Foiling the Flies: A Pest Control Primer

Flies, flies everywhere―and no relief in sight! What’s a person to do when these annoying, disease-carrying pests are on one’s horse, in the barn, out in the pen (and most definitely around the manure pile)?

There are many ways to prevent flies, mosquitoes and gnats from gathering at their favorite feasting spots. There are also ways to reduce existing fly populations and repel the insects that somehow make it past your carefully erected defenses.

The key is to use as many methods as is practical, layering them according to the need and the season. Here’s a look at what works:

1. Environmental management: Control of pest breeding and feeding sites begins with regular pickup of manure in stalls and pens, as well as the dragging/spreading of manure in pens and pastures. If manure must sit in the barn after cleaning stalls, cover it with a tarp. Situate long-term manure storage well away from the barn, and have manure removed as often as possible. Work to eliminate moist spots and any sources of standing water (we’re looking at you, fenceline feeders and gutter drains). Be aware of peak fly/mosquito times, and keep your horses indoors during those periods. And for extra relief, try fans! Air movement helps keep flies at bay.

2. Beneficial bugs: Fly parasites are non-biting insects in the cocoon stage that can be sprinkled around fly breeding spots early in the spring season and every few weeks during the warm months. The emerging parasites kill flies at the pupal stage, providing a head start on natural fly control around the barn and vicinity.

3. Feed-through supplements: Another way to get a jump on fly control is to start your horse on a feed-through fly control supplement in early spring, continuing through the end of fly season. Look for a product that is safely formulated without organophosphates to break the life cycle of both house and stable flies by preventing their development in the manure.

4. Fly masks, sheets and boots: Lightweight, breathable clothing designed to keep pests from irritating horses can be extremely helpful. Of all the types available, fly masks are especially popular, because they protect the eyes and the sensitive facial skin. Some styles of mask also shield the ears and lower nose. Look for adjustability (for optimal fit) and comfort features (like fleece at rub points). Masks should also offer adequate eye clearance and stay-put closures. Another way to get a jump on fly control is to start your horse on a feed-through fly control supplement in early spring, continuing through the end of fly season. Look for a product that is safely formulated without organophosphates to break the life cycle of both house and stable flies by preventing their development in the manure.

5. Topical fly products: When reviewing the wide array of topical fly products on the market (including sprays, roll-ons, shampoos, ointments and spot-ons), keep in mind the difference between repellents (which simply repel the pests) and insecticides (which kill them). Some products do both. Also look for longevity. Oil-based products tend to last longer than water-based products, since they are less likely to be washed away by rain and sweat.

6. Fly control devices: To augment your fly control program, consider adding stable sprays/misting systems, bug zappers and/or hanging fly traps where appropriate. But be careful to limit the use of products that attract winged pests to outside the premises.

Last but not least, be sure to follow the instructions on any fly control product and, when in doubt, seek veterinary advice.

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