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Fly Control and Pinkeye Options


Updated: April 10, 2009


Flies can be a major problem in many areas and can stress and affect animals enough that they can lose up to 50 lbs. of gain in one season. Flies can also be the main culprit for spreading pink eye through a herd.  This can obviously be very costly for a producer.


There are several available products and techniques available to help control horn and face flies. These include: dust bags, rubs, pour-ons, ear tags, biologic controls and feed supplements.  Using one of these products or a combination of these products can greatly reduce fly population numbers and increase your cattle’s gain and profit. Which product or combination of products can depend on the type of operation, convenience of treatments and costs for each ranch.


Dust Bags and rubs are great for early season control, full season reduction, or control after another control method has been administered. It is critical that the bags be positioned in a place the cattle will have easy access to and regularly visit to ensure adequate contact and application of the powder. These may need to be refilled on a fairly regular basis one to two weeks depending on usage and also after major rain storms.

The cattle will have to also learn that by using these, flies will pester them less.


Feed supplements are good seasonal controls and can normally be added to most mineral or feed mixes that are currently used for your herd. The important point when using a feed supplement is to put it out early and continue to keep it available to the cattle throughout the entire fly season. Methoprene is one of the most commonly used supplements and can be added to a mineral mix. For cows a slightly lower concentration is generally needed due to increased consumption. 


Pour-Ons are good tools for short term control or knocking down the fly population. The effects of one application can last from 2-6 weeks. The duration of effect depends on how much the cattle are rubbing, the amount or frequency of rain, etc.


Fly Control Ear Tags can serve as a great full season fly control device. However they should not be applied too early in the spring as this can lead to flies becoming resistant and must be removed in the fall to also help prevent flies from becoming resistant. Annual or biannual rotation of fly tags is also recommended to maximize control. This is rotating between pyrethroid based tags and organophosphate based tags. For maximum benefit follow manufacturer’s instructions as some may require a tag in both ears for optimal face fly control.


A good first step in controlling or preventing large outbreaks of pink eye is a good fly control program. However, at times this may not be enough.  If this is the case for your operation then there are currently several vaccines available to help reduce the incidents of pink eye in your herd.


Several commercial vaccines are available including:

 Pinkeye Shield XT4 by Novartis which contains four different strains of Moraxella bovis.


Ocu-guard MB-1 by Boehringer Ingelheim which contains eight different strains of Moraxella bovis.


Both vaccines have good cross protection against most strains of Moraxella bovis, Also both are one dose vaccines so a booster is not required.  If they do not appear to protect your herd autogenous vaccines can be made and are generally comparable in cost to the commercially available ones.  The sheep strain or Moraxella ovis seems to be increasing the past few years and there is currently no commercially available vaccine for it thus requiring that an autogenous vaccine be produced.


Treatment:  If an animal is infected with pinkeye early treatment is best. Ideally the animal is isolated to reduce the spread to other herd or pen mates. If this is not feasible good fly control and/or an eye patch can help reduce the spread.


Several treatment options are available including systemic antibiotic injections such as:  3 day oxytetracycline such as LA200, Biomycin, or generic versions.  One or two  injections will be required depending on severity of the disease.  With Tetradure or the generic variety (7 day oxytetracycline) one injection should be adequate.  Nuflor (4 day florfenacol) usually works with a single injection also.


Topical antibiotics can be used but generally this is not practical for most producers as the sole treatment.  Usually 3 or 4 treatments per day for 3 or 4 days are required.


Subconjuctival eye injection with penicillin or a combination of penicillin and dexamethasone is inexpensive as only 1 to 2 ml are used but in severe cases a second injection is usually required.  The technique also needs to be performed properly for this to work.


Eye patches can also be applied to protect the eye and reduce fly irritation.