Call Out The Natural Guard

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If you don't mind birds, barn swallows will happily nest in your barn, paying ?rent? by eating as many insects as possible.

If you don't mind birds, barn swallows will happily nest in your barn, paying ?rent? by eating as many insects as possible.

Kermit might sing, ?it isn?t easy being green,? but we think it's a lot simpler than you might imagine, especially when it comes to bugs. There are natural low-cost ways to reduce the seemingly invincible waves of horse-bothering insects. Best of all, they?re either free or nearly so (you might need to build them a home).

Barn Swallows.

You?ve probably stopped to admire these aerial acrobats no matter where you live. Originally cliff dwellers, they rapidly adapt to man-made structures and take full advantage of the insect population around farms when encouraged. Because they feed on insects ?on the fly,? as it were, they prefer open areas around those structures. Since their prey includes the flies that bug horses, you may want to take advantage of this natural predator.

You can encourage nest formation outside the barn by eliminating any convenient trees or poles that provide their usual enemies ? raccoons, snakes and cats ? easy access to nests under barn eaves. You can also build swallow-attractive nest shelves and attach them to poles sheathed in slick metal flashing that keeps the predators from scaling the pole.

If you want to stop that constant summertime stomping and tail swishing in your stalls, you're going to have to make some concessions and invite the swallows inside the barn. For a start, the swallows need 24/7 access to their nests, which means solid doors must remain open; luckily brood-raising is done during the warmest months, so that may not be an issue. Don?t be surprised if the swallows spend one season just flying in and out of your barn without nest building; they?re making sure you're not going to shut those doors.

Second, you need to monitor the nest-building sites, removing all initial attempts to build in bad locations, like right above water or feed buckets. The swallows are amenable to suggestion, and if you supply them with a small, tacked-up ledge on a beam, they will happily build their muddy nest there.

Concerned swallows will incidentally introduce salmonella' One recent study tested 8,000 swallows and not a single one carried the salmonella bacterium. However, it's wise to remove all early nest-building materials from stalls where very young, old, ill or compromised horses are housed.

There will be droppings; you can clean the areas under the nests daily, or ignore them until company comes (just like your house).

Lastly, the fledglings need some protection. When the young ones start to solo, lock up your barn cats for a day or so. The novice flyers tire quickly, causing them to land on anything to rest before trying another test flight, which makes them vulnerable to predators. And be advised: If several nests fledge all at once, which seems to be the usual scenario, You'll feel like Tippy Hedron (star of ?The Birds?) when you walk into your barn.

Marigolds.

Marigolds are hardy, easy to plant and fragrant. That smell, though, is often enough to discourage bugs from hanging out around the barn front door. So it's landscaping and bug control all in one step.

Marigolds are hardy, easy to plant and fragrant. That smell, though, is often enough to discourage bugs from hanging out around the barn front door. So it's landscaping and bug control all in one step.

Yep, the pretty marigold is Mother Nature?s OFF. Most varieties are highly insect repellent, and they?re easy to grow. The young seedlings are vulnerable to slugs in wet environments, and the adult plants may be eaten by grasshoppers in dry weather, but most insects give them a wide berth. Plant them around entryways and in window boxes on your barn. You'll soon notice the absence of flies that used to linger in the sun at your doorways ready to plague the first horse led outside.

Marigolds have long been assigned to the calendula family but have recently been reclassified as ?tagetes.? The French marigold (tagetes patula) is a stinky, little drawf, producing a noxious smell attributed to the chemical a-terthienyl.

Other fragrant options are ?Orange Boy? and ?Troubadour.? Tagetes lemonii is a wild perennial from Arizona and has one of the strongest odors. Or make it easy on yourself and use our time-proven method of simply going to the local nursery and buying the smelliest plants.

Bats.

Eeek, bats! Second only to immunization, these timid little flying mammals are your next-best defense against both the encephalitis and the West Nile viruses. One small brown bat, classified as a microbat, can consume 600 mosquitoes an hour.

Unfortunately an irrational fear of rabies has now put 40% of bat species on the endangered list, and where the populations have been nearly wiped out, insect numbers have exploded. Only 0.5% of all bats carry rabies; there is a much higher incidence in foxes and skunks. Besides, if you live in an endemic area, you're already vaccinating your herd against rabies. Right' RIGHT'

And forget the rural legend of bats getting entangled in your hair. They navigate and find mosquitoes by a highly sophisticated bio-sonar called echolocation. If they can manage to snare an astounding total of tiny insects in full flight, they?re not going to confuse your head with a bug.

Bats prefer to roost within a quarter mile of moving water and seek a diverse habitat, especially a combination of farming and natural vegetation.

If you don't already have a bat colony, you can attempt to attract one by installing bat houses in suitable spots around your farm. Bat Conservation International (www.batcon.org, 512-327-9721) offers detailed plans and even paint color suggestions based on regions of the country and average summer temperatures. They also sell fully constructed houses and provide additional information on placement and how to establish a colony.

One Last Easy Measure.

The ubiquitous yard light has more disadvantages than advantages: It actually attracts insects, the opposite of our goal and is a big energy consumer. The typical mercury vapor barn light consumes 200 watts of electricity when ballast is taken into account. (Ballast is the device incorporated in the lamps that provides the necessary voltage, current and waveform to start and operate them.) At 20?? cents per Kwh, the average 876Kwh of use adds up to a whopping $175 per year.

Consider putting your barn light on a toggle switch; it will still be available when you need it for those late-night colic walks. Or, if you're worried about security, install a motion detector, which has been proven to be much more of a deterrent than continuous lighting.

Now, take your newly-green self out into your mosquito-free backyard some summer evening and enjoy all those stars you?ve been missing.