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Project Takes Swat at Cattle-Biting FliesBy Jan Suszkiw
November 6, 2003
Once primarily considered a barnyard pest of cattle, stable flies are now a problem in pasture and rangeland areas. In Mead, Neb., Agricultural Research Service scientists and university cooperators are conducting an areawide project to find out why this has happened, and what can be done to address it.
Stable flies feed on blood and prefer taking it from the forelegs of cattle. This causes the animals to bunch together, lie down or behave in other ways that disrupt their feeding and weight gain. By one estimate, such attacks cause $1 billion in annual losses to the U.S. dairy and beef industry, notes Phil Scholl, an entomologist who leads ARS' Midwest Livestock Insects Research Unit in Lincoln, Neb.
In May, Scholl and fellow researchers began a five-year project near Mead to monitor the flies' population dynamics, breeding habitat and dispersal patterns within a 25-square-mile tract owned by the University of Nebraska's Agricultural Research and Extension Center in Ithaca.
One objective was to find out whether round hay bales--used as a winter feed supplement for grazing cattle--create a fly breeding habitat that contributes to spring swarms. According to Scholl, the Mead site affords a unique opportunity to collect fly data across a broad range of environments. Using strategically placed traps, the researchers can track the flies' migration from breeding sites on nearby farms to the site's pasture areas.
The researchers will use the data they collect to devise integrated approaches to managing the pest in pasture areas where cattle graze. Examples of these fly-fighting approaches include changing hay bale locations in pasture, discing hay litter mixed with manure and implementing biological controls.
Read more about the Mead project and a related study to control houseflies in this month's issue of Agricultural Research magazine.
ARS is the U.S. Department of Agriculture's chief scientific research agency.