Flies and other biting insects are a constant part of a horse-owner’s life.
No one wants to see their horses stamping and swishing their tails at flies all day, not to mention the very real threat of insect-borne illnesses like equine encephalitis, West Nile Virus, and equine infectious anemia.
Often, the first thing a horse-owner turns to when they are trying to fight biting insects around the barn is fly-spray. Repellents and insecticides, however, should be the last line of defense in the battle against bugs. The real key to your horse’s safety and comfort is keeping the flies from ever entering his living space.
Wipe out their breeding program. Flies love manure and decaying material. Mosquitoes love standing water and persistently wet areas. When you are ready to start wiping out the insect breeding program that’s been going on around your barn, start here: with their favored breeding grounds. Fix leaky hose faucets, identify drainage problems, and get them fixed. Keep an eye on the most innocuous and innocent looking places: an up-turned bucket can collect water in the rim around its top edge, for example. It might not be a lot of water, but mosquitoes are very small — they don’t need a lot of water to feel right at home.
Manure piles are part of life. But keep it as far away from your barn as you can. Carting services that provide a container and cart the manure away periodically can help keep the manure problem in one area, instead of all around your barn. And keeping the barn as swept and well-kept as possible goes without saying.
Fight bugs with bugs. Another option is to kill the fly larvae before they are hatched. Fly Predators are tiny flying insects that destroy the pupa of stable and other pest flies. Mail order services can provide barn-owners with a regular supply of fly predator larvae, which is then sprinkled in areas where pest flies like to breed: crevices and cracks near stall walls where manure might be lurking, or near the manure pile, for example. While pest flies can travel as far as a quarter mile in search of your barn, fly predators stay right where their buffet is: the fly pupa. When used properly, fly predators can significantly diminish a fly population.
Trap ‘em. Still have flies in the barn? We’re almost to fly spray, but first — get a fly trap. Or ten. These buckets of fly attractor catch an astonishing number of flies, so why are they in so few barns? Like their older cousin, fly-strips, fly traps can be hung strategically around your barn doors and will distract a sizeable number of the flies entering your barn — just long enough to trap them and kill them.
Consider screens. How much do you love the screens on your windows? As much as your horse will love screens on his windows, maybe. In some parts of the country, screened-in stalls are growing more commonplace, as horses who develop painful dermatitis due to tiny biting flies or mosquitoes need to be completely shielded from invading bugs. If you have a center aisle barn, screening in the stable could be as simple as adding window screens to your stall windows that look outside, and adding sliding screen doors to your main entrances. Of course, then you still have to yell at the kids to keep the screen door closed, just like your mom had to do with you.
Air fans. They are another option for keeping bugs out of the barn. A jet of air directed vertically downwards from a fan above the barn door (think about the outside door to a commercial kitchen) prevents flies from entering. Some are loud and the noise could be off-putting if you have to listen to it all day (not to mention walk young horses under it), do your research.
Spray, spray, spray. At last, right? At first glance, just buying fly spray might seem like the easiest, most cost-effective way to keep flies off your horse. No major investment, just pick it up with the feed order and spray when you groom. And after you bathe. And when you get to the barn to feed breakfast. And before you leave for the night. And when the farrier asks you to three times (and asks you if you have a different brand, or something stronger, or if your horse is just emotionally unable to deal with flies).
The fact is, fly sprays have to be your last line of defense if you really want to deal with your fly problem. There are just too many different types of biting insect attacking your horse for one insecticide to manage all of them. And if you don’t like pouring insecticide directly onto your horse, the natural options only do so much, as well. You’re fighting a forest fire with your garden hose at this point.
Keeping your barn fly-free is not something that happens overnight. It takes an assessment of the way you run your barn and a careful plan of attack. Fortunately there are many, many options out there that you can put together for a system of fly prevention. With a little research and a few changes, you can make your barn a more comfortable, and healthy, environment for everyone.