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Fly control for horses and barns

Fly control for horses and barns

Now that the weather is warm in east Tennessee, the flies are coming out in a big way. One afternoon recently I happened to catch Valentine coming in for a drink and noticed his face (mostly his eyes) were covered in flies. We probably waited a little too long to begin our fly control routine but the good news is, we can catch up. Flies and horses go together but our fly control system works very well. We use a combination of the following things:

  • Fly masks
  • Feed-through fly control
  • Equi-Spot on-horse
  • Liquid fly traps
  • Mr. Sticky Roll Fly tape
  • Fly spray (as needed)
  • Fly predators
  • Aerated manure composting – coming soon
  • Chickens

Wow, that seems like a lot, but let me explain. Flies come in cycles with adults living from 3-4 weeks. But before the adult stage they move from egg to larva to pupa stage in 9-25 days (feeding on organic material) for house flies and 23-52 days (feeding on blood) for stable flies. So any kind of fly control you implement today won’t be noticeable for several weeks, which is why you need to get started as soon as possible. There are so many ways to control flies but not all of them target the same part of the life cycle. So let’s explore my list in more detail, with prices:

Fly Masks – we use fly masks (our current favorite is the Farnam SuperMask II) because they have an immediate impact. I noticed flies on my horses’ eyes and was immediately able to rectify the problem. The first time we ever used a fly mask, our horses didn’t particularly like the velcro ripping sound but eventually got used to it and give us no trouble at all putting them on in the morning or removing them in the evening. Yes, that’s right, you need to put them on and take them off daily. Although the masks have the added benefit of cutting down on light (kinda like horsey sunglasses!), this obviously isn’t a good thing at night. And even though the screen of the masks make it look like horses wouldn’t be able to see out of them, I’ve actually strapped one on and driven down our street to prove a point. You can see fine through the screen mesh, as long as it’s day. Cost is $15-$20 each but they last a long time if you take care of them.

Feed-through fly control – I was initially concerned with feeding insecticide to my horses but it’s a very small dose for them and has proven effective and safe in horses and cows for many years. Feed-through fly control works well because it keeps the flies from hatching in manure. You won’t notice the benefit for weeks but this method works very well if you stick with it all summer. Some feed stores sell it in 2 pound tubs and higher, some feed stores actually sell it in bulk so you can buy a small bag for less than $10. I’d recommend sticking with a well known brand, though and do some research before selecting which brand you’re going to trust.

Equi-Spot on-horse – Equispot is applied directly to the body of your horse, mostly down their spine and on their legs. It’s effective for a couple of weeks at repelling and killing “house, stable, face and horse flies, plus eye gnats and ticks on horses”. This is the only method we use to treat against ticks, so it’s pretty important. It needs to be applied every 2 weeks or so but the benefits are worth it and it takes affect immediately. Oh and it has a nice citronella smell and is water resistant. The price is around $11 for a package of three applicators (one applicator per horse, per application). Sometimes Jeffers has a deal where you get one free if you buy 3 or 4 packages.

Liquid fly traps – I saw these at my local country hardware store one day and decided to give them a try. These are clear plastic bowls with a funnel underneath that the flies use to enter the trap. They’re attracted by fly stink bait (trust me on this – WEAR GLOVES to mix it. The smell stays on you for days otherwise.) and can’t escape, eventually drowning. These are cheap (around $5 each) and easy to setup. You open up the stink bait, add water, swirl it around a little, turn it upside down and hang it somewhere. In weeks you’ll have a disgusting pool of dead flies. It’s gross but it works. Since it uses a fly attractant, don’t hang in the barn.

Mr. Sticky Roll Fly tape – I saw this at Tractor Supply one day and had to try it. It’s a new take on the idea of fly tape. Instead of those cylinders handing from the ceiling with yellow tape on them, the Mr. Stick fly tape is more of a thick string on a set of rollers you can string above your stalls. The tape is long – 81 feet. Flies are attracted to it, stick and die. When the tape is full, you turn the roller to reveal more. Much faster than the old fashioned fly tape and the price is low. Less than $10 for 81 feet.

Fly spray (as needed) – Our horses HATE this stuff but probably because it comes in a spray bottle. It’s not very water resistant and needs re-applying often. But where fly spray makes sense is for as-needed situations, such as around (not on) a healing wound or on the legs. To minimize the spray bottle effect, we spray onto a cloth and them rub the cloth on the horses. This works especially well on their faces. This stuff is pretty expensive, running $10-$25 per bottle, so we use it sparingly.

Fly parasites – Fly parasites (really gnat-sized parasitic wasps) remind me of alien science fiction movies where the alien hatches from it’s prey. That’s pretty much how it works with fly predators, too. And gross as that may be, these have been effective at fly treatment for us for years now. You subscribe to receive regular shipments throughout the fly season and every 3-4 weeks a shipment comes in a padded yellow envelop. You have a few days before the parasites hatch. Once they begin hatching (they look like little gnats), you spread them around where flies are likely to be, such as a manure pile. And although I at first was concerned with introducing a parasite near my horses, they are only interested in pillaging the flies. Price is around $15-$20 per shipment.

