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Control Fire Ants in Pastures & Barnyards

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April 16, 2019

Announcer:  Farm and Family is a production of the Mississippi State University Extension Service.

Amy Myers: Today we're talking about controlling fire ants in pastures and barnyards. Hello. I'm Amy Taylor, and welcome to Farm and Family. Today we're speaking with Dr. Blake Layton, Mississippi State University Extension Service entomologist.

Blake, can you tell me about some of the problems caused by fire ants in pastures and barnyards?

Blake Layton: I can, Amy. And first, I want to make it clear that we're not today trying to convince people that every pasture in Mississippi needs to have fire ants controlled in it, because that's just not cost effective. But I grew up on a cattle farm, and in that day and time when I was cutting hay, we had one of those little sickle bar mowers, and when that thing would hit a fire ant mound, it would trip, and I would have to stop the tractor, get off, and reset it, so that was one problem then.

The mowers we have don't do that today, but they still cause other problems in hayfields or especially in other more sensitive settings like a sheep pen or horse paddock or just around the barnyard. So there are many areas where livestock producers do want to control fire ants.

Amy Myers: And in those settings, it's really important to do that. Now, what is the best way to control fire ants in these settings?

Blake Layton: Well, we have one really effective and useful way to do that, and that's application of these granular fire ant baits. Not all granular fire ant baits are labeled for application around grazing animals, but there are several that are, and those safe environmentally. They're safe to the animals that are grazing, and so they're really useful tools.

The key to using baits in this setting is to realize it does take a while for them to work, and sometimes with these baits it takes a month to six weeks to eight weeks to see the full benefit of a bait application.

Amy Myers: Okay, and those little hand-held spreaders work really well for applying fire ant baits to home lawns, but how does one treat a large hayfield or a pasture?

Blake Layton: That's a good question, because I actually do use a little hand spreader to control the fire ants in my wife's horse paddock, but that's about an acre. So you can treat an acre with one of those, but if you're going to treat 20 acres or more, you need a different kind of applicator. And the key to these fire ant baits is they only are applied at like a pound to a pound-and-a-half to the acre, so you've got to have an applicator that will apply that low amount.

The only tool that I know of is a product called the Herd Seeder. I think it's the Kasco company that sells that now, and I hate to recommend just one company, but as far as I know, that's the only tool that's available that really applies fire ant bait at that low rate. It can be put on the back of a four wheeler or a tractor.

Amy Myers: Okay, that sounds good. Now, do you have to remove the livestock from the area before treating?

Blake Layton: Not with these granular baits that are labeled for application around grazing animals. The animals can be in the pasture while you're actually making the application.

Amy Myers: Okay, so this won't hurt the animals.

Blake Layton: It definitely will not.

Amy Myers: What pattern would you go in? Would you spread it all over or just on the mounds?

Blake Layton: You do want to broadcast these baits over the entire pasture, but it's not like putting out fertilizer or seed. If you've got some gaps between your swath-width, that's okay, because those worker ants are going to gather that up and carry it back to the colonies. In fact, there was some work done in Alabama a few years ago that showed that if they just skipped every other swath, they still got nearly as good a control, while cutting their cost as if they applied every swath.

Amy Myers: What would be an estimate of how much this does cost?

Blake Layton: The answer to that, it depends on how mad you are at the fire ants or how much you need that area to stay fire ant free. If you want it to stay really fire ant free, you may do this three times a year. If you just want relatively decent control, you may get by with one time a year.

So to answer your question, it can cost anywhere from about $10 an acre to $50 an acre to maintain reasonably good fire ant control in a hayfield or pasture.

Amy Myers: Okay, but I'm sure it's well worth it if it's going to control it, and if it's going to do the job. So what if there's a mound by the barn or something, and more like an individual mound that we need to take care of?

Blake Layton: Well sometimes we do see these problem mounds. We're going to work cattle today, and there's a fire ant mound right where my foot's going to be when I'm working the head gate, and that one's got to go. So you can use these individual mound drenches that you mix up and soak the mound. The thing to use in this case would be a product that contains permethrin that's also labeled for use either on pastures or on animals, and a lot of those labels when you read, it will tell you how to mix it and apply it. And it will give almost immediate control.

Amy Myers: Where can listeners get more information about controlling fire ants?

Blake Layton: Well we do have a publication called Control Fire Ants in Pastures, Hayfields, and Barnyards. You can go to your local county extension office and get that, or you can find it on our MSU Cares website at

Amy Myers: Today we've been speaking with Dr. Blake Layton, Mississippi State University Extension Service entomologist. I'm Amy Taylor, and this has been Farm and Family. Have a great day.

Announcer: Farm and Family is a production of the Mississippi State University Extension Service.

Department: Biochemistry, Molecular Biology, Entomology and Plant Pathology

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