I would like to thank you for taking the time to talk to me yesterday regarding my deceased mare Picante.
Your credentials are very impressive
and I would certainly feel confident if you were handling Picante’s case.
Axens North America
|Title of Article: "The Fly Control Arsenal -
Help Your Horse Battle the Enemy"
Author: Hallie McEvoy
Your horse's territory is under attack. He is surrounded
by villainous pests and outnumbered. The air power of the
enemy is strong, and his weapons are painful and sometimes
deadly. However, you are ready to come to your horse's rescue.
You are armed and ready with a wide arsenal of techniques
and products to repel and kill flies - the enemy.
Identifying the Enemy
Let's take an in depth look at the enemy, the lowly fly and his
friends. Whether horse, stable, black, bot, deer, horn,
or face fly, mosquito, or biting gnat, all cause problems
for horses. Flies act as carriers of such diseases as Equine
Encephalitis (Encephalomyelitis), Equine Infectious Anemia
('Swamp Fever'), African Horse Sickness, West Nile Virus,
Anthrax, and many others. All these diseases cause extreme
illness and can be fatal. Potomac Horse Fever, which causes
illness with fever, diarrhea, and sometimes laminitis, is
thought possibly to be tied in some way to biting insects,
but research is ongoing.
Common side effects of 'benign' fly infestation include skin conditions,
poor appetite, nervousness, and irritability. Horses can
work themselves into a lather and actually lose weight while
they race about trying to flee their predators. At the very
least, a fly's constant irritation will annoy your horse
and cause him pain, itching, and discomfort. It is no wonder
that Helen Castle once said, "If Noah had been truly
wise, he would have swatted those two flies".
Whether you have a herd or a single backyard horse, a plan for combating
flies must be formulated. There are multiple tactics you
may employ for help in your battle. Good stable management
is at the heart of any fly control program. Products are
available from your tack shop and your veterinarian to protect
and defend your horse. Fly sheets, masks, and other protective
equine clothing can shield your horse. Feed supplements
and natural methods can help tremendously in your war on
Battle Tactics - Lines of Defense
During fly season, consider switching your turn-out schedule. Turn
horses out to pasture in the evening and stable them during
the day, the heaviest biting time. Put screens up in the
stable to keep out as many insects as possible.
Many fly species, gnats and mosquitoes require either standing
or running water for breeding purposes. Control of these
insects should start with elimination of their aquatic breeding
sites. If possible, standing pools should be drained or
treated with larvicides or repellent oils. This can be difficult
to accomplish due to several factors. The breeding locations
may not be on your property and the owner of the site might
not be interested in investing in an eradication program
that can be costly. Treatment programs can also cause damage
to other farmable species such as fish, shrimp, and bees,
as well as wildlife populations.
Other types of flies life cycles start in manure or moist fermenting
hay or vegetable matter. Hay that builds up from feeding
on the ground is a particularly fertile place for a fly
infestation to start. If you live near the coast, grasses
that wash ashore in rotting clumps can also be a source
Here your first line of defense is good stable management. Attack
the pastures and corrals with a pitchfork and wheelbarrow.
Rotate pastures to keep fly and parasite infestation low.
Pick up uneaten hay on a daily basis to keep fly breeding
to a minimum. Have your manure pile removed frequently and/or
treat it with insecticides. Consult with your veterinarian
and county agents as to the best treatment method to prevent
contaminating ground water or injuring other species.
Keep the stalls and area surrounding the stable spotless. Muck
stalls daily and pick out manure throughout the day to make
your stable unattractive to biting pests. Keep half-filled
muck baskets and wheelbarrows covered if you do not dump
Botflies require specific, stringent management techniques. When
bot eggs are laid on a horse they must be removed as soon
as possible. Specific products are available to remove the
eggs such as knives, scrapers, and dissolving lube. If a
horse licks the eggs, his saliva warms them and stimulates
hatching. The bot larvae then migrate and attach themselves
to the stomach walls where they spend eleven months until
they reach maturity. They then pass out via manure where
the vicious cycle starts all over with the hatching of the
Bot infestation can be extremely debilitating for horses. Wormer
with boticide is recommended at regular intervals, but the
best prevention is not letting botflies lay eggs in the
first place. Sprays and wipes are effective in repelling
Barn and stall misters work very well to keep the fly population
from exploding in your stable. The misters work on a battery
or electrical system that sprays a specified amount of insecticide
into the air at regular intervals. Misters may be purchased
in a small single stall size, or in a large system that
will protect the entire stable. Since these systems are
automatic and synchronized, coverage is evenly distributed
over the desired area and is very convenient.
