Vampires aren’t the only pests repelled by garlic

Fly control in cattle operations is always a hot topic as the weather warms up. Flies can cause significant losses in beef and dairy animals by reducing weight gain and milk production.

Pyrethroid insecticides are widely used to combat the problem. A pyrethroid is an organic compound similar to natural pyrethrins produced by flowers such as chrysanthemums. These insecticides are effective on flies and generally harmless to humans, but they are toxic to fish and desirable insects such as bees, dragonflies and mayflies.

These safety concerns and increasing resistance indicate the need for alternative control tactics. There are a variety of fly-control technologies on the market today, including botanical extracts and oils with bioactive compounds that can exert different modes of action.

One of the most promising is the Allium sativum species—also known as garlic. Garlic oil and extracts are identified by EPA as “minimum risk pesticide products” under the Federal Insecticide, Fungicide and Rodenticide Act, a designation given when the risk to the public and the environment is low enough to not require all the data and review necessary for registration.

Allicin is an active ingredient in garlic that has antibacterial, antifungal, antiviral and antiprotozoal activity. It also acts as a natural insect repellent. After consuming garlic, animals will secrete the allicin, which cannot be metabolized. The familiar, pungent garlic odor is emitted through the animals’ skin and breath and makes them less appealing to flies.

The head, neck, back line and tail head are where the greatest repellent effect is seen. The effect will be influenced by level of intake as well as weather and environmental conditions.

Anecdotal evidence from producers using garlic-enhanced salt or mineral seems to be positive. And while there is limited formal research on garlic, the few existing studies have consistently shown fewer flies when cattle were fed supplements containing garlic. Most reports indicate results in the 40% to 60% reduction.

Garlic has also shown some effect on repelling ticks. A 2017 article in the International Journal of Acarology (the study of mites and ticks), reported that a water-based solution with garlic concentration of 25% can be safely applied on animals to remove ticks and 10% to prevent ticks from attacking animals for a period up to a week.

While any reduction is good, keep in mind that the EPA says a compound needs to control more than 90% of targeted pests to be considered a conventional insecticide.

In response to requests for MFA minerals with garlic, we have added the ingredient to several versions of our popular MFA Ricochet FesQ Max mineral with Shield Technology. Some of these garlic products are floor-stocked at our feed mills while others require a minimum 2-ton order. Check with your local MFA manager or livestock representative for product availability.

Plant-derived bioactive compounds such as allicin typically exhibit short residual activity, which can be seen as an advantage or disadvantage, depending on who is buying the drinks. It’s important to remember that garlic only works as a repellent and does not kill insects. Producers wanting to reduce the impact that flies have on their cattle herds need to tackle the problem with a multi-faceted approach, both internally and externally.

Even when using products containing garlic, producers should also consider feeding an insect growth regulator in mineral to interrupt the flies’ life cycle and reduce future population numbers. External fly-control measures can include insecticide sprays, dusts, backrubbers or oilers. Using multiple modes of action helps prevent or delay development of resistance by pest populations.

Bottom line, bioactive botanical compounds such as the allicin in garlic are not a cure-all for controlling horn flies, stable flies or ticks, but they may offer environmentally friendly alternatives to synthetic pesticides and improve upon safety and resistance buildup. These advantages, and the variety of available compounds, are potentially valuable tools for an integrated pest management program. We’ll likely see more development and research in this area.

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Black vultures: friend or foe?

If you reside in Southern Missouri, the words “black vultures” are prob­ably not new to you or the folks at the local coffee shop. They’ve been in this neck of the woods for several years, but residents further north have recently noticed their expan­sion and increasing population. In particular, livestock producers are concerned because black vultures have earned a reputation for attack­ing live calves.

These birds are different than the red-headed turkey vulture that we are all accustomed to seeing throughout Missouri. The black vul­ture has a black body with a naked black head and is a bit smaller than its turkey vulture cousin. Both feed on dead and decaying animals. The difference between the two is that black vultures will attack live animals that are injured or unable to escape. Although this problem is not very common, it does happen. When it happens to your herd, it becomes personal.

The black vulture’s range spans from South America all the way to the Southeast United States and recently into Missouri. Making the issue more complicated is the fact that black vultures are federally protected through the Migratory Bird Treaty Act of 1918. This protection makes it illegal to harm or kill a vulture without a permit. However, there are legal ways to deal with black vultures if they become a nuisance on your farm.

