Heel Flies Were a Menace
- May 22, 2023
- Jan Swan Wood
Most of the time I’m pretty fond of the memories I have of the “good old days” growing up on the ranch and learning the industry from the ground up. There are some things that don’t charm me to this day, though, and one of those is the scourge of the heel flies.
If I use the words “heel flies” around younger folks, they don’t even know what I’m talking about. Thanks to advanced methods of livestock pest control, the wicked heel flies are history, and I’m sure glad. I remember as a kid getting up way before dark thirty to go gather cattle and get them moved before the heel flies hit. That was always the thing, beating the heel flies. We would ride to the back side of the pasture in the dark, maybe have to wait for the eastern sky to lighten up enough to even see the cattle to be gathered, but we sure enough would have them gathered and on the move before the sun was on the horizon. It would be cool and pleasant at that time, even though we might all be yawning. The heat of the summer day was still a few hours away.
If we had to trail them all the way home to do whatever needed done, like spray them for flies, you can bet that just as we got within sight of the corrals, the heel flies would hit. It didn’t matter whether it was cows, calves, or yearlings, they absolutely lost their minds. They’d throw their tails over their backs and run. There was no holding the bunch if they hit bad, so sometimes it was useless to even try. If only a few got hit, we could maybe get the rest into the corrals before the rest of the heel flies arrived. The warming temperature of morning would be bringing them out though. The ones that had broke and got away while we tried to hold the bunch could usually be found standing in a dam to protect their feet and legs.
I can’t imagine how bad the bite from those things was. Every cow brute, from calf to big bull, was going to run to get away from them. Sometimes they’d even let out a beller when bit, especially when they first started. If they didn’t break from the bunch and run, they would plow into the bunch, trying to lose the heel flies in the crowd. The cattle on the edge of the bunch were always hit the hardest.
As hard as it was to start the day at 3 a.m., it was well worth it if the cattle could be gathered and whatever done with them that needed done, done. Believe me, the early morning was better than having to deal with our Dad if we didn’t get the cattle moved or penned in time. Being on the receiving end of our Dad’s temper wasn’t a good place to be. It was nearly as bad as heel flies!
About Jan Swan Wood
Jan was raised on a ranch in far western South Dakota. She grew up horseback working all descriptions of cattle, plus sheep and horses. After leaving home she pursued a post-graduate study of cowboying and dayworking in Nebraska, New Mexico, Montana, Wyoming and South Dakota....