Barn and stall sprays can be applied to a wide area with a fogger.
Foggers may be purchased at hardware stores and some tack
shops. Check directions carefully for correct and safe concentrations
to use in direct application to the stable. A strong benefit
of using a fogger is that results are almost instantaneous.
Drawbacks can include residues being left depending on the
brand of spray used.
Fly traps, bait, fly catchers, and pest strips are all useful
in killing flies, but work best in combination with other
control programs. Most traps, bait, and catchers work via
an attractant or sex pheromone that causes the flies swarm
to the trap or bait. They are then killed by an insecticide
or permanently trapped. Pest strips come in a tight roll
which is unfurled to reveal a sticky 'glue' and fly attractant
which causes the flies to land and become stuck. A drawback
to these strips is the noise of trapped flies buzzing endlessly
which can be annoying.
Wipe or spray on repellents work by being applied directly to
the horse. Active agents that you should look for in a preparation
include pyrethrins, permethrin, cypermethrin, butoxypolypropylene
glycol, piperonyl butoxide - technical, and citronella.
Some products also contain lanolin, aloe, and sun screen
to help preserve and condition the coat while offering fly
protection. New products available are rotational fly repellents
which work by rotating from one to another, which helps
keep flies from developing a resistance to specific ingredients
in an insecticide.
The best results are obtained when the horse's coat is clean.
Dirt should be removed prior to applying wipe or spray.
Always apply lightly to a small area of the horse to check
for allergic skin reactions to the product chosen. If your
horse suffers a reaction, wash off and call the veterinarian
for further treatment.
There are now many repellents on the market specifically made
for your horse's face. Repellent towelettes come packaged
individually and are handy for use out on the trail or at
shows. Roll-on repellent lotion is packaged similar to roll-on
deodorants. It is one of the best ways to apply protection
around the eyes and ears.
Repellent ointments are useful in dealing with open cuts and abrasions.
Flies cluster at these spots causing infection and delayed
healing. These ointments promote healthy healing by repelling
insects while encouraging healing with topical anti-bacterial
formulas. Look for mixtures that also include aloe and lanolin
Many horse shampoos now come in insect repellent formulas. These
shampoos work in two ways. First, the shampoo will eliminate
any resident pests such as lice and ticks. Secondly, the
shampoo treatment will then repel flies and other insects
for up to several days after the bath.
Protective Gear - The Well-Dressed Equine
Flysheets offer insect protection without the use of insecticides
or chemicals. The best sheets are made of interlocked, woven
mesh that is fray and tear resistant, and durable enough
to stand up to an active horse. Sheets should be non-absorbent
so that sweat is wicked away from the horse. Light colors,
especially white, are preferable to help keep the horse
cool. Sheets also have the added bonus of keeping your horse's
coat from becoming sun faded and dry. A drawback to fly
sheets is that they do not offer complete body protection.
Fly spray or wipe may still need to be applied on the legs,
belly, neck, and face.
Fly face masks (also sometimes called bonnets), browbands, and
eye nets offer varying degrees of protection. Face masks
are made of see-through fine mesh or netting, often nylon.
Generally Velcro is used as a closure. Elastic edges provide
a close fit to keep insects out. Some masks cover the ears,
eyes and face. Others just protect the face and eyes. Masks
should be hand washed frequently, at least once a week.
Look over any horse wearing a mask daily by removing the
mask and checking the face and eyes. It is a good idea at
this time to rub the face with a cool, damp sponge or rag
to keep the horse comfortable.
Protective browbands have plastic-type strips that hang down over the
horse's face and eyes. The strips are treated with insecticide
to help repel flies and are generally effective for months.