Aerated manure composting – I’ve been talking about this for a while now but ultimately we need to do something about our manure. That’s what seems to attract flies the most and we have plenty of it. Of course you should endeavor to keep manure away from the barn as much as possible but the reality is, this isn’t always possible. We’ve been looking into aerated composting as a way to not only deal with the fly problem but also to ensure that manure is fully composted, killing weed seeds and harmful bacteria before we spread it in the pasture. Composting is a pain, normally, but aerated composting uses perforated pipe, a fan and timer to inject oxygen into the manure pile periodically, stimulating bacterial breakdown. It’s said you can convert manure to safe compost in 30 days using this method, without manually turning the pile. We haven’t done it yet but we’ve scoped out a location and made some napkin drawings of what it would look like. Cost is around $1,000-$2,000 so we’ve been putting it off. There are a few companies selling aerated composting systems and we’re hoping to doing a review in an upcoming series of posts.

Chickens – We were given some chickens last year and have enjoyed almost everything about having them. One bonus is that chickens seem to love eating fly larvae, so I have to include them in our fly management routine. They need very little care, don’t smell (unless you have a lot of them) and skip the rooster and you won’t have to worry about baby chickens. The eggs are great, too. The biggest problems we have with chickens are what to do with all of the eggs (one per hen per day most of the year) and since we free-range our chickens, predators. We’ve been pretty lucky so far but there is little we could do to save them if a wandering dog went into to predator mode.

As with anything relating to chemicals and your horses, make sure you do research before pursuing any of the insecticide options in particular. Some don’t mix well with others and your safety and your horse’s safety should be the first concern.

So that’s what we do to handle the annual fly problem. Are you doing anything different?

05-20-2010 Update: added chickens to the list!

Who Was That (Fly) Masked Horse?

Who Was That (Fly) Masked Horse?

Fly maskWe are battling the flies again. In some ways, I don’t think they’re as bad as they were last year – probably because of a late frost that killed off a bunch of our normal pests – but the ones that are deviling our horses are really bad. Last year, we had a three-pronged approach to fly control: Equispot on the horses, feed-through fly control in the horses, and fly parasites in the horses’ environment. This year, we just weren’t prepared. Between the weird weather (One day, “It’s spring!” Then, “Wait, it’s winter again.” A week later, “I think it’s summer already!” The next day, “Nope, winter again…”) and our traveling, the flies kind of got the jump on us. Our poor horses are really suffering.

We are in fact using the fly parasites again this year, and I think they work really well. Unfortunately, without investing in a really big supply of them, we can only effectively treat the barn area. So the barn is virtually fly-free, but the pasture, where the horses spend most of their time, is still pretty fly-infested. That’s where the feed-through fly control would work. (Both the fly parasites and the feed-through fly control work by stopping fly larvae where they are laid – in the manure.) We like to get ours from a local feed store because it’s very economical, but haven’t had a chance to get over there (“local” for us means within 75 miles; this place is about 50 miles away). In the meantime, we’ve been using fly spray, which our horses hate and which doesn’t seem to work all that well anyway. We’ve also applied SWAT to their bellies again, which is very nasty and messy but does seem to help.

Since the flies seem to bother their faces the most, we decided we’d give fly masks a try. We got just one yesterday to see if they would even consent to wear it. We bought a SuperMask II without ears. Since my horse is was a fancy show horse and therefore seems to be more open to weird things being done to him, we thought we’d try him first. We put him in the stall, got out the mask and brought it over to show him. He backed away like I was holding a snake! Not a good start. But after letting him sniff it all over and giving him lots of reassurance, he did actually let me put it on with no trouble. He wore it for a couple of hours out in the pasture and didn’t seem to care at all.

One reason we didn’t try the mask last year is that we were concerned that it would affect their vision. All the fly mask companies claim that their masks don’t obstruct vision, but since “keeping an eye on things” is so important to a horse, we didn’t want to impede their sight in any way. So we tested it on the way home to make sure you really can see through – Bill wore it while driving. 🙂 He says he could see just fine. So I don’t think there’s anything to worry about there. Isn’t he a devoted horse owner?

On the down side…it sure looks goofy. On the horse, not Bill. Well, okay, on Bill too. It’s a hard look to pull off.

Death to Flies!

Death to Flies!

No to flies!
Fly photo by Manlake Gabriel on Unsplash

Time for a report on fly control. First, a little history.

When we first got Valentine, it was the dead of winter. It was very cold, and we were very new to all aspects of horsekeeping, including manure management. We didn’t have a clue what to do with the poo he filled his stall with every day. So, what we did was…and I’m embarrassed to admit this…chuck the manure over the wall of Valentine’s stall into the stall next to his. It was meant to be temporary until we figured out what to do with it long-term. We don’t do that anymore – but there’s still a pretty big pile in the vacant stall. The thing is, we have a really nice trailer to load it up in and take it out to the pasture. But we had to disassemble that trailer to get it onto the other trailer to move it out here (Bill has a “thing” for trailers). And we haven’t found the bolts to put it back together again. So it sits in pieces next to the barn and the pile of manure sits in the vacant stall awaiting the assembly of the trailer. It’s a sad, sad cycle.

