This was one of my favourite children’s story books that I used to read to my son. It was about a boy and his fly friend. His name was Fly Guy. They had many adventures together and we enjoyed the series a great deal. They were written by Ted Arnold. My point? Flies can be our friends.
Our industry spends millions and millions of dollars every year on fly control. Back rubbers, oilers, sprays, fly tags, pour-ons, traps and anything else someone has invented to address this symptom. My question to you is, is it working? Do we have fewer flies today? I think I already know your answer.
Have you ever heard that the definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over and expecting different results? That’s what we do in our war against flies. We don’t seem to like flies very much. I, on the other hand, like flies. Actually, I like the fly larvae because they do a good job of eating manure. They help decompose the dung and recycle the nutrients. I want flies on my ranch. They are part of my work force and I consider them one of my employees, just like every other critter that lives on my ranch. Every critter on my ranch has the right to reproduce.
A pest issue occurs when we get too many of one species in an environment. Conditions are favouring one species so they become prolific. Nature needs balance. If it is out of balance, I would bet that it is our fault. Our industry only looks at one piece at a time instead of looking at the whole. Step back and look at the whole system to see why one species has the advantage. Most of the time in agriculture, I believe that it is caused by our management changing the environment to suit our needs. In many cases we actually cause the lack of favourable conditions for the predator. Without the predators, the pest becomes a pest.
Let’s look at our friendly neighbourhood fly. I want her to lay eggs in the manure. I want the eggs to turn into larvae and I want the larvae to eat the manure. No harm, no foul yet, right? At this point, I need a predator to show up and eat the larvae. I do not want them all gone as I do need some of the flies to become adults so that we again have eggs to be laid in the next set of dung pats.
Predators are usually looked at as a bad thing in our industry. I disagree. Let’s look at just a few predators that might be able to help us out. Every environment is different and you might not have these critters in your environment but I bet if you looked into it, you could solve the symptom of a pest issue by addressing the problem, instead of looking for a quick fix to address the symptom.
The parasitic wasp is a great predator. There are over 80 different types of these guys. This wasp shows up around a dung pat and searches for a larvae. It stings the fly larvae, paralyzes it and then deposits its own larvae inside the fly larvae. At this point the wasp’s larvae will eat the fly larvae to develop into an adult. A job well done by one of my employees.
To keep employees happy and healthy, we need to make sure they have favourable working conditions. These wasps are far more susceptible to chemicals used on the farm than the flies are. In our failed attempts to control flies, we kill off the wasps.
Dragonflies are also great employees. The adult dragon fly can capture and eat many different types of flying insects, including flies. They are very agile fliers and have incredible eyesight. Having a strong population of dragon flies on your ranch is a great way to deal with flies. The difficulty here is that the adult dragonfly has a two-week lifespan and it takes up to four years in their teenage aquatic nymph stage before the dragonflies become adults. This means we need to take care of our riparian areas to make sure these teenagers have the chance to become adults. Talk about a long-term breeding program.
How about my favourite employee of all time? The dung beetle. How does he help with flies? Indirectly, he helps us by just doing his job. His job is to degrade the dung pat. And if we have a healthy environment suitable for him to work in, the dung pat will be degraded quite quickly. If the dung pat is gone, so is the breeding ground for the flies.
The dung beetle can also help us directly. The larvae of dwellers, one type of dung beetle, are also predators of the fly larvae. The beetle larvae will feed on the fly larvae. Another type of dung beetle, tunnelers, will move the fly eggs below ground, disrupting the flies’ life cycle. Another win for us in our battle against flies.
A very visible predator here at Greener Pastures Ranching is the infamous cow bird. I love to see these guys flying around my herds. I will have thousands of them with one herd. I enjoyed watching these employees work when I was a kid but then for years I never saw them. Once we went “chemical free” on our ranch about 15 years ago, cow birds again have desirable working conditions. They are very effective at fly control.
Last summer I came across three bats snuggled into a door crack of one of our sheds. They were pretty desperate for a place to sleep. Bats are great at pest control as they can eat up to nine times their body weight a day in insects. You guessed it, I have three bat houses installed in a pasture now to give them a great day’s rest so they can have a hard night of work. These are test houses for them. If we get some happy tenants, we will be installing a lot more bat houses at all of our pastures.
Need I go on? Flies are part of our ecosystem. Their job here at Greener Pastures Ranching is to eat poop. Is anyone looking for a job? They only become a pest if we unbalance the system. We spend too much time on searching for symptom solvers and not enough time looking for the problems on our farms and ranches. We need to take care of the whole system. So, instead of saying, “Shoo, Fly Guy,” let’s say “Hi, Fly Guy” because we know you are a “Super Fly Guy” and it is important that “Fly Guy Meets Fly Girl!”
— Steve Kenyon runs Greener Pastures Ranching Ltd. in Busby, Alta. Visit www.greenerpasturesranching.com, call 780-307-6500, email [email protected] or find them on Facebook.