The Samuel Roberts Noble Foundation, Inc.

An Integrated, Homemade, Portable Salt/Mineral Feeder and External Parasite Control Cattle Rub Tool: Cattle Rub

Cattle Rub
There are many choices of insecticides and methods for controlling cattle flies, grubs, lice and ticks, which include an array of sprays, dusts, ear tags, pour-on chemicals, injections, and feeding products. Flytraps, rotational stocking and the cattle rub are all alternative choices. The cattle rub is also known as a back rubber, fly wipe, wick and other common names.

Insecticide uses are well documented in university extension, USDA, and commercial publications. Low input alternative methods of fly traps, rotational stocking, and the cattle rub are of interest to many stockmen. The flytrap has application in small to medium size units and where operators want to cut chemical inputs to near zero. Construction plans for these traps are available (Anon., 1991). They may be constructed in the home shop.

It is widely accepted that rotational stocking can be done in a manner to rotate cattle away from existing flies, or to rotate cattle out of a paddock before a new generation of flies is hatched in that paddock. This is effective in very small and large grazing units, but results appear to be better in the larger units. Some graziers observe that rotating cattle at dusk is more effective in getting cattle away from flies (Anon., 2001a).

The low-input methods mentioned above help reduce fly populations, but there is often a population left on the cattle that is judged to be economically harmful. Fly traps and rotational stocking also do little, if anything, to control lice and ticks. The cattle rub can aid in better overall external parasite control of flies, grubs, lice and ticks, with or without the listed alternative methods.

Management of the cattle rub portion of the tool involves five functions:
  • Fly prevention and control;
  • Grub prevention and some control;
  • Lice prevention and some control;
  • Tick prevention and some control;
  • Limited prevention and control of stable flies, horse and deer flies, and mosquitoes.

Much of the function of the properly managed cattle rub is to prevent external parasite population buildups to stressful or economic threshold level. Cattle apparently use the rub to seek relief from biting, itching, and otherwise uncomfortable insect presence. Using the cattle rub kills or repels insects and then cattle get relief. Cattle like to rub on objects and once accustomed to the cattle rub they often habitually use it, preventing parasite buildup. It appears that cattle also learn to rub by observing herd mates rubbing. It is advisable to have a calf, stocker, or cow that knows the cattle rub in the herd to help teach other cattle to use the rub.

Fly Prevention and Control
The objective of the insecticide-soaked cattle rub is to reduce fly and lice populations in order to reduce stress on cattle. Tick populations will be controlled with the correct insecticide but the population may not be as dramatically reduced as flies. To expect total elimination of flies and other external parasites is unrealistic.

The best approach to fly control is prevention. When the rub is properly wetted with the appropriate insecticide mix, it kills existing flies, repels flies, and prevents a serious population buildup. Research from Virginia shows a high level of fly control with the cattle rub (Roberts and Salute, 1982).

The manager of the herd should activate the rub at the start of the spring fly season (Figure 15). Oklahoma's fly season begins in April and May. The rub should be kept wet as needed all summer and into fall for lice prevention. First time wetting of a 10 foot cattle rub may require three to five gallons of solution (Figure 15). If a fly population builds to 50 to 100 or more flies per side of the cattle anytime during summer, the flies can be controlled with frequent use of the rub. Control in this case is not immediate and often requires one to two weeks, but rarely more. It is best to anticipate the need to wet the rub with insecticide.

One of the environmental benefits of the cattle rub is that insecticide only reaches the target (cattle and parasites) and it is used only as needed. The technique is relatively environmentally friendly, as there is apparently little or no ill effect on bees and other beneficial insects, pond water and other water sources, soil, vegetation or farm structures.

Stressful and harmful levels of flies are judged to be:
  • When more than about 50 to 100 or more horn flies (body flies) are present on the sides of most cattle or those cattle that flies infest first, or when face flies or heel flies are obviously bothersome (Figure 16).
  • When cattle rapidly switch tails, stomp, run, and run through tall vegetation and woody areas to brush flies off (Figure 8). This is especially indicative of horn fly populations on cattle. Heel flies, that produce grubs, infest the legs of cattle and may cause much stomping and running.
  • When cattle bunch tightly together during grazing and resting periods trying to remove and avoid flies and reduce associated discomfort (Figure 8).

Lice Prevention
The cattle rub can be an effective tool for prevention of lice problems and some control of lice infestation. If a severe lice population is present, the cattle rub will provide some control, but other means of immediate control should be used. The rub, properly managed, can then prevent renewed infestations.

Insecticides specific for lice control must be used. Co-Ral has worked well. Refer to Table 1 for other possibilities. The rub must be wetted with the appropriate insecticide mixture well in advance of the expected initiation of the lice season. One month advanced wetting seems effective. The cattle rub must be kept wet during the entire lice season, which is September to spring in southern Oklahoma. Early wetting of the rub helps prevent early increase of lice populations.

There never was a lice problem in 13 years of using this tool for lice prevention on the Controlled Rotational Grazing Unit. Lice prevention was apparently effective.

Grub Prevention
Grubs are controlled primarily by prevention of the heel fly. Some insecticides that are effective in controlling grubs may control the actual grub with the cattle rub. During 13 years of using this tool on the Controlled Rotational Grazing Unit, grubs were never a problem on resident cattle.

Tick Prevention
Properly wetted and managed, the tool apparently helps prevent and control tick populations on cattle. This is not a superb method of controlling existing ticks and if ticks are a serious problem, other means of control will be necessary. Gentry (2001) reports acceptable tick control in wooded paddocks.

figure 15
Figure 15. Pouring insecticide and diesel mixture on the cattle rub. Always wear protective gloves and observe precautions on the insecticide container label.
figure 16
Figure 16. Some cattle get infested before others. This bull has harmful levels of flies exceeding the stressful level of 50 to 100 or more per side.

An Integrated, Homemade, Portable Salt/Mineral Feeder and External Parasite Control Cattle Rub Tool: Table of Contents

An Integrated, Homemade, Portable Salt/Mineral Feeder and External Parasite Control Cattle Rub Tool
R.L. Dalrmyple (retired)
The Samuel Roberts Noble Foundation, Ardmore, Oklahoma