Common strategies for the management of biting insects, slugs and snails rely upon the use of chemical fly sprays and monthly Ivomec injections. Here at Cloud Hollow Farm, we are pioneering methods that effectively decrease the populations of biting insects and assist in controlling slug and snail populations. Maine is known for its biting insects, including the green head fly and black fly, and enormous mosquitos that are jokingly referred to as the "state bird".
Perhaps the most critical component in the control of biting insect populations is manure management, because manure is a common breeding ground for flies. Here we remove manure from the barns twice a day and from the pastures every 2-3 days. Once picked up, we dump it in a 3 sided shed, our Bean Recycling Center, so it can compost and stay dry. Wet manure attracts more flies. We turn our manure piles periodically to aid in the composting process. After 6 months, it is thoroughly composted and ready for use in gardens.
Then there are the manure piles themselves. After pick up, we spread some ag lime and Woody Pet, a pelleted pine bedding originally designed for use in horse stalls. Both help control odor, which attracts flies, and the Woody Pet is extremely absorbent. We only use the ag lime on our outside manure piles.
While on the subject of manure removal, its necessary to address the issue of the tools of the trade. Being "lazy farmers" at heart, we sought out efficient ways to make poop pick up easier on us while also being gentle on the environment. Our first new tool were several Fine Tines manure forks. The tines are spaced very closely, so they can pick up all but the smallest poo beans while also allowing any Woody Pet that's dry to fall through. Then we made the switch from using a regular wheel barrow, which was both very heavy and prone to skid on the snow & ice we get during the winter, to a Haulz All electric cart. Ours is on its 2nd winter and still going strong. Our latest addition was a Greystone Paddock Vac, to make the pasture poo pick up easier (and fun!). While it currently runs on a gasoline engine, we are investigating means of converting it to use a diesel engine that can run on biodiesel.
In our barns, we have several Guerilla electric fly zappers that run 24/7 from the first time we see flies in the spring to the first hard frost in the fall. After careful research, we determined that this brand utilized the least electricity. They work great, especially at getting big mosquitos and have the added bonus of providing some lighting for my late night cria/birthing checks.
Perhaps the most effective, and most sustainable, tool we use is fly parasites. They do an amazing job of knocking down fly populations in the barns. In fact, they did such a great job that we only needed to apply fly spray 2-3 times to a couple of our blacks in the Spring/Summer of 2010. As soon as I notice a slight increase in the fly populations in the barns, its usually time for another shipment.
When we get a new shipment, I go around the barn and place a small handful in the locations that flies are most likely to find hospitable. Near the poop piles, under the waterers, near the creep feeder and around the poop shed are all locations where the fly parasites go. This, and the control over how wet it gets, is why there are virtually NO parasites out by the poop shed.
For pasture fly control, we use cedar solar fly traps, perhaps the most noxious tool we use. They are constructed so that flies are attracted by the smell of the bait at the bottom (recyclable aluminum pie plates), fly in, can't get out, and then get cooked by the sun. Now what are flies most attracted to? Garbage & rotting meat! So, guess what the natural, yeast-based bait smells like? Yup, the ferocious, nauseating stink of rotting flesh! That's why I learned to wear gloves when refilling the bait dishes! Otherwise, the odor clings to your skin all day, even after repeated washings. But, they do work very well and the alpacas are happier, so its all worth it.
Perhaps the least sustainable, due to the constant electric demand, tool we use serves a dual purpose: fans, and lots of them! We set up anywhere from 4-7 fans in each wing of the barn during the spring and summer, so that the alpacas have relief from the biting insects, heat & humidity. This is a big part of why our alpacas often refuse to leave the barn when its hot: its the perfect alpaca paradise! Hay, check. Cool water & electrolyte water, double check. Fans for all, check.
Our slug & snail control strategy is currently young and untested. When we have very wet spells, such as the Spring/Summer of 2009, we discovered that the slug population explodes to the degree that our entire 1/2 mile driveway gets COATED in the slimy buggers. Much research, and a love of quacking fowl, led us to purchase our flock of ducks and 2 geese in 2010. We selected Runner ducks and Welsh Harlequin ducks for their extreme foraging abilities and general cuteness. One issue we face, with regards to the safety of the duckage, is the family of Bald Eagles that live nearby. After still more research, we discovered one of the best methods to protect smaller waterfowl is bigger waterfowl. Enter Helen & Ashley: our beautiful, mercurial guard geese. Both take their guarding duties very, very seriously. They were socialized to accept humans as part of their flock, though they appear to have selective memories. Some days, Ashley will beg to be picked up & cuddled, while other days she'll want nothing to do with us.
Unfortunately, we do still rely upon some chemicals to help protect our alpacas. We have yet to find a natural fly spray that is effective, and we've tried pretty much everything. We have 2 fly sprays that we have found effective that we only apply to alpacas that are being excessively bothered, usually the blacks & dark browns.
Then there's the issue of meningeal worm. Our desire to have the ducks and geese was to help control slug & snail populations. Even the best foragers cannot possibly eat all the slugs & snails, so we remain reliant on monthly Ivomec injections. To us, the risk of death/disability posed by meningeal worm is an unacceptable one to take. We do eagerly await the time when another method of protection is discovered, which doesn't involve the use of a dewormer that can contaminate the environment.
Out of all of the strategies we use poop pile cleanup, a covered manure composting facility, and fly parasites are the most critical to implement in order to protect your herd from the various forms of harm, be it itchy bites or insect borne diseases.