When you scoop up a handful of cattle feed normally, you will smell scents of molasses, bread (from the distiller’s grain) and hay. However, during fly season you might smell garlic. Fly season is one of many seasons farmers and ranchers have in addition to the traditional four. From late spring through fall, we are working to minimize the impact of fly activity on our cattle.

Flies annoy cattle by biting and buzzing around the face. Flies around the face can also spread pink eye from one animal to another. In addition, when cattle are annoyed by flies, they don’t lay down and rest which can impact overall health. 

Feedlots like ours also spend a lot of time managing the manure in the pens to help control flies. Because flies lay eggs in wet manure we do our best to gather manure, haul it out of the pens and stockpile it. That manure is then hauled to various farms to be used on next year’s crop as organic fertilizer. We also utilize fly larvae parasites in wet manure and other places flies like to lay eggs. Those parasites eat the larvae preventing more flies from hatching. Other fly control methods include spreading fly bait where flies congregate and using spray in buildings.

Last summer, we decided to add garlic to our supplement as another way to control flies. The garlic is mixed in our liquid supplement at a plant near Palmer, Nebraska. Studies have shown the use of garlic in the feed helps to keep flies away from the face area and perhaps other parts of the body. We had very few eye problems last year and decided to add the garlic again this year.

How does garlic work? Garlic powder is a combination of volatile sulfur-based bioactive compounds that provide insect repellant properties. It is believed that the strong odors emitted from the skin come from the garlic compounds metabolized after the cattle consume the garlic-based feed. The scents of the garlic are transported in the blood and emitted from the skin.  This odor is not appealing to flies, and therefore works as a repellant. 

Feeding garlic to our cattle is one of the many tools we have found effective to control the impact of flies on cattle health and comfort. This is one of the many innovations that research on cattle health has helped us become better stewards for our animals.

Will garlic work for you and me to reduce those annoying insects when we are enjoying our gardens and outdoor activities with our families? I don’t have scientific studies for you on that, so stay with the bug spray you like the most and maybe try your own experiment with garlic!