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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".

Fighting Back

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 biting insects.

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 of trouble.

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 them immediately.

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 fly.

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 bot flies.

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 for gentleness.

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 in closets.

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 garden stores.

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 more information.

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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