Horses dancing, stomping, nipping at their bodies and swishing their tails. Itchy skin rashes, infected wounds that won’t heal, bald patches from rubbing against posts, fences, or anything else that brings relief. It’s time to take up arms in the War on Flies!
While we appreciate the greening of our pastures, we’re not thrilled with the negative effects of all this rain on our herd. One of the greatest menaces to horses and their owners this time of year is the exploding fly population.
Not only are flies annoying as heck to horses and humans alike, they carry dangerous diseases such as equine infectious anemia, pigeon fever, influenza and other illnesses. They also carry allergens, which can lead to skin rashes and eye irritation (and potential injury from scratching). You might also blame flies if your horse is losing weight in the spring and early summer. It ain’t easy to focus on grazing when you’re too busy squirming, swishing and stomping away hoards of zombie flies.
Our first couple of springs were miserable, but as we gained experience, we learned some tricks to make fly season a little more bearable for our horses. We’ve found that when we attack the problem on multiple fronts, we’re able to stay ahead of what can be an uncontrollable nuisance.
Please note: we’re not advertising or vouching for any product or company. We’re just sharing our experience, which may be different from your experience.
Flies love two things that Oklahoma horse ranches have in abundance: Water and manure. Control those two things, and you’re well on your way to winning The War on Flies.
Be sure you have sufficient drainage to prevent standing water. If you’re like us, and you can’t stay ahead of the rain and mud, keep air moving through your barn with strategically-placed fans.
As for the poo, you know what you have to do. Remove manure from places where your horse(s) lounge and eat daily. At least once a week, relocate all manure to an off-site Magical Land of Poo, or cover as much as you can with tarps.
We’ve seen a huge reduction in our fly population since we started weaponizing our horses’ poo. Feed-through products like Prairie Pride Rabon Blocks and Simplifly pellets break the fly life cycle by inhibiting the ability of fly larvae to grow in the mama fly’s favorite birthing spot.
Pound for pound, the Rabon blocks appear more cost effective; but bear in mind, while horses love the taste, the blocks fall apart easily and degrade with weather. We put the blocks in pans to catch the broken pieces, but the horses kick the blocks to the ground, so the effort is futile. The Simplifly pellets are easier to control, but they’re pricey.
Protect the horse
- No matter how successful you are at controlling your fly population, you won’t be able to kill or prevent the birth of all flies. We’ve had luck with fly masks, fly sheets and boots. We do most of our shopping at Tractor Supply, but you can find protective barriers at most farm supply stores. Masks come with and without ear protection.
- Topical sprays and ointments also help protect your horse. We’ve had success with a natural repellent released in 2019 by the makers of Fly Predators (which we’ll discuss later), Spalding Labs.
- Bye Bye Insects is made up of natural ingredients, but we’ve found it to be at least as effective as the repellents derived from harmful chemicals.
- For more stubborn situations, we also like Manna Pro Freedom 45 spot treatment.
- Farnam Swat ointment is great for hard-to-reach places, or around wounds that attract flies.
- We also like Absorbine Ultra Shield spray.
Protect the shelter
- We don’t like spraying pesticides around our horses, but when we’re forced to take drastic measures, we’ve had luck with Bayer Annihilator.
- What better way to deal with pesky flies than Mother Nature’s way? Flies have a natural predator that wipes out generations of the little buggars at their source. Teeny tiny, barely-visible parasitoids in the wasp family devour flies in their pupal stage – which means they never get a chance to grow up and drive you nuts. We get our Fly Predators at Spalding Labs. From what we’ve read, cheaper imitations are a waste of money.
Our two strongest weapons in The War on Flies have been the Fly Predators and the feed-through fly control. Before we started using those two products, we relied mostly on fly traps and glue strips.
Today, we still take plenty of prisoners, but not nearly as many as we did before we invested in the big guns.
The Starbar Trap ‘n Toss disposable traps must use fly meth as bait, because we can fill up a container within a week. Just be sure to throw it far, far away. You’d be amazed at the stench all those tiny fly corpses can generate.
We also like the Rescue Trapstik for wasps. Flies can’t read packaging, so they don’t realize they’re not invited to this sticky party until it’s too late. The added benefit is that carpenter bees (the devil’s house pets) also can’t resist the Trapstik.
The most important thing to remember in the War on Flies is that you’re not just trying to get rid of them because they’re annoying and filthy and disgusting and unsanitary (though they are). Flies also pose a serious risk to your horse, and staying on top of an effective plan of attack can save you a lot of time and money. Your horse(s) will love you for it!