Wednesday, August 11, 2010

Tractors never do this

Doc bolted right for me, as Bobby ran for cover and made me wonder if I should do the same thing.  He'd never been aggressive before, but...

Just as I was contemplating my fate, Doc spun 180 degrees and came to a screeching halt, presenting me with his enormous fanny just inches from my face.   Planted firmly above his tail was a small bird horsefly which I promptly slapped.  It made a satisfying "crunch" as the blood he'd been sucking splattered all over my arm.   Doc thanked me and looked quite relieved. 

This is fly season, which makes me glad I'm not a horse.  The horseflies around here approach 1.5" long, and seem to be especially bad this year.  The horseflies don't bother people too much, unlike the smaller deerflies that like to play "trampoline" on the back of my head.  They seem to be genetically programmed to only land in this spot, such that you never actually see them.  Even if the sun's not shining, I always curse myself for forgetting to put on a hat when they're around.

I had lots of things figured out before we started farming that haven't worked out too well in practice.  One of those things was the promotion of dung beetles.  Why are dung beetles such a big deal?   Because they bury cowpies and displace the face-fly maggots who otherwise inhabit them and grow up to harass every animal on the farm.  Most people unknowingly kill the beetles with wormers such as Ivermectin, and have never seen them.

I was quite excited last year to discover that we do have dung beetles, such as the rainbow scarabs shown here.  Tunnelers like these are the best, since they actually dispose of the cowpies by digging tunnels underneath and then packing them with egg filled dung balls.  Another type is the "dweller", which just lives out a life of bliss while crawling through the food it likes best.   I'm sure their world is very much like the "Land of Chocolate" envisioned by Homer Simpson.

I've done my best to avoid the use of dung-beetle killing wormers, but it just doesn't seem to do the trick.  They're around, but not in enough numbers to bury many cowpies.  Last year I blamed it on the arrival of Doc and Bruce (our draft horses), who had undoubtedly been wormed.  This year, Bobby (our driving horse) and Shasta (our newest cow) could be to blame.  Maybe the beetles will take over next year, but I'm not holding my breath.

We've got some organic fly spray, which is just a bunch of essential oils (cedar, cinnamon, thyme, etc) blended with mineral oil.  Doc knows what it's for, and lets me spray him down with it.  Bruce, on the other hand, runs away from me like a two-thousand pound sissy when he sees the sprayer.  The cows run away from the sprayer as well.  It ain't cheap, but it does seem to work for the animals who hold still long enough to let me douse them.  The conventional sprays all use permethrin/pyrethrin, which are actually quite dangerous neurotoxins, so I've been avoiding them. 

Let's all hope for a nice early killing frost!

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