We all know the feeling—there’s that one pesky fly that has its heart set on aggravating you all day long. Well, imagine being a cow and having a whole bunch of flies aggravating you all day long, while at the same time lacking the dexterity to swat them away. Enter the fly vac.

James and Ida Burkholder are Organic Valley dairy farmers from Berks County, Pennsylvania, and they have invested in many areas to improve cow comfort and health. One such investment is a cow-sized vacuum cleaner they call the “fly vac.”

The fly vac on the Burkholder's family farm is placed between the barn and the pasture.

The fly vac is placed between the barn and the pasture. Photo by Katya Leonard for Organic Valley.

It’s a large, stall-sized enclosure that’s placed in the primary lane leading to the pastures. The cows are milked twice a day and must pass through the fly vac four times a day when they come in for milking and when they go back out to pastures after milking. With each pass through the machine, pesky flies that normally hang onto cows are sucked into traps where they die.

James explains why this is such a good thing. “Flies cause the animals great aggravation. Flies are blood suckers, too, so between that and the aggravation factor, cows expend a lot of energy daily trying to get rid of them. That’s energy cows need to eat and make milk, so anything you do to reduce wasted energy benefits the animal.”

How hard is it to get the cows to go through the fly vac? James laughs. “The first couple of weeks were hard. Some of the cows really hated it. Now the biggest problem is getting them out of it. They’ll just stop and hang out there because the cool air blowing across them is nice. They realize pretty quickly that it’s a comfort to them.”

The fly vac is a good way to deal with on-farm pests organically, James says. “It reduces the amount of flies by almost 90 percent, no chemicals necessary. The machine is a substantial investment right off the bat, but the benefits pay off over time, and that’s what organic farming is all about.”


Read the Burkholders’ story of bringing their farm back from the brink by partnering with an organic research institute.


Read more Animal Whisperers stories about how we go above and beyond to care for our animals! Some have interesting science behind them, and others are downright quirky.