Japanese cows painted with zebra-like stripes to keep bloodsucking insects at bay

Beef farmers across the Yamagata prefecture have started to colour their cattle to keep away flies, - Kojima et al

TOKYO: They may produce some of the best wagyu beef in the world, but many of the Japanese Black of Yamagata prefecture no longer look like cattle. Increasingly, they are looking like zebras.

Beef farmers across the prefecture have started to colour their cattle, using a mild bleach or spray paint to give them vertical stripes, the Mainichi newspaper reported.

According to research by scientists employed by the prefecture over the last three years, striped cattle attract significantly fewer flies than cattle with their traditional coats.

The Japanese Black breed is one of the four Japanese breeds of cattle that produce high-end wagyu, but farmers have long complained that their herds are vulnerable to bloodsucking insects, such as cattle flies and gadflies. This elevated the stress levels of cattle, they said, with the discomfort and pain even affecting the herds’ reproductive rates.

“Many farmers have hesitated to release their cattle on farmland because they feel sorry for the animals being targeted by gadflies,” an official of the prefecture’s agricultural promotion section told the Mainichi.

“But we can now expect cattle to relax and grow healthily if we give them stripes.”

The scientists have monitored the efficacy of the striped solution by simply watching the cattle, with livestock given the two-tone treatment put in fields alongside unpainted cattle.

Researchers counted the times that the cattle flicked their tails, shook their heads or stamped their hooves – all seen as efforts to dislodge and dissuade flies – and discovered that while the cattle that had not been striped were irritated 16 times a minute, that fell to just five times each minute for those with artificial stripes.

The researchers have provided no scientific reasoning for why flies are less interested in striped livestock but are sharing their findings with farmers throughout the prefecture.

One farmer commented that the improvement in the cattle was “plain to see” – adding that he was also happy to see that the unpainted livestock had not turned their backs on their striped colleagues. - SCMP

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