The battle against flies is constant, but there are ways to reduce these costly and irritating pests — without pesticides and toxic chemicals. One effective method is the Epps Biting Fly Trap, invented by a cattleman in Oklahoma. It is now made and marketed by Mark and Virginia Bonacquista of Horseline Products (www.horselineproducts.com)in Henderson, Tennessee. A growing number of stockmen and horse owners are using it to reduce fly problems in barnyards and pastures.
The trap, which uses a frame of black panels, clear transparent panels and a tray of water, is reported to control a wide range of biting pests such as horse flies, deer flies, stable flies, black flies, and mosquitoes over anywhere from a 20 to 40 acre area.
Alan Epps, who had about 250 cattle, came up with the idea after being frustrated by his inability to adequately control biting flies. “His steers were tormented by horse flies — the steers were miserable and bloody, and covered with welts from the bites,” says Bonacquista. “He’d tried everything, but nothing worked.”
For three years Epps experimented with different ideas and researched the habits of biting flies. Flies are attracted to the shape and silhouette of an animal, so Epps made a framework of wood to attract them. The frame contained a large contrasting surface area, utilizing a dark portion and some transparent panels to simulate the open space above an animal and under its belly — the areas where flies normally circle before landing to bite and feed. When the flies hit the transparent sheets they ricochet into trays of water and drown.
It was a great invention, which for several years was manufactured and marketed by a company called Farnam and later by Central Life Science until they closed their farm division in 2007. Bonacquista, appreciating how effective the trap was on his own operation, signed a contract with Epps to manufacture the traps himself.
“There were about 6,000 units already in use,” says Bonacquista. “After purchasing a unit, the only thing that ever needs replacing is the transparent sheets.”
It was Farnam’s entomologists who originally found the trap would attract and kill the flies in a 40-acre area, although Bonacquista is a bit more conservative, saying the trap is effective over about 20 acres.
The flies apparently confuse the black panels on the trap with a dark-colored animal. “Flies are more attracted to the dark cows and horses,” says Bonacquista. “They tend to fly around the animal two or three times before they attack. The two plastic sheets, on the trap, are on a 45-degree angle with the trap. That’s the only place there is light. The flies run into these sheets, thinking they are flying over the animal or around its legs. They hit the clear plastic sheets, fall into the water, and drown.”
A few drops of dishwashing soap in each tray, breaks the surface tension of the water so the insects sink and drown almost immediately.
“When we started using our trap, within less than a month we’d reduced our fly problem,” says Bonacquista. “Research showed that a trap kills, on average, about one pound of biting flies every day, although the actual amount will depend on the fly population in your area.
“Each year, our fly population is less. Now we’re only getting a pound of flies every week. When you start killing off half a million biting flies, it starts to make a dent in the population because they can’t reproduce that quickly.”
He points to a three-year research project at Cornell University, University of Florida and New York Pest Management. “One of the researchers told me our trap’s effectiveness was 10 to one compared to any other method they tried, looking at 15 other products,” says Bonacquista. “They also tested our trap for three years in upstate New York on dairy farms, looking at a non-chemical approach versus use of pesticides.”
The problem with pesticides, he says, is they only work short term and some insects develop resistance. Another drawback: many chemicals are toxic to other forms of life as well.
Fly predator wasps help control houseflies and stable flies that lay eggs in manure and rotting organic matter like old hay or bedding, but have no effect on horse flies and deer flies. The fly trap will kill any of the biting flies.
The trap costs $295. “This is a one-time investment,” he says. “I’ve talked with people who’ve had their traps since 1999 and they still work very well. You just need to replace the clear plastic sheets because they deteriorate, but those only cost $8. This is inexpensive, compared with what you’d spend for sprays, repellents and wipe-on products for horses, or for chemicals to treat cattle. Customers in regions with a long fly season may need to replace the sheets every year; in other areas the sheets might last for three years. Bonacquista replaces his every two years.
The traps work best when placed in an open area where flies see it from a distance. When set up, the trap is about five feet tall and seven feet long. All you have to do is scoop out the dead flies every other day or so with an aquarium net, add more water and soap if needed, and change the water every two weeks. Each tray holds about 3.5 gallons of water. There’s no messy bait to handle, and it doesn’t matter what kind of dish soap you use. If the trap is in a pasture or barnyard, you can put an electric wire around it so animals won’t rub on it or damage it.
Last year, Bonacquista started marketing a portable trap as well. Many ranchers are now using rotational grazing and want something they could move from pasture to pasture. The portable model has an aluminum frame (lightweight and easy to move) but is very durable, able to withstand 90 m. p. h. wind. Though it’s light, it won’t blow over.
Some of his customers move their cattle frequently — in an intensive grazing system — and they move the trap each time they move cattle to the next pasture.
For more information, check the website: www.horselineproducts.comor call 800-208-4846.
Heather Smith Thomas ranches with her husband Lynn near Salmon, Idaho. Contact her at 208-756-2841