If possible, avoidance or deter­rence is the first line of defense as well as the easiest and most cost-effective method—especially if black vultures have not been spotted on your farm. Try to avoid calving or having other livestock born in an area away from people. Instead, use an area closer to the barn or house where there’s more human activity. If a black vulture population is known to exist on your property, try using loud noise­makers like firecrackers or shining laser lights during the evening to scare the pesky birds on their roost. This can keep them from using your property.

The best method is to use a replica of a vulture or an actual dead vulture (with permit) as an effigy, which serves as a warning to the other predatory birds. Effigies need to be high enough to be seen from a distance and should be hung upside-down by the legs with wings splayed. Placing these around roost sites can be very effective, but it also can cause the birds to become habituated to the effigies, and another method of deterrence might need to be used.

The last method to deal with black vultures is a depredation permit. This should be used as a last resort unless imminent harm is being caused to livestock. Livestock producers can obtain a depreda­tion permit through Missouri Farm Bureau by contacting 573-893- 1416. Approved applicants will be allowed to kill up to three birds with the permit.

If a black vulture has killed livestock on your operation, with proper documentation the USDA Farm Service Agency’s Livestock Indemnity Program may provide reimbursement for that loss. Con­tact your local FSA office for more information.

There are many other resources in the state that can assist you with more information or actions to take if black vultures are a problem on your farm. USDA’s Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service is responsible for responding to conflicts in the state due to migratory birds. If you are having problems with black vultures or would like more assistance, contact APHIS Wildlife Services State Office in Columbia at 573-449-3033, ext. 10. The University of Missouri Extension has a great website with more information at

It should be mentioned that vultures play a vital role in main­taining a healthy ecosystem by consuming and helping with the decaying process of dead animals and reducing the spread of diseases in the environment. Animal scaven­gers, whether in the sky or on the land, are sometimes recognized as animals of no value, but without them, this world would look a lot different—and not for the better.

If you are concerned about black vultures on your property, it’s im­portant to have a good plan in place. Talk with professionals or produc­ers who have dealt with these pests before and can share suggestions on the best tactics to combat them.

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Too much N can do cattle in

Nitrogen is crucial for plant growth. However, too much plant nitrogen—specifically too much plant nitrogen in the wrong form— can be deadly to cattle.

As spring arrives, producers should be particularly vigilant about potential issues. Plants naturally take up nitrogen from the soil and use it for photosynthesis. Young, growing plants are most likely to accumulate nitrates, especially if subjected to stress, such as a late frost.

Nitrate poisoning can result if livestock consume forages with excessive nitrate levels. Here’s what happens. Rumen activity breaks down the nitrate (NO3) into nitrite (NO2), which has one less oxygen molecule. Nitrite is the real cause of “nitrate” poisoning. Nitrite enters the bloodstream and alters the oxygen-carrying process, resulting in reduced oxygen supply to the body. Nitrites also dilate blood vessels, further complicating oxygen transport.

Symptoms of nitrate poisoning in animals include rapid or difficult breathing, dark-colored blood, muscle tremors, drooling, abortions, lower production/growth, frequent urination, poor appetite and diarrhea. It can even lead to death.

If animals consume low levels of nitrates, they can usually handle it with no ill effects. The trouble arises when they are fed elevated levels of nitrates. Understanding nitrate’s role in the plant and when levels may be high can help avoid this problem.

Grass pastures respond well to nitrogen applications. Nitrate, the form of nitrogen that plants prefer, is water soluble and absorbed mainly through the roots. In the presence of sunlight, the plant metabolizes nitrogen into amino acids and proteins. Disrupting the normal cycle can cause excessive nitrate because uptake from the soil will be faster than the plant’s metabolism.

Nutrient management plans for livestock operations often use manure applications to return nitrogen to the soil. Equipment should be calibrated so you know how much manure is being applied, taking care to avoid over-application. If manure was applied in the fall, perform a nitrate test the next spring to evaluate how much nitrogen is available for the coming crop. If you sidedress during the growing season, a nitrate test prior to application can determine how much N is needed.

While important, the amount of nitrate in the soil is not the only indicator of how much nitrate will be in the harvested forage. Plants that are stressed during the growing season, whether by insects, diseases, weather or other factors, could have higher nitrates when harvested. If you can minimize plant stress during the growing season, you should have fewer problems with excess nitrate.