Browbands are helpful to use on horses not closely checked
every day because most have a breakaway feature should the
animal become tangled with a fence or tree.
Eye and ear nets are one of the oldest forms of fly protection.
Most nets are made of a cotton blend cloth that looks crocheted
and has fringes or tassels that dangle down over the horses
eyes. The ear coverings are usually a solid cloth. The net
is fastened under the throatlatch with either a buckle or
tie. Ear nets have become quite popular in recent years
as a fashion statement on jumpers.
Fly whisks are another early form of fly protection. Although
it may look like a crop, the primary function of a whisk
is to swat flies while you are riding. Horse tail hairs
are attached to the base of a crop to enable you to whisk
flies from your horse's head, neck, and legs. A word of
caution: some horses feel a bit spooky about whisks, so
always try it out on your animal while you are unmounted
to check for adverse results.
Tail extensions are a little used protective measure that work
very well for some horses. Candidates for extensions are
animals that have short, thin tails that do not afford much
'swatting' power. A hair extension attached or braided in
can offer great relief to the tail impaired. Some horsemen
have been successful using strips of cloth braided into
the tail to give it extra length.
Feed Supplements and Natural Fly Control
There are several 'feed through' supplements that offer powerful
protection against flies. Some are formulated with vitamins
and minerals, so they have the added nutritional bonus of
a nutritional supplement. Most are in pelleted form so the
formula is easy to mix with grain. The active ingredients
are oral larvicides which pass through the digestive tract
without being absorbed. This method of fly control is very
effective for any fly species that hatch in manure, as the
fly larvae are killed before they can breed.
Apple cider vinegar can be added to the feed to act as a natural
deterrent to flies. It takes several weeks for vinegar to
build up as a repellent, so it is best to start feeding
it prior to fly season. 1/4 - 1/2 cup once or twice a day
seems to work well for the average horse. Although this
method does not repel flies entirely, every little bit helps!
Certain plants when planted around the stable or pastures have a
repellent effect on flies. Marigolds have scented oil glands
that repel flies and fleas. The best variety is the Mexican
marigold (Tagetes minuta) as it has a very strong scent.
They are also pretty to use as landscaping and are very
hardy. Insect powder plants (Chrysanthemum cinerariifolium)
also have insecticidal capabilities. Additionally, many
people dry this flower and put it in sachets to repel moths
Birds and bats can be very useful in reducing the fly population
around a barn. Many common birds have diets consisting largely
of insects. Bats, although much maligned, are highly beneficial
as voracious consumers of flies and mosquitoes. To attract
bats, set up bat houses around your property. Bat houses
are easy to build or can be purchased at local farm and
Beneficial insects, such as parasitic wasps (Muscidifurax raptor),
are very effective for fly control. Wasps do not kill flies
already living; they lay their larvae in fly pupae. The
young wasps then feed on the fly pupae, thereby breaking
the fly cycle. It is recommended that 250 wasps per horse
be released every week between May and October. These wasps
are very tiny and will not sting humans or animals. Check
with your veterinarian or county agricultural agent for
Putting a sprig of elder (Sambucus nigra) under your horse's browband
when going for a ride is a traditional, natural method of
keeping flies away from his face. Although elder does not
have insecticidal ingredients, the leaves seem to help keep
flies away from the face. Elder is useful to make ointment
for burns and cream for skin, so there may be something
in it that helps your horse's skin and coat repel bugs.
The oldest known fly protection for horses is the buddy system.
Horses have been standing nose to tail to swat each other's
bugs for as long as there have been horses. The mutual swatting
system is very effective at removing flies from the face,
neck, chest, shoulders, back, and rump. So, if you have
an only horse, go get him a buddy for fly control. This
is the excuse for a second horse you've been looking for!
A Final Word - Winning the War
You have been given an arsenal of weapons to win the war
on biting insects. Use it wisely: what works in one region
of the country may not work in another area. Talk to neighboring
horse owners and your veterinarian to set up an effective
fly control program. Generally, most horsemen find a combination
of methods work better than just one. Now, go forth and
help your horse battle his ancient enemy - flies.
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