Pellets containing catnip oil have proven to repel stable flies that bite cattle and horses. Researchers are working to increase the pellets’ efficiency.
Cattle, horses and other livestock that are attacked by blood-sucking stable flies may get relief from their suffering thanks to the use of catnip oil, research from the USDA’s Agriculture Research Service shows.
Catnip, the plant that attracts domestic cats like an irresistible force, has proven 99 percent effective in repelling stable flies (Stomoxys calcitrans) that attack horses and cows and cause $2 billion in annual losses to the cattle industry.
ARS entomologist Junwei Zhu and his colleagues note that stable flies not only inflict painful bites but also transmit multiple diseases. Cattle harried by stable flies may produce less meat and milk, have trouble reproducing, and develop diseases that can be fatal. Traditional methods for controlling stable flies include costly sanitation techniques or heavy applications of powerful insecticides. These have not only proven impractical for organic farmers, they are less than effective.
As a solution, the researchers turned to catnip oil, already known to repel more than a dozen families of insects, including house flies, mosquitoes and cockroaches.
They combined the catnip oil with soy and paraffin wax to make pellets to spread in a cattle feedlot. Within minutes, the pellets shooed away the flies, with the repellent action lasting for about three hours. Pellets without catnip oil, in contrast, showed no effect. The scientists now are working to make the catnip pellets’ repellent action last longer, which they say is the key to putting it use in protecting livestock both in feedlots and pastures.
The study was published in the American Chemical Society’s Journal of Agricultural and Food Chemistry.