Reduced Pesticide Fly Control in Feedlots and Native Rangeland to Conserve Dung Beetles and Benefit Beef and Sheep Production

2015 Annual Report for FNC14-977

Project Type: Farmer/Rancher
Funds awarded in 2014: $21,287.00
Projected End Date: 12/31/2015
Region: North Central
State: South Dakota
Project Coordinator:
Linda Simmons
Whetstone Grazing, LLC
Peter Bauman
South Dakota State University

Reduced Pesticide Fly Control in Feedlots and Native Rangeland to Conserve Dung Beetles and Benefit Beef and Sheep Production


Reduced pesticide can pay when livestock pests are kept in check by other means

Research has proven that beneficial insects contribute to production by controlling parasites, preying on pests, breaking down waste into plant nutrients, and supporting the rangeland ecosystem that produces most of the forage for livestock.  Certain pesticide applications cripple these valuable insect services.  This hidden cost of pesticide applications is harmful to the ranch/farm.

The project provides an example of how being informed about the full effects of pesticides and the full range of non-chemical controls makes a more profitable and more sustainable ranch/farm possible.   Because resistance to chemical control of pests already exists and is accelerating, fewer pesticides and more biological control often equals an overall more profitable pest control program. The ranch/farm examples in the project support this idea.

Vermicides (pesticides for control of internal parasites), especially macrocyclic lactones, are used extensively in the project region with no monitoring of their need or effectiveness. As an example of hidden costs; the macrocyclic lactones in use are proven to damage dung community organisms especially dung beetles.  Dung beetles are estimated to reduce parasites at pasture by 80%.  Nutrient recycling, parasite reduction and disease control from dung beetles breaking down manure pats quickly all have a real monetary value to individual producers. All of the fecal egg count results in the project supported the conjecture that a pasture where dung beetles are common gives cattle fewer parasites. Five out of 5 suckling calves with no parasites evident and  4 out of 5 suckling calves with no coccidian (Elymeria) were reported in the project in 2014 when dung beetle populations appeared highest. Coccidia load is a major disease factor in cattle production. If a producer has such extremely low parasite counts with dung beetles it would be a financial shame to apply pesticide to kill parasites that aren’t there while killing the dung beetles that had been controlling the parasites. In northeastern South Dakota it is possible to apply a chemical wormer and end up with more worms and more pest flies in the long run. Publicizing this very common mistake is an important part of this project.  This project helps expand the conversation about pesticides used on livestock.

Saving money by using less pesticide can increase production and profits. The viability of the livestock producer’s business is the final result of all the land’s output minus all the operator’s inputs. Pesticide treatment/benefit cost calculations should put value on the beneficial insect population in order to be accurate.  Cost/benefit calculations should also compare the value of non-chemical treatments for the same problem.

In the course of this project the need for a planning and assessment guide for cattle and sheep raisers to do their own pest and beneficial insect monitoring became apparent. The project encountered the same obstacles a producer encounters in trying to accurately use and value methods for controlling pests. So, a producer guide to dung beetle and fly assessment was added to performance objectives.  

The ranchers and land managers at the field day proved that a lot of producers value the species in the rangeland ecosystem for their contribution to the whole.  They also realize that ways to connect their observations on their land in a scientific way are lacking. Basic questions about the biological controls of pests and the other benefits from the natural inhabitants of the livestock/ farm/ rangeland system go unanswered only because producers don’t have effective ways of counting them.  Producers are motivated to monitor the health of beneficial insects on their lands but have almost no practical tools they can use on their own. In the end, quantity of research and publications and label directions do not make a practice useful to the farm, individual circumstances of biology and values must be considered.  

This project hopes to promote livestock enterprises by promoting a northeastern South Dakota method for monitoring and managing both fly pests and dung beetles for long term profits on livestock.

Objectives/Performance Targets

For producers, by producers with help from researchers
  1. Producers need to do their own science/research and to share it because the gap between public research and daily management decisions is too wide and still growing wider. For instance, research on the killing power of pesticides and vermicides is accessible on every product label but very little research on resistance and damage to non-target species is available to producers. In order to do their own research and make business decisions producers need research tools. With the help of Jacob Pecenka, SDSU graduate assistant to Dr. Jon Lundgren ARS/USDA/SDSU/Blue Dasher Farms instructions for building a home dung insect lab will be available through a project publication in February. The publication will include advice for setting up useful observations of cattle dung pats, horn fly populations and pressure on cattle in an easy and organized way for long-term producer records.  Marking cattle pats at pasture is essential in learning how fast organisms break down the pats, but it turned out to be a very difficult task until some methods were derived. 
  2. Producers’ questions and concerns need to be brought to pesticide manufacturers, veterinarians, fellow producers and directors of public research.
  3. Feasibility of the Walk Through Horn Fly Trap and the Nzi trap needs to be assessed using photos, videos and comments from actual deployment of the traps during the project.
  4. Simple spreadsheets need to be developed so producers have a framework for valuing the economic return that their land’s ecosystem services deliver. Beneficial insects deserve a place on an operation’s balance sheet because they have a true value to livestock production just like good soil types or high range condition so a special eco-economic balance sheet needs to be published so producers can begin to place true value on these.
  5. Additional tips and hints to the publicly available Walk Through Horn Fly Trap and Nzi trap need to be written and published so that producers can more easily build these traps. Helpful advice and photos about the use of the traps shall be included.


