New tool provides fun, easy way to protect herd from horn flies

Researchers at Texas A&M AgriLife recently gave a “thumbs up” to a product that claims to control horn flies without the hassle of corralling the herd. Sonja Swiger, veterinary entomologist at Texas A&M AgriLife, tested the VetGunTM, an insecticide delivery system that premiered in 2014.

Developed by SmartVet, the VetGunTM “shoots” a ball of insecticide at an animal’s hide like a paintball gun shoots a ball of paint. The rancher can apply the insecticide without having to gather the animals into a chute, so it saves time, anxiety for the animals and extra money to hire additional people to corral the cattle. The VetGun does not need not need to be used with ear tags. It is a replacement option but should be coupled with other integrated pest management options such as a larval control and sanitation.


The VetGun

To use the gun, the user loads balls called “VetCaps” into the gun, points it at the animal’s front quarters (shoulder) and shoots. The VetCapTM ball is slightly larger than the ball from a paintball gun but is shot at a lower velocity so the impact is gentler on the animal. The ball bursts on impact, splashing the insecticide on the animal’s hide. The rancher must be careful to shoot in a fleshy part of the shoulder so that the ball doesn’t roll off the animal’s back. Each capsule costs an average of $2.30-$2.50, so wasted capsules can be costly with a large herd.

The treatment is similar to other mid-season pour-on treatments, helping to keep horn fly populations down during times when horn fly infestations are high. AgriLabs, which now sells the VetGunTM, approached Swiger August 2013 to test the product for efficacy. Swiger tests various brands of ear tags every year, so she added the VetGunTM to her testing schedule.

“The appeal is that you can treat the animals without running them through a chute,” said Swiger.

The gun can be used wherever the cattle are standing, making it a useful tool for ranchers who don’t have the manpower to corral their herd into holding pens.

Based on her trials, Swiger said that the product works as promised.

“The VetCapTM has a fast-acting ingredient,” said Swiger. “Within 10 minutes the flies are dead.”

Swiger also tested longevity of the product, which is labeled to last three to four weeks. Tests showed that under optimal conditions, the product controls flies for five to six weeks. If the animal gets wet after the product has dried, she said that it still is effective for several weeks.

“One time the cattle walked into a pond shortly after being treated,” she said. “We were sure that they were going to have to be retreated the next day, but the product still seemed to be working.”

However, she cautioned that the product should not be applied if rain is imminent, as the insecticide might be washed off if it has not dried.

Overall, Swiger said that the VetGunTM is an effective all- or mid-season tool to help keep horn flies away, and since it kills flies, might kill stable flies and other kinds of biting flies as well.

Plus, she said, it’s fun to use.

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