.”
Further north, in the Interlake, where they have dealt with deluges of rain now for three years running, the sand flies and bulldogs are bad again this year.
With other things to contend with, and no effective control techniques, nobody worries much about mosquitoes, said Ashern-based farm production advisor Ray Bittner. At any rate, nobody is lighting smudge fires like the pioneers did to keep the bugs off their herds.
“I don’t think it’s a huge problem, it’s just a small annoyance,” he said.
“Even with the oilers, you have to move them so frequently. How do you keep up with the cattle when you have a 1,000-acre pasture?”
It has been so wet this year that roughly half the total crop acres are unseeded in his area, and although upland hay crops are doing well, the lowlands are covered with water. Dry, higher ground in some pastures is getting grazed hard, he added. [email protected]