02 Feb 2021

Controlling flies in poultry production, a key practice

The house fly, Musca domestica, is an established pest both on farms and in homes. Excessive flies in poultry facilities are unacceptable for several reasons: They are a nuisance to workers and act as disease vectors. Flies carry organisms associated with food poisoning in humans, such as salmonella spp.

Controlling flies in poultry production, a key practice

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House flies
The house fly, Musca domestica, is an established pest both on farms and in homes1. Excessive numbers of flies in poultry facilities are unacceptable for several reasons: They are a nuisance to workers and also act as disease vectors.

When fly populations are not properly controlled, they can become a public health problem in nearby poultry farms and rural non-farm communities, often leading to poor community relations and potential litigation2.

Flies also negatively affect productive performance as a result of the stress they generate in animals. In the case of a heavy infestation, the birds can be overwhelmed, drastically reducing their feed intake, consequently reducing meat and egg production3.

Flies defecate and regurgitate, staining structures and equipment, lighting fixtures – reducing the level of illumination – and eggs – posing a risk of pathogen transmission in newly laid eggs, which reduces their attractiveness in the eyes of the consumer as well as their market value3 -.

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Although it is difficult to estimate the direct production losses caused by flies, apart from their role as disease transmitters, they are responsible for damage and control costs for the poultry industry that amount to more than one billion euros per year3. In 1979, the direct costs of fly control in layer houses were estimated to be € 0.11 per bird per year 4

Scientists have calculated that a pair of flies that start breeding in April have the potential, under optimal conditions, to spawn up to 191,010,000,000,000,000,000 flies in August1.

housefly cycle

Figure 1. Life cycle and characteristics of the house fly.

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Biological and behavioral patterns of flies


Fly eggs hatch into larvae in the brooding areas before pupating and eventually develop into adults to repeat the life cycle throughout the season. The development cycle, population density, and daily activities of these flies include flying in a particular area based on resources, temperature, and other biotic and abiotic factors. When food is not limited, flies complete their life cycle in approximately:

Eggs can hatch in just 9 hours after oviposition and can take up to 7-10 days to complete the egg-to-adult phase under ideal conditions. However, a cooler climate, a drier environment and a shortage of food can prolong this development period by 2 weeks or more.

Flies produce multiple generations per year that can coincide, and all stages of development can be found at the same time. Although development is temperature dependent, it is possible for multiple generations to appear per year in tropical and temperate zones due to peridomestic habits3.


Different studies have shown that flies can travel distances ranging between 3.22 km and 32.19 km. Their flights are aimed at looking for food and oviposition sites, considering flies travel more in rural areas than in urban areas due to the fact that human settlements are more dispersed. At night the flies are normally inactive3.


Both males and females eat all kinds of food of human and animal origin, garbage and excrement. Liquid food is ingested by suction and solid food is moistened with saliva to dissolve it before ingestion.

Disease transmission and impact on productivity

The house fly is an important vector for many human and poultry diseases – protozoa, bacteria, viruses, rickettsiae, fungi, and nematodes1 – and can cause spotting problems on eggs, as well as on building windows2 . management of flies in poultry houses

Antimicrobial resistance

Fly control could be seen as a way to reduce the spread of diseases on farms, while also minimizing the need to use antibiotics to treat said diseases. Flies carry and spread antibiotic resistant bacteria, both on farms and in hospital settings3. Therefore, controlling them is one way to reduce the spread of resistant bacteria.

Musca domestica species have been indicated as a mechanical transmitter of pathogens such as the paramyxovirus that causes Newcastle disease 7, Avian Influenza virus during periods of 72 hours after infection8, as well as bacteria, such as Shigella spp., Vibrio cholerae, Escherichia coli, Staphylococcus aureus, Salmonella spp.9, Klebsiella spp., Enterobacter spp., Aeromonas spp.10, Campylobacter spp., As well as protozoan parasites and eggs of some cestodes7.


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