When nitrates are a concern, harvest on bright sunny days, and avoid harvesting during long cloudy stretches. The lower stalk tends to have higher levels of nitrates. Raising the cutter bar can help keep the stems out of harvested material.

Likewise, don’t harvest three to five days after a drought-breaking rain. In this situation, the crop may gladly take up excess nitrogen, but if harvested too soon, the forage will not have had time to convert the nitrates. Similarly, frost can trap nitrates in the plant, so avoid harvesting immediately afterward.

If you are concerned that the forage may be high in nitrates, consider ensiling it, which can decrease nitrate levels by 33% to 50%. The wetter the forage that is ensiled and the more extensive the fermentation, the greater the reduction in nitrate levels.

Just like you wouldn’t harvest immediately after a frost or drought-breaking rain, avoid grazing the crop in those conditions. If that timing cannot be avoided, offer a safe feed to your animals first so they do not overconsume the high-nitrate forage.

When grazing, cattle will tend to not eat the lower stalk of the plant, which, again, is where nitrates accumulate. Having animals consume 50% to 65% of the forage will minimize the risk. Forcing animals to clean up all the forage can be trouble, especially if they don’t all eat at once. The first cows eat the leaves, increasing the percentage of stalks. A cow late to the party gets a higher nitrate load.

If excess nitrogen is suspected, it is important to do a forage test. Nitrate levels should be considered based on the total diet, including water, which can contain a significant amount of nitrates.

A nitrate value of less than 2,500 parts per million (ppm) is typically considered safe. If forages have over 4,500 ppm of nitrates, caution should be taken, especially when feeding young or pregnant animals. Monitor animals for signs and symptoms of nitrate poisoning.

Nitrogen is both a need for forage production and a risk to cattle, so careful management is important. Visit with your MFA livestock and agronomy specialists for more information on how to keep both plants and animals healthy and thriving this spring.

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Base grazing decisions on these five principles

While it is possible to put cattle in any fenced pasture area with a water source and say, “Good luck cattle. Good luck pasture. Try not to be too apparent in your needs,” that’s not smart pasture management. Effective grazing requires thought and effort, and the payoffs are worth it. Well-managed pastures perform favorably year after year, providing valuable forage for the herd. Poorly managed pastures are at risk of weed infestations, inadequate nutrition and forage degradation.

Pastures in MFA territory vary dramatically. Some are native grasslands with species such as switchgrass, bluestem, Indiangrass, gammagrass and others. Many pastures are cool-season mixtures of grass and legumes, such as fescue with clover. Others are summer annual monocultures such as sudangrass.

Each of these different types of pastures can have different issues. For example, there are concerns about bloat with alfalfa or prussic acid with sorghums. There are also many grazing systems to evaluate, such as rest-rotation, adaptive multi-paddock, intensive or strip grazing, each with its own strengths and weaknesses.

Pasture management must take into account the specific considerations for your forage type and operation goals, but there are several universal principles, as outlined by the Beef Cattle Research Council. Your choices in these considerations will directly influence forage yield and pasture productivity.

1. Don’t overstock.

2. Spread grazing pressure across the entire pasture.

3. Have adequate rest for each pasture.

4. Do not start grazing too early.

5. Maintain adequate litter cover and account for nutrient removal.

First, avoid the tendency to overstock the pasture. Ensure that the forage supply is adequate for the animal demand. To do this, you will need to consider the number of cattle present as well as the length of time they will be grazing. In addition, remember to account for trampling, wildlife and insect damage. Typical guidelines recommend a utilization rate of 25% to 50% for native pastures and 50% to 75% for tame pastures. These ranges allow the pasture to sustain itself from year to year.

Second, spread grazing pressure across the pasture. Cattle will selectively graze the tasty, productive areas and will likely avoid hilltops where forage quality may be lower. The goal is to spread grazing pressure across the whole pasture, which helps maintain forage health and lessens the risk of overgrazing the most productive areas.

You can get cattle to graze in a relatively uniform way by using a variety of methods. Popular options include strategically installing temporary or permanent fencing, placing mineral and salt, and locating stock watering stations to encourage cattle to graze the whole area.