Remarkable performance from light use of the Walk Through Horn Fly Trap
Project manager comments:
  • Marking pats, an essential thing that is much much harder than it sounds. method finally derived!
  • Need recording forms and legitimate data collection methods that are easy, straightforward, and don’t require expensive equipment.
  • Professional research has not answered many of the questions for northeastern South Dakota.
  • Research needs to reach producers and the professionals who work for them.
  • Northeastern South Dakota is similar to large parts of North Dakota and Minnesota  

It’s important to develop new ways for land managers to do their own science/research and to share it because the gap between public research and daily management decisions is too wide and still growing wider. For instance, research on the killing power of pesticides and vermicides is accessible on every product label but research on resistance and damage to non-target species is known only to an elite.     

There are research methods for finding and counting beneficial insects and for detecting pesticide resistance, etc. but managers need the answers to the questions on their land for their animals on a daily basis.  During this project it became clear that no recommendations of doing research on the failure of pesticides and the success of beneficial insects existed for producers to use on their own land.  Simple discoveries such as the development of pesticide resistance in a producer’s feedlot, pasture or barn can be made if the producer has the tools.     

In the course of this project the need for a planning guide for cattle and sheep raisers to do their own pest and beneficial insect monitoring became apparent. The project encountered the same obstacles a producer encounters in trying to use sustainable methods for controlling pests and develop the parts of the ecosystem that enhance production. 

Great learning value in mistakes:  A substitute veterinarian for the cow calf herd in the project applied an ivomec-based product for the control of lice on beef cows twice in the month of March.  The application of ivomec products in early spring had been avoided in that herd for 3 years prior to 2015 but a mistake was made.  This kind of mistake is entirely due to using the information on the vermicide/pesticide label and no other information of any kind, not even a cost benefit review. As is common with many pesticide/vermicide chemical applications, the chosen chemical was a more expensive way to control lice (2.98 per head) than less harmful chemical alternatives(.78 per head). Resistance of lice to ivomec pour-ons had been encountered by the project veterinarian but not by the substitute veterinarian and so only product label information was considered by the substitute.           

A very very low number of dung beetles was reported in the dung of those cattle treated with the ivomec product. By September beetle numbers had increased.  Whether dung beetle numbers recovered enough to fulfill the needs of a fully productive cattle/grass system isn’t known.  Fortunately, SDSU in cooperation with ARS of Brookings had funded a graduate student to do research on dung beetles in northeastern South Dakota and the project sites included the Simmons/Rethke rangeland, and the Simmons rangeland, in addition to some sites outside the SARE project that did not receive ivomec contaminated cattle in 2015. Those results should be available for the final report on this project.          

In spite of ivomec product contamination and incomplete employment of the Walk Through Horn Fly Trap and NZI traps, horn flies and stable flies were kept below treatment threshholds at all sites so spray application on the livestock was not needed. In the Whetstone cow calf herd insecticide ear tags were only used on the mineral feeders after August 5th to reduce faceflies. The project raised good questions on the real possibility of using non-chemical control such as traps to reduce fly pests and the real possibility that dung beetles and other natural dung organisms can keep pasture calf parasite levels near zero.  Combining grazing rotation with the other practices possibly created a suite of sustainable pest controls that could work in most beef operations.

  • Project reaction to producer input: right questions need a way to be answered so a research manual for producers was added to performance objectives.
  • Samples collected
  • Field day held
  • Producer input received
  • Effectiveness of fly traps shown
  • Nzi Traps built and deployed late but still attracted and trapped stable flies and other species.
  • Walk through horn fly trap used on 89 head of cows and four bulls.
  • In spite of ivomec product contamination and  late employment of walk through horn fly trap and NZI traps the horn flies and stable flies were kept below treatment threshholds at all cattle sites so spray application on the were not needed. No “pour on” was used. In the Whetstone cow calf herd the only insecticide used was 10 ear tags hung on mineral feeders from August 5th to September 15th 2015  to reduce face flies.  Use of ear tags in this way is an innovation of the project. Pesticide use was cut dramatically and animal comfort and production did not suffer, but increased instead. 
  • The field day was very successful and the videos from the field day are available on youtube.
  • All information needed to finish a producer’s manual for on farm research was collected.
  • Sampling performed, Contacts made, awareness raised, walk through horn fly control box deployed successfully, pesticides for flies reduced, usefulness of fecal egg counts proved.
  • Research reached producers thanks to Jacob Pecenka’s presentation at the field day.

