by Cynthia McFarland, courtesy of Farnam’s Stable Talk
There are thousands of species of flies in the United States. While only a select number of these species are common nuisances, the disruptions they cause to your horse’s normal feeding and pasturing routines can be upsetting. Many fly species can also transmit injurious diseases, making it even more important to implement a three-stage fly control program of prevention, reduction, and management to protect your horse’s comfort and health.
Fly Control: Prevention, Using the Right Products at the Right Time
The first step to fly control is preventing flies from becoming a problem in the barn and pasture areas, which is best done by targeting the species most common to your environment and most harmful to your horse.
- Reduce the number of flies by starting fly control early in the season.
- Prevent flies from breeding by using products that interrupt fly life cycles.
- Use products that will target all the species in your area.
- Practice routine sanitation and take housekeeping measures to keep fly populations down inside and around the barn and surrounding environments.
Of the roughly 18,000 species of flies found in North America, only a small percentage of them are common nuisances.
Unfortunately, that’s enough to annoy and stress horses. Some of these flies also play roles in transmitting serious disease, including Equine Infectious Anemia (EIA), Pigeon Fever and “summer sores.” Even non-biting flies can be a source of irritation, disrupting feeding and increasing anxiety in horses.
Fly control for horses is an important part of routine health care and includes both fly control for horses in pasture and barn fly control.
There is no one single solution to fly prevention and farm fly control. The best way to keep flies away from horses is to use a multi-stage fly program that includes prevention, reduction and management. An effective plan involves:
- Physical and chemical controls
- Feed thru fly control products
- Management practices
This three-pronged approach is often referred to as block, repel and reduce:
Block: create an actual physical barrier to keep flies and pests off the horse
Repel: use products that repel and kill flies and pests on the horse and in the environment.
Reduce: decrease the fly population using feed thru fly control.
Prevention Starts Early
The best time to begin your fly control program is before flies are active. It’s better to start early in the season and stay ahead of the population rather than try to play “catch up” later.
The first step to fly control is identifying the species you’re dealing with because you can’t control all insects with the same technique. Targeting the species most common to your environment can prevent those flies from becoming a problem in the barn and pasture areas.
If you see very small as well as larger flies, these are different species. It’s not that the small ones are babies and the larger ones are adults. There are no “baby” flies; when each fly emerges, it is already an adult.
Stable flies and house flies are among the most common species found in horse environments. Both fly species can transmit disease and infection but they are quite different. Stable flies feed on blood only and have a very painful bite. House flies feed on feces and decaying matter, including rotting food. They don’t bite, but their presence is extremely annoying to horses.
Priorities when starting your fly control plan should include:
- Reducing the number of flies by starting fly control early in the season.
- Preventing flies from breeding by using products that interrupt fly life cycles.
Feed Thru Fly Control
One of the most effective ways to interrupt the fly life cycle is to start your horse on a feed thru fly control product before fly season begins and continue until cold weather arrives. Starting early allows you to stay ahead of the fly population by controlling the developing flies in manure.
Feed-thru fly control products are designed to work in the horse’s manure, not in the horse’s body itself. The active ingredients aren’t absorbed from the horse’s gastrointestinal tract. Rather, they are mixed into the horse’s manure, so that when it passes out of the horse, insect growth regulators in the product prevent the development of house and stable fly larvae laid in that manure. Because this interrupts the fly life cycle, it limits the population.
Fly control is an on-going process and good “housekeeping” is essential. Your early prevention efforts will become more effective when combined with routine sanitation and management practices that help keep fly populations down inside the barn and in the surrounding environment. This includes:
- Reducing larval habitats attractive to flies with regular cleaning and mucking of stalls and horse areas.
- Keeping your barn and pasture areas clean and dry by eliminating standing water.
- Removing overgrown vegetation and weeds.
Manure equals flies, so manure management is a crucial part of reducing your fly population. Both stable flies and house flies breed in manure, which is a major reason you don’t want a manure pile near your barn—or anywhere around your horses.
Ideally, you should pick up manure daily to keep pastures healthy and to prevent horses from ingesting parasites while grazing. Instead of dumping it in a manure pile close to the barn, the better plan is to compost manure or have it regularly removed from the property.
Feed And Hay
Fly control for horse barns also involves how you store and handle grain and hay. Exposed grain is a magnet for flies, while damp and soiled hay can turn into a breeding area. Make your barn less inviting to flies by:
- Storing all feed in containers with tight-fitting lids.
- Measuring out only what is needed at each feeding.
- Removing any uneaten grain from feed tubs.
- Sweeping up any spilled feed daily in stalls and throughout the barn.
- Removing damp and soiled hay from stalls and turn-out areas daily.
- Disposing of all trash in sealed, rodent-proof containers.
Treat The Premises
In addition to smart management practices, the use of premise sprays and traps will also help reduce the fly population around the barn.
- Use repelling sprays approved for barn use around the barn’s perimeter.
- Set traps for common nuisance flies outside to draw flies out of the barn.
- Do not use traps inside the barn or you will attract flies exactly where you are trying to get rid of them.
Protect Your Horse
Even the best management strategy cannot entirely prevent flies from reaching your horse, whether he is indoors or out. Horse fly masks can repel flies or actually block them by providing a physical barrier against biting and annoying insects.
- Block flies and protect your horse’s face, eyes and ears.
- Depending on your horse’s sensitivity, fly sheets and fly boots may also be helpful.
- Repel and kill flies (and other insect pests) with repellent sprays, roll-on, wipe-on and spot-on products, always following the label directions.
Which Products to Use?
A key aspect of effective fly control is using the right products at the right time. This will help maintain control and minimize fly impact throughout the season.
You’ll find many options for on-horse repellent products, so how do you decide which one(s) will provide the most effective fly prevention for your horse? You should consider:
- The type of pests you need to repel
- How long the product needs to last
- Your horse’s specific environment
Do you want protection against mosquitoes and ticks as well as flies? Read labels to determine which pests the product protects against.
Is your horse on pasture where you can’t spray him every day? In those situations, choose a long-lasting product, such as a spot-on, which is a great choice for pastured horses and is also very effective against ticks.
Do you ride regularly? Hard-working horses will be sweating, especially during warm months, so you’ll want a repellent with a water-resistant formula designed to work under those conditions.
Once you narrow it down to the best products for your horse, follow directions closely to achieve optimal results.
In addition to using the correct amount of product, it must be applied properly in order to work as described. Brush off dirt and loose hair before spraying. Avoid getting spray in your horse’s eyes by using a roll-on product for the face or apply the product to a rag first and then wipe the face and ears with it.
The most effective fly control strategies target flies throughout the fly life cycle, using methods for prevention, reduction and management.
The good news is that the battle against flies is weighted in your favor, thanks to a variety of products and the combination approach described here.
Even the best-managed strategy cannot entirely prevent flies from reaching your horse, whether he is indoors or out. However, having fewer flies to deal with will make your horse more comfortable. This is why fly control is an on-going process.