LANCELIN cattle breeders Shane and Angie Clifton have been forced to remove livestock from their farm to a leased property at Beermullah due to the overwhelming numbers of stable fly in the area.
The Cliftons, fourth and fifth-generation farmers on the Lancelin property, said their family had faced many issues over the years but stable fly is the one that has had the most impact.
They have resorted to any tactic available to reduce the quantity of flies after the numbers developed to the point of making it unbearable for the cattle – as well as outdoor activities.
They moved the majority of their 200 Angus and Murray Grey breeders as a duty of care to provide a safe and healthy environment for their cattle.
Stable fly is a declared pest under the Biosecurity and Agriculture Management Act 2007 and needs to drink blood – taking it from people, livestock and pets.
“We never had stable flies until vegetable growers moved into the area,” Ms Clifton said.
“Who would have thought, after everything we have faced, that a little fly could be the deal breaker.”
The situation is so dire that the Cliftons have bought a fogger in an effort to reduce the impact of the flies on their livestock – although it is only a temporary solution.
The fogging machine pumps out a chemical spray which can kill the immediate fly infestation but wears off soon after – allowing more of the blood-thirsty flies to attack the stock.
So far they have found it ineffective.
The Cliftons have spent thousands of dollars building a permanent shelter for their horses to provide respite for them during the day – letting them out at night when the fly is not active, for exercise.
They have set up sticky traps around the boundary with a neighbouring vegetable farm to monitor the level of flies.
“The stable fly is having a significant effect on the profitability of our beef cattle operation,” Mr Clifton said.
“It is exasperating when some, either out of ignorance or having a connection with horticultural operations, make statements such as ‘stable flies have always been here’ or ‘cattle breed them’.
“Such statements show total contempt and a lack of understanding of the scope of the issue.
“Stable flies breed in rotting organic matter, in our case most of the issues are as a result of horticultural operations.
“It is not just the matter of non-marketable vegetable waste but primarily the crop waste, or residue, left over after harvesting.”
Mr Clifton said they had been working closely with horticultural operations in the area to reduce the numbers of flies breeding in the organic waste and ensure best practice is carried out – even though it is not their job to do that.
The Cliftons purchased a roller – which they have provided to their neighbour to assist in compacting the ground to prevent flies from hatching.
“It has been proven that stable fly lay their eggs in this waste which can produce significant numbers of flies,” Mr Clifton said.
“There has been much research and trials carried out over the years and a best management plan has been introduced and modified as more understanding is obtained as to the best way to address the issue.
“Even with a significant reduction in fly breeding, the numbers that are still emerging from a garden, even when the best practice management plan is followed, are still significant and have a serious effect on livestock and other animals.”
Stable flies inflict a painful bite which causes the cattle significant stress, causing them to bunch together and circle, throwing up dirt to try and get some relief with no success.
“This is continuous torture during daylight hours,” Mr Clifton said.
“Our cattle lose condition as they are so distressed they are unable to feed in a normal manner.
“From an animal welfare point of view it is just unbelievably cruel to see the cattle suffering, so we tend to try to move our stock to paddocks further away from the gardens that offer some relief.
“This then means that we cannot utilise feed we have in paddocks close to the gardens.
“We strongly believe the bunching and milling together, causing clouds of dust, throwing sand on themselves and unnaturally close contact with each other has increased the incidence of pink eye in our calves.
“On our property close to gardens this year 40 per cent of our calves were unsalable at weaning due to pink eye.”
Mr Clifton said during calving “it is even more exasperating as the cow leaves the huddle of the mob, who are already being bombarded by stable flies, to have her calf, this leaves her as a single easy target”.
“She has her calf, enduring the agony of the flies attacking her throughout the ordeal, then when she has the calf it is subjected to attack,” he said.
“The mother is trying to stand still so the calf can have its first suck, but because the flies are biting her, she kicks and can’t stand still.
“She is forced back to the mob in an attempt to get some relief, leaving the calf to suffer with hundreds, sometimes thousands of flies attacking it.
“With first calvers this can be fatal for the calf because the new mother often doesn’t return to her calf.
“We have to intervene to mother them up with each other.
“Weaning is another necessary event that we dread as shutting calves in the yard is no less than torture.”
The Cliftons have suffered these conditions every year from around October through to May for more than 20 years, hoping a solution could be found for the problem.
The Department of Primary Industries and Regional Development (DPIRD) website said “the economic impact of stable fly on agricultural and non-agricultural activities is estimated to be in excess of $2.7 million in the Shire of Gingin alone” (2014 figures).
Some have said the number is more likely $4m-$5m in losses each year.
Funding for the Stable Fly Project is due to run out in April 2018 and so far there is no suggestion that it will continue with government spending on the decline.