Along with back-to-school jitters, warm hazy mornings, and some dynamite sweet corn, the Dog Days of summer are notorious for their late-season flies, which can be a nuisance to your horses, your barn, and your state of mind. But with a little bit of knowledge and some thoughtful use of the weapons at your disposal, you’ll find that it’s easier than you might expect to keep your herd happy and healthy throughout the remainder of the summer.
So let’s play a quick game of true or false, shall we?
Q: Flies are annoying, but in reality they’re basically harmless.
Beyond being almost debilitatingly annoying to horses and humans alike, flies can cause a number of serious problems for equines, including the transmission of diseases such as equine infectious anemia (EIA) and Anthrax. But the gross doesn’t stop there. Flies can also spread a host of internal and external parasites, and even serious fungal diseases such as mycotic dermatitis (“rain scald”) and the potentially devastating Mycetoma. Bottom line? Fly control is serious business.
I’ve heard flies feed on manure. Manage the manure, manage the flies.
As you might expect, ‘good horse management’ has developed that way over time for a reason. Mucking your stalls at least once a day helps to keep them clean and dry, reducing odors that attract flies. Fresh bedding eliminates the warm, moist environment that female insects prefer for laying eggs, reducing the overall fly population (see how easy it is to give back?). But don’t forget the more commonplace barn-keeping duties as well: sweep up dropped grain around feed tubs and empty and scrub them out regularly to remove any uneaten supplements and medications that will look like an easy meal to passing flies. The same should be done for water buckets, especially for horses that like to dunk their hay or drop grain. Ensure that garbage cans in and around your barn have tight-fitting lids, and regularly remove trash from inside the barn (especially food waste). Finally, scrubbing and disinfecting your garbage cans periodically will help to remove any stuck-on residue. Following these easy practices will encourage flies to zoom right past your barn and head on down toward that tasty manure dollar menu somewhere else.
As long as my barn is well kept, the flies will stay away.
Don’t neglect your pastures either. Regularly removing manure from paddocks and fields helps to eliminate the prime breeding ground and food source for many of these insects. Bottom line: the less manure on your property, the fewer flies you’ll have. So what do you do?
- If you can’t take your manure off property, consider using a manure spreader to distribute thin layers of future-fertilizer over your fields.
- If you don’t have the acreage for a spreader, channel your inner John Deer and rake or drag your pastures to spread out the manure that’s there. Keeping the manure dispersed helps to dry it out, reducing your field’s attractiveness to egg-laying flies.
- If you use a manure composting pile, make sure to pile it up rather than out and cover it whenever possible. The increased heat generated by these practices can help make it too hot for flies to lay eggs.
One solution for coping with flies is… more flies?
Yes, bugs known as ‘fly parasites’ are really a thing—and they work! These tiny burrowing insects are the natural enemy of a wide variety of nuisance flies, which automatically makes them your new BFF. And like any good friend, they won’t bite or sting you or your animals, and are adaptable to many climates (bonus!). Release fly parasites along fence lines in pastures, on manure piles, around wet areas, or anywhere else where manure or rotting vegetation might be attractive to egg-laying flies. Like good little soldiers, fly parasites stay close to where you place them, and work by killing flies in the maggot and pupa stages of their life cycle.
I’ve heard feed-through products are effective, but you have to give them to all the horses in your barn…
Products containing insect growth regulators help to eliminate flies by keeping eggs in the manure from hatching (but don’t worry, they’re safe to feed to horses). For best results, all horses in a facility should be on a feed-through fly-control program. Like fly parasites, feed-through products work to help reduce fly reproduction, but do not affect existing adult flies. Which means…
I should also use fly traps, right? As many as I can fit in the barn…
Traps that lure adult flies in should be hung in outside locations to keep them away from your barn and horses. You may also want to experiment by moving traps to different areas on the property to see where you’ll get the best results (hanging them at least four feet above the ground works best).
Traps attract flies in two ways: visually, which is best for biting stable flies, and by odor, which is best for house flies. Sticky fly tapes can also help to catch insects that have already made their way inside your barn, reducing the number of them available for breeding. For best results, consider hanging fly tapes from higher locations, such as ceilings in the aisle, or in the rafters above your stalls.
A barn-wide premise spray system can be set to automatically release insecticide at regular intervals.
For larger facilities or those with a serious fly problem, a battery-operated premise spray system uses individual canisters of fly insecticide and a system of tubing and misting heads to release a controlled amount of fly spray at regular intervals. Most premise spray systems are mounted in higher locations in your barn, such as the rafters or above doorways. Always make sure to follow the manufacturer’s instructions for installation and use—and don’t forget that you’ll need to refill the system regularly, check your batteries, and refrain from simultaneously using fly parasites, which could be inadvertently killed by the spray.
You’ll have to buy special products if you plan to spot-treat areas around your barn.
Many fly sprays, such as Absorbine®’s UltraShield® EX & UltraShield® Red, can perform double-duty as a premise spray to kill and repel flies around your barn. When using a premise spray, concentrate on areas around the outside of doors and windows to discourage insects from coming in, and don’t forget to read the label and follow the usage instructions carefully. You can also crash the fly party by spraying down areas where flies seem to gather, or, if you feel like playing fly-buster, many sprays will kill on contact, helping you eliminate adult flies where you find them.
Using fly spray on my horse is a given, but one size fits all when it comes to products.
With all the products available on the market today, there’s no reason to not do your homework in advance to determine which ones are the best fit for you and your horse. Are you in an area prone to mosquitos and ticks? Do you need something with natural ingredients, or that can stand up to heat and sweat? Do you want a product that can also be used as a premise spray, or one you canapply to ears or wounds? Follow the instructions on the fly spray label for proper application, and go slowly if your horse is young or green, allowing him to get used to the noise and sensation of being sprayed. Common Sense Memo of the Day: don’t spray your horse in the face with fly spray, since you don’t want to get it in his eyes. Gels and roll-on products can be used on sensitive areas like the head and ears. With proper and correct application, your horse will be able to focus on you during your ride, instead of the flies buzzing around him.
Fly masks and sheets are a good way to help your horse enjoy fly-free turnout time.
Fly masks can help protect your horse’s face and ears, and are easy to customize, with options for ear coverage, no ear coverage, and additional nose coverage. For more complete protection, fly sheets and leg wraps can also help to provide a physical barrier between the flies and your horse. Like any blanket, though, sheets and masks should be checked regularly to make sure they are fitting properly without causing rubs or soreness, and that they are in good condition.
Q: Fans are great for keeping my horse cool, but don’t do much for flies.
Ceiling and portable fans are an easy, natural way to deter flies inside your barn, as the circulating air makes it difficult for the insects to fly and harder for them to land on your horse. Don’t forget, though, to choose fans and power cords that are specifically designed for agricultural use in order to reduce the risk of fire.