In North America, the first face fly was found along the east coast in 1952. By the 1960s, it had spread across America. As face fly numbers increased, so did pink eye. Cattle were also under stress from mosquitoes, horn flies, stable flies, lice and ticks.
While working on a farm, Joe Lewis (the inventor of the Lewis Cattle Oiler) noticed how cattle seemed to have a natural instinct to scratch and rub. If a tree was broken and laying at a 45-degree angle the cattle would gather around and, contentedly, scratch away. With the tree on an angle, Joe noticed that the cattle seemed to be able to rub every part of their bodies.
Joe knew that cattlemen were looking for an easier, more effective way to control the insect pests that were causing stress, spreading disease and reducing gains in their herds. Joe also knew how much time and stress was involved in running cattle through a chute or dip tank. Why not make a self-treatment system that cattle could scratch on?
In 1966, Joe rented a small shop and manufactured the first Lewis Cattle Oiler. To hold the insecticide, he used a canvas protected cotton wick wrapped around a chain. To give the cattle something to scratch on, and protect the wick, he enclosed his oiler in a 3-chain harness. It was about 51/2' long, and the cattleman would fasten one end to a tree and the other end to a stake set in the ground. Insecticide would be poured over the wick by hand.
It worked. As the cattle rubbed themselves, the wick would compress against the center chain. The insecticide would be squeezed out and rubbed into the cattle's coat. Cattlemen could now effectively control livestock pests without putting any stress on their cattle.
Not all pastures had trees, so the next year, Joe designed a free-standing model. And because some insecticide was being wasted when poured over the wick, Joe added a 5-gallon pail with an on-off valve to the top of the free-standing model. To recharge the wick, all you had to do was open the valve for a few minutes every day or so.
By the end of the '60s, Joe's customers were asking if he could build an automatic oiler. Other oilers on the market used gravity to draw the insecticide from the pail to the wick. Joe knew that this wasn't the solution. Every time he saw one, the wick was either saturated and dripping insecticide on the ground, or the wick would be bone dry. Let's not forget one drip per second adds up to 1 gallon in 6 hours. At this rate, a 5-gallon reservoir is bone dry in less than a day and a half.
Joe wanted a system that would keep the wick charged, but not dripping. He got to work, and in 1969, he developed a pump system for the Lewis Cattle Oiler. He designed it to be easily adjusted to recharge only what was needed.
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