Third, ensure enough rest to allow pasture plants to recover. Forage plants need adequate time to replenish their energy reserves. Without it, their productivity will decrease and pastures will be vulnerable to winterkill, weed invasion and soil erosion.

Fourth, do not graze too early. It is tempting to want to get cattle out on forage as soon as possible, but grazing before a pasture is ready can set it back dramatically. Within reason, the rough guide is that for every day you defer grazing in the spring, you’ll get back two days of grazing in the fall.

Finally, allow pastures to retain adequate litter cover. Litter includes forage residuals left over from the previous growing seasons. Litter is important for both native and tame pastures. This plant residue insulates the soil, keeping it cooler in the summer and warmer in the winter. Litter reduces water loss due to evaporation and lessens soil erosion, and, as it decomposes, returns nutrients to the soil.

If you base pasture management on these five principles, you can help maintain forage productivity, ensure stand longevity, sustain a healthy plant community, conserve water and protect soils. Visit with your MFA livestock specialists for more information on effectively implementing these practices in your operation.

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Four key components of effective fly control

Flies are a nuisance. They are irritating to cattle, horses, stock dogs and, of course, humans. More concerning, they are also vectors for diseases. An integrated pest management program (IPM) is important to control fly popula­tions. Effective fly management is especially critical in feeding oper­ations and dairies because of their confined nature.

No one practice is sufficient to control flies. Effective IPM plans use a variety of practices and control methods to keep fly populations in check, and these measures should start well before fly season begins. There are four important branch­es of an IPM program: cultural, physical, biological and chemical. While each branch is important, the cultural and physical branches are the fundamental components of fly control.

Cultural practices make a world of difference in fly management. These practices include manure management, regular cleaning of spilled milk and feed, removal of vegetative buildup and soiled or de­caying bedding in cattle areas, and landscape maintenance. Removing these breeding sites for flies dramat­ically reduces their population in a cattle operation.

Additional cultural elements also help fly control. These prac­tices include removing tall grasses and weeds, where flies can rest in the plants, regularly cleaning and moving calf hutches and pens, and ensuring that pens are well venti­lated.

Physical efforts are perhaps the most obvious method of fly control, though it is not always the easi­est. Structures and facilities can be designed to deny flies access to locations, or at least make the areas less hospitable for them. Patching or sealing cracks in structures, in­stalling mesh screens over windows, and sealing around electrical outlets can close off entry points for flies. Installing fans that provide a down­ward and outward air flow reduces fly activity in buildings. Addition­ally, consider strategically placing non-insecticidal sticky, jug or bag traps to aid these efforts.

Biological control involves harnessing the power of natural predators of flies. Parasitic wasps, predatory mites, predatory beetles and fly pathogens are all used to control flies. These methods interrupt the lifecycle of the fly. For instance, predatory beetles feed on fly larvae found in dung, while parasitic wasps lay their eggs inside fly pupae.

Chemical control is the final component of a well-managed four-branched IPM program. Most producers are familiar with the conventional chemical control methods for flies. These include foggers, baits, perimeter sprays and on-animal treatments. When using these products, remember to rotate active ingredients so flies do not become resistant. This is most important with baits.

Chemical control also includes feed-through insect growth regula­tors (IGRs). Feed-through products prevent the emergence of adult flies. These products work by delivering an important active ingredient di­rectly to cattle, where it is eventual­ly passed into the animal’s manure. Flies then lay their eggs on the manure, and the IGR interferes with the lifecycle of the fly. This process prevents biting, breeding adult flies from developing out of the eggs laid in the manure.

A common free-choice MFA cattle mineral used for controlling horn flies on pasture cattle is Ricochet Altosid IGR Shield Mineral. Another IGR is Clarifly, with the active ingredient diflubenzuron, which has a label for four species of flies. It is fed to confined cattle and also approved for swine, horses, goats and sheep.

To use a feed-through product, begin feeding a product about a month before flies begin to appear and continue until about a month after the first frost. This program of 30 days on each side of fly season suppresses fly activity early and reduces overwintering pupae. If a feed-through product is started late, after flies are already active, additional fly control measures will be required. Feed the product to animals of all ages to treat as much manure as possible.

As you implement an IPM plan, monitor its effectiveness. Evaluate fly populations throughout your operation with traps and speck cards. Record which steps are successful and where additional improvement is needed. By carefully evaluating your IPM program, you can make appropriate adjustments as needed.

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