Impacts and Contributions/Outcomes

Build it, they will come

Beef and sheep producers in the project area, northeastern South Dakota, have intense interest in managing horn flies and other pests of cattle and sheep.  Attendance at the project field day was amazing considering  the busy season surrounding the date, June 18, 2015. Over 30 participants attended. Their interest reflects the economic impact of pests but also the common knowledge of pesticide failures and harmfulness in the way pesticides are used. A distinct set of conservation values exists among ranchers that connects a diverse and healthy native plant community with livestock health and production.        

Non-chemical control of fly pests on cattle has always been used, but when pesticides became readily available and cheap the advancement of non-chemical controls nearly stopped. The introduction of horn flies and face flies from Europe to the Midwest and Western United States in the mid 1900’s created a major expense to rangeland cattle enterprises. The native dung beetles were not in balance with the new pests or the manure of domestic cattle. Species of dung beetles from Europe made their appearance in the U.S. but overall little was known about dung beetles and other dung community insects.  The life cycle of many cattle pests, especially horn flies and face flies, includes some time in manure pats at pasture, but breaking the life cycle of the pest by fostering a healthy population of dung busting insects wasn’t a common concept. The average producer was inundated by information on fly sprays, “pour-ons” and drenches.  USDA approved research and labeling so these products were consistent and mostly safe using label instructions.  Very little was known about the costly side effects of pesticides.

When flies and parasites began to show resistance to chemical controls in the 1970’s interest in non-chemical control was renewed. Personnel at the University of Missouri built a “Bruce style walk through horn fly trap” for cattle and proved it’s usefulness. The Nzi trap was developed and studied in several countries including Canada and Africa. It was useful in trapping a wide variety of fly species, mostly pests and is now used extensively in Africa. These two types of fly traps were constructed and used in this project.

I think that by building the first “Walk Through Horn Fly Trap in South Dakota” — possibly the only one in the Midwest — and using it with commercial beef cattle, the project has proved the feasibility of this non-chemical control that has plans available to the public for free. The project definitely brought to light some serious gaps in the information chains to producers. The information gathered can definitely help bridge the gap. And it is fortunate that the project can highlight the research by Jacob Pecenka of SDSU under his advisor Dr. J Lundgren USDA/ARS of Brookings.     

The most significant project finding might be that dung beetles and golden dung flies (a beneficial insect that parasitises fly larvae) are active as late as October 20th. It is important for producers to know that the beneficial insects are active this late. Sometimes producers are told that beneficial insects would not be harmed by chemical applications in the fall because beneficial insects are no longer active.  This is obviously not the case.     

The economic impact of fly pests on livestock is undisputed and the great value of beneficial insects on a national scale is common knowledge. But, practices that enhance the producer ecosystem/ranch/farm toward best nutrient cycling, low pest levels, resiliency and especially, a highly diverse and abundant beneficial insect population are missing from the stream of information that reaches producers. My search as a producer provided proof that producers currently have few ways to collect information that relates to their northeast South Dakota land.  Two published dung beetle studies,techniques from the insect lab at the ARS building in Brookings, SD, and current research results on sites in northeastern South Dakota soon to be available through Dr. Lundgren, ARS/USDA Brookings, SD by graduate student Jacob Pecenka, were the only sources of information related to northeastern SD. Information from the world wide web while useful still lacked specifics for our project area.

The topic is under examination by professional scientists world wide, for example: “Anthelmintic Resistance and Alternative Control Methods Review Article” in professional journal Veterinary Clinics of North America: Food Animal Practice, Volume 22, Issue 3, November 2006, Pages 567-581 Thomas M. Craig and “Sustainable nematode parasite control strategies for ruminant livestock by grazing management and biological control” in Animal Feed Science and Technology, Volume 126, Issues 3–4, 9 March 2006, Pages 277-289 Peter J. Waller, document the problem of resistance but do not specify how a producer could detect, preserve and enhance beneficial insects in northeastern SD lands and farms. The access to the articles is also limited by their cost. A few university Extension publications address the topic but not beneficial insects as an important factor. For example,  The gap is not breached by the producer’s veterinarian, feed salesman, nutritionist. Published scientific Knowledge of dung beetles in northeastern South Dakota is nearly limited to two papers from the 1980’s.  The need for a free, published, accessible narrative example and guide for producers to assess their pest problems and the solutions provided in their own farm ecosystem is definite.      

The livestock production and the data collected on this project area is a great base for these needed publications.  The final months of the project from now until March 2016 will provide the time needed to write and review a narrative and a guide book for pest, beneficial insect and biological control options that were tried in 2014 and 2015.

Producer contributed documentation, specimens and samples are valuable information on the relationship between pest fly populations, beneficial insects and livestock management practices. This project opens a path for producers to gather their own information, create sustainable choices and manage for productive livestock.





Dan Snaza

313 Gause Ave
Milbank, SD 57252
Office Phone: 6054329114
Linda Simmons

[email protected]
14313 469th Ave
Twin Brooks, SD 57269-5314
Office Phone: (605) 432-6099