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Fly Control Requires A Little "Ugly" In Our PasturesFly Control Requires A Little "Ugly" In Our Pastures

Controlled grazing to set nature right will give you a big boost in fly control that costs you nothing.

R. P. 'Doc' Cooke

September 4, 2014

3 Min Read


Recently I threw together some thoughts concerning fly control that I have learned over the past several decades. This led me to remember that highly profitable and efficient pastures require some ugly.

When I call pastures ugly I am talking about the opposite of the “golf course look.” Our pastures are not ugly to me because they show most of the characteristics required by a wide variety of birds and wildlife. There is wide diversity in plants and plant maturity. There are lots of different grasses, legumes, forbs, herbs and brush.  There are lots of nesting sites everywhere.  Come to think of it, I would not recommend coming here barelegged.

This is the opposite of most pastures I see in our area, or most other places I travel, for that matter. Most pastures I see are short, have clean fence rows and are near sterile due to lack of plant diversity and loss of cover. They are almost completely lacking in birds and wildlife. They are low in cattle production, and are slowly becoming less productive every year. The manure hangs around for months. When it rains it floods. A few days later the ground is dry and hard. They are drought-prone. You probably get the picture.

Birds are supposed to be the big initial cleaner of pastures. If you do not have a lot of birds, your pastures are dirty and will stay that way or get worse. Birds require nesting sites that are not disturbed for the six to eight or more weeks they require to lay, hatch and raise their young. The birds must have food and water close to those nesting sites (200-300 feet). The food should be bugs during the warm season and seeds during the winter.

Birds love it when cattle that are grazed in high density in tall, diverse pastures, with lots of cover and  small trails, bugs, and seeds close to their home.

If you have good bird populations, within 5 to 10 days after the cattle leave a paddock, 80% of the manure has been heavily processed into the ground and is no longer in sight. Then the sun and rain can finish the job.

When manure is processed quickly and followed by complete recovery most all parasites including flies become a non-economic factor. Manure composting or processing changes daily, weekly and seasonally as does the nature and texture of the soil.

We're far enough south that during the winter, the soil microbe activity is moving right along. If the manure has limited moisture and stacks two to four inches and is well mineralized the earth worms are our major winter composter, beginning several days to a week or more following manure contact with the ground.

If there are seeds and/or a little corn in the manure the crows and turkeys become our allies. They scratch, pick, scatter, aerate and dry the dung. The dung beetles are hibernating but there are other beetles present. Then comes the earth worms (red wigglers, night crawlers, and more) and the manure gets processed.

Come spring we have ants, but not fire ants. Fire ants have not made it to our pastures yet. Ants are a major manure processor in warm weather. As soon as the dung beetles have dried the manure and the birds have done their job, here come the ants. Fly larvae do not have a chance in this situation.

Remember that all this activity and work is governed by time and animal density. Macrobes do not appreciate cattle chronically walking around on their houses. The take-home message is high density and short time. A little moisture, good litter and soil temperatures are important, as is animal impact and ground disturbance.

When everything comes together the natural system is a work of art. Actually it is a work of the Lord, but we have to set the stage for the system to function.

About the Author(s)

R. P. 'Doc' Cooke


R. P. "Doc" Cooke, DVM, is a mostly retired veterinarian from Sparta, Tennessee. Doc has been in the cattle business since the late 1970s and figures he's driven 800,000 miles, mostly at night, while practicing food animal medicine and surgery in five counties in the Upper Cumberland area of middle Tennessee. He says all those miles schooled him well in "man-made mistakes" and that his age and experiences have allowed him to be mentored by the area’s most fruitful and unfruitful "old timers." Doc believes these relationships provided him unfair advantages in thought and the opportunity to steal others’ ideas and tweak them to fit his operations. Today most of his veterinary work is telephone consultation with graziers in five or six states. He also writes and hosts ranching schools. He is a big believer in having fun while ranching but is serious about business and other producers’ questions. Doc’s operation, 499 Cattle Company, now has an annual stocking rate of about 500 pounds beef per acre of pasture and he grazes 12 months each year with no hay or farm equipment and less than two pounds of daily supplement. You can reach him by cell phone at (931) 256-0928 or at [email protected].

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