Flies are very good at reproducing, and even better at annoying everyone who comes into contact with them. Some of them even carry disease. At the very least, they can make a horse spend the entire day stomping his feet and swishing his tail to get rid of the nasty creatures.
As the weather warms up, flies start to multiply. A few different kinds of flies like to bother horses, especially the stable fly, the face fly, and the horse fly. These insects have made a profession out of hanging around horses. Stable flies like to bite the horse’s legs. Face flies feed on the moisture in the horse’s eyes. And horse flies—those big, black, winged bugs with giant eyes—like to sink their sharp mouthparts into a horse’s withers or croup. (If you ever have the misfortune of riding a horse while he’s being bitten by a horse fly, hold on tight!)
Although flies are a fact of life if you have horses, you can take a number of steps to keep these pests to a minimum. Here are some pointers.
- Manure management. Flies love horse poop. They buzz around it incessantly, landing to eat it and lay eggs in it. Getting rid of fresh manure can go a long way in keeping fly populations down. Clean manure from your horses stall or pasture frequently; at least once a day or more if you can. Dispose of the manure in a sealed bin, and have it hauled away at least once a week.
- Keep things dry. Flies also love wet areas, and certain species will breed in standing water and wet bedding. If you want to keep fly numbers down, get rid of damp spots wherever you can. Throw out urine soaked bedding every day during fly season. And don’t let puddles of water sit around on your property, either. If you have a leaky automatic waterer, get it fixed. When cleaning troughs, avoid dumping water in a place where it will pool. Not only will flies take advantage of standing water, so will mosquitoes.
- Use flytraps. All kinds of commercially made flytraps are available to horse owners. These include sticky tape like the Catchmaster Fly Ribbon that you can hang from a barn or tack shed ceiling, Starbar Fly Traps that attract flies with color, or baited traps, like the FlyFixed Reusable Trap. These traps do not rely on insecticides, but instead attract flies and capture them so they can’t escape. Setting traps up around your barn can help keep the fly population down.
- Try feed-through control. Products designed to control fly populations using an insect growth regulator (IGR) stop flies from developing past the larval stage in the horse’s manure. These products are fed as a top dressing to grain or commercial feed, and pass through the horse into the waste. When flies lay their eggs in the manure, the larvae feed on the active ingredient and are unable to complete the growth cycle to adulthood. Some examples are Solitude IGR Feed Through Fly Preventative, Simplifly Feed-Thru Control and Equitrol II Feed-Thru Fly Control.
- Use biological insects. If you prefer to avoid any kind of pesticides, try using biological insects to control flies in your horse’s environment. Parasitic wasps that feed on fly larvae can be effective. You scatter the wasp pupae in areas where your horse leaves his manure, and the wasps hatch and feed on the fly larvae. (The wasps are very tiny and do not bother humans or horses, so no worries there.) Birds can easily make a meal out of your wasp larva if you aren’t careful, so it’s important to place the wasp pupae out at early dawn or at dusk to discourage birds from eating them. Two companies that these parasitic wasps are Spalding Labs, and ARBICO Organics. A subscription during fly season means a monthly delivery of wasp pupae.
- Use cover ups. It’s virtually impossible to get rid of all flies, so for the stubborn pests that remain, use protection on your horse. Fly masks keep face flies out of your horse’s eyes, while fly wraps can prevent stable flies from biting the legs. A flysheet that covers much of your horse’s body can also keep horse flies from landing on his back and withers, where they like to deliver a painful bite. When you can’t cover up your horse, apply a generous amount of fly repellant to keep bugs away. A light coating of fly spray can go along way in stopping flies from harassing your horse.
When it comes to keeping flies away your equine companion, try not to be a perfectionist. It’s just not possible to keep every fly out of your barn. Even if you used every kind of fly control method available, and then stood outside 24 hours a day with a fly swatter, you’d still miss a few of these persistent pests. Do the best you can by keeping your horse’s living quarters clean and dry, and by using cover ups and repellents. And remember that when the cold weather comes, both you and your horse will get a well-deserved break.