Anyway…so knowing that there would be a lot of fly attractant sitting around the barn (and by the way, we are moving it out a wheelbarrow at a time, but it takes a while), we knew we’d have to be pretty aggressive with fly control. We decided on a multi-faceted approach:

Feed-through fly control. As the name implies, this is a supplement that you add to their feed. There are several different kinds. Solitude IGR, EquiTrol, SimpliFly and similar products contain a horse-safe chemical that is passed through the intestinal tract into the manure where flies lay their eggs, preventing the formation of the larvae’s exoskeleton when they molt (gross, huh – but they are FLIES). There are also a few herbal-type supplements that are supposed to make your horse unappealing to biting insects, such as Inside-Out. (I’m thinking of trying one of those myself, I’m entirely too tasty to mosquitoes and such.) We chose a formulation offered by a local feed store. It’s of the first variety, the exoskeleton knocker-outer. We add 1 teaspoon to their food every night, and they don’t complain. We’ve been feeding it to Valentine for about two months now with no problems.

Fly Parasites. It sounds strange, but we bought bugs to eat other bugs. Not only that, but these fly parasites look like tiny little flies themselves. But instead of harassing your horse (and you), they eat fly pupae. Yummy! We ordered them by mail through Arbico Organics (there are several companies that sell these). They send a batch of Fly Eliminators once a month. The first batch we got was already hatching; the new batch we got last week isn’t hatching yet, but once the bugs start hatching, you open up the bag they’re in, distribute them at dusk around places where flies might want to lay eggs, and let them go to town. We see no flies around our giant manure pile, so I tend to think they are working quite well.

Spot-On Fly Control. If you have dogs, you’ve probably used a product like this to repel ticks and fleas. It comes in a little tube that you squeeze on your pet from neck to tail. For dogs, it comes in a 1 ml tube; for horses, 10 ml. We use Equispot. You squeeze one ml on the poll, one ml on the back of each leg, then the remaining 5 ml along the back from ear to the top of the tail. Frankly, I’m not impressed with this product – the flies don’t seem to be deterred from any of these areas at all, and still congregate around their eyes. But I haven’t stopped using it to see if it will make a difference, either.

Fly Sprays. We started using a fly spray to supplement the Equispot about a week ago. There was a lot of stamping going on – the horses were frequently stamping the ground to shake flies off, and this can actually cause injury to the horse – so we spray their legs with Bronco Fly Spray before they go out in the morning. The first day, we tried to do it after they were already out in the pasture. I don’t recommend that, because they’re not fond of being sprayed with anything, and it’s a lot harder to aim the spray when they’re moving out in the open than when they’re in a 12’x12′ stall.

Wound Care. Flies are unfortunately attracted to open wounds. Your horse is going to get owies, and you, of course, don’t want to spray a strong insecticide on an open wound – that would really sting. There are fly repellants especially formulated for open wounds. Since they’re “gentle,” they’re also good for, ahem, sensitive areas. Our poor horses were being eaten alive on their bellies, so I posted a message on Horse City’s forum asking for advice. I was told to use SWAT ointment. It is also working very well.

There are other options as well: good old-fashioned fly strips, bug zappers, and fly masks. We haven’t tried any of these yet, but we may in the future. In the meantime, we’ll continue our current methods of fly mass murder.

Death to all flies!

Spring Arrives in TN; Flies Rejoice

Spring Arrives in TN; Flies Rejoice

It has been so nice in East Tennessee this past week. Think 70’s during the day with a few light sprinkles. A week ago today it was SNOWING, for goodness sakes. The forecast for the foreseeable future, according to the local Dopplercast 9005 Weather Watch Storm Center (I made that up), is 70’s during the day and possibly even 80. Yeah! Mikki and I enjoyed Valentine this past week, as well as just being outside in general. As I walked across the yard in slow motion (just like the movies) with some springtime song playing in the background, I noticed the dogwoods in bloom (I don’t know what they are really but let’s call them dogwoods because that sounds nice), pretty purple flowers, bees buzzing about, wasps wasping…around me…get it off, get it off, GET IT OFF!

Flies on Valentine

Just today, this very day (well actually since it’s after midnight, technically yesterday now) Mikki and I noticed a ton of flies bothering our expensive investment large family pet. We knew the flies would come. The flypaper hanging from every beam in the barn warned us of that. Now that the little critters are hatching, it’s time to get serious about a fly control strategy. Up for consideration: better manure control, evil fly-eating but horse-friendly parasites, fly strips (hung outside the barn since they are an attractant), on-feed fly larvae killer (such as Solitude IGR from Pfizer, containing cyromazine) and a solar fly trap (not sure what that is yet). Poor thing (the horse, that is) is being pestered something fierce and it’s only going to get worse. We’ll try a few of these “fly control” systems out and report back what’s working and what’s not working.

Oh, by the way, today is Parenthesis Day (in case you didn’t know). Okay, I made that up too but I did use parentheses 8 times in this post (in case anyone is counting). Oops, 9 times now.