The Battle of “Flymageddon”
After spending most of my horse ownership years at a boarding facility, and suddenly moving to my own property, it has come as quite a surprise just what it takes to carry on the “Battle of Flymageddon”. Don’t get me wrong, I’ve housed at barns that did zero, nada, nothing about fly control, and have personally (out of my own pocket) battled this obnoxious pest myself. Fortunately, I have learned a trick or three. However, moving onto a property with 1) no tractor 2) a herd of cows across the street 3) a herd of unkept horses just down the road and 4) moving onto a property that was not properly cared for…I have come to the realization that I will be tackling the fly issue “all on my own”.
So here are some things that I have learned so far…
Though I have never used a fly mask in all the years I have owned horses, I now own several - and am buying backups! There is just not enough fly spray in the world or hours in the day to apply enough fly spray to keep the flies from absolutely harassing the horses, especially when they outnumber the horses 5000 to One. In part that is because I don’t like to use chemical based fly sprays (only essential oils), and partly because even the most deadly of fly sprays has a limited number of hours in which they function. Equiderma makes a very nice fly spray (I dilute it a bit with apple cider vinegar for any horses it is too strong for) but be aware some horses ARE allergic to it! However, the essential oils have the benefit of helping defeat fungi and bacteria on the skin…which I got to witness first hand with a 30 year old mare who was rubbing her mane off. As an old lady, even with the best of care, she is still coming up with various issues that I need to deal with. Blink…and she has a new problem. In a couple of weeks of use I have watched the hair grow back in and the itching stop. Go essential oils! As for the fly masks, I am heartily enjoying the Roma Stretch Bug Eye Saver…its soft, so if the horse snags it on something they aren’t stuck for good. The eye ports are hug and if the eye fabric gets squished into the eye its not going to injure the eye. I’ve also noticed less chance of flies getting inside the mask than happens with stiffer brands of fly masks. The ear coverings are also soft and I haven’t seen any rub marks from the softer fabric. Downside, since it slides on from the nose, it takes some practice to get it on the horse without them freaking out about having it drug up their face. It also may tear more easily than other fly masks, but is quickly fixed with some iron on patch material. I also like that I can throw it in the washing machine without worrying about Velcro sticking to everything. I linked Dover Saddlery to the mask simply because its the first place I bought one, but they are widely available.
So beyond what I can do ON the horse, there is also IN the horse. Diatomaceous Earth added to damp feed (with either oil or water) not only helps keep internal parasites under control but it also helps slow down fly reproduction. And yes, I am quite aware that there are articles out there that say DE doesn’t work for parasite control, but the “proof is in the pudding”. Using the right amount, and using it correctly is very important (as with anything). Adding ¼ to 1/3 cup twice a day to feed (remember, it has to be dampened down so its not breathed in!) will pass through the body and stay in the poo. That in turn makes it more difficult for flies to lay eggs in the poo as it will dry out more quickly, and will help dry out any fly eggs/larva. Flies lay eggs in damp places, not dry ones.
There are quite a few natural supplements out there that aid in fly control. Herbs (such as Neem…but use cautiously!), Nutritional Yeast, and Garlic can all aid in controlling pests internally (all available in our shop). I am not one for the “one product does it all”, but rather I prefer to use a combination of items that work together to approach an issue, especially when it also makes the body stronger and healthier. In that way you are not going to be using one item that may overload the system, but each item can be used at safe levels for long term use.
In The Field
Maintaining fly control is not just about controlling flies on the horse, but controlling them on the property as well. There are several ways to control manure for pest control…
- When piled, moistened and COVERED, turn regularly so it breaks down into compost as quickly as possible. Covering will keep more pests from reproducing as well as heating the pile up to a higher temperature. Keeping it moist (so it drips lightly when squeezed but does not have standing water) also speeds up the decomposition rate.
- Break up or collect poo piles as quickly as possible. Piles take a long time to completely dry out but will dry out more quickly when spread. If you don’t have a tractor, (like I currently don’t), collecting everything into a pile and composting it or breaking up the piles (to use as “quick” fertilizer) will lessen the breeding of flies. Composting is best, but if you have a large field and no tractor, spreading the piles with help.
Other aids that will help…
Nothing beats an old fashioned stinky fly trap! They are inexpensive, and, if managed, do a great job! Replace when they get about an inch of fly bodies in the trap for best effectiveness. If you are trying to wait until the entire trap is filled…well, it’s just not going to function like you would hope. Also make sure the water stays up to recommended level. The traps dehydrate quickly in the heat so add water regularly. This will also keep the “stink” stirred up to increase effectiveness.
Also available on the market are sticky fly traps for biting flies. I buy these through Spalding Labs. You have to be very careful where you place them but when placed correctly they will wipe out those nasty leg and belly biting flies. They need to be placed low where morning and/or evening sun will glint off of them and upwind…if you place them down wind, chances are any dust stirred up by the horses will ruin the traps. It takes some planning but they are worth it!
These handy little fly “look alikes” love to munch on fly larva! Its never too late in the year to buy them (as long as its before the first frost) since they will start in on next year’s batch of flies. The longer you use them the more effective they are. Be sure and follow the recommended usage from the company you buy them from or you are literally just throwing away money. They don’t travel far from where they are placed and aren’t the hardiest of creatures so read your directions carefully! These are also available at Spalding Labs and are the originators of fly predators.
Other pests to consider…
Yellow Jackets, ground “bees”, midges….all can be contained with the same approach. Traps and plenty of prevention and diligence will reap future rewards. Don’t expect fly sprays to do all the work for you. That is just wishful thinking. Prevention is the key!
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