Green Fly-Fighting Power

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As you arm yourself with fly-fighting power, you can stay eco-friendly, thanks to an array of products available. Here, we give you seven green ways to battle flies.

Fly parasites attack the developing stages of flies, so that adult flies never hatch. | Photo Courtesy of Spalding Labs

Fly parasites attack the developing stages of flies, so that adult flies never hatch. | Photo Courtesy of Spalding Labs

#1 Fly Parasites
What they are: Fly parasites attack the developing stages of flies, so that adult flies never hatch. According to Tom Spalding of Spalding Laboratories, "The idea is to increase the ratio of good bugs to bad flies to eradicate the unwanted." These tiny insects are completely harmless to humans and animals. In fact, you likely won't even know they're there.

What makes them effective: Fly parasites act on the immature fly stages, eliminating them before they become viable, reproducing adults.

How to use them: The insects will arrive on a preplanned and preset schedule, so you can achieve and maintain a consistent level of beneficial pests. You'll sprinkle them in potential fly-breeding areas.

Insider tip: "Startjust before the beginning of fly season, when daytime temperatures reach the high 60s," says Spalding. This way, flies can be eliminated before a large population of adults gets established. (Keep this approach in mind for next spring.)

Sample products: Arbico Organics Fly Eliminators; Spalding Laboratories Fly Predators; The Source Ecological Fly Control FlyRaptors.

#2Baits/Odor Treatments
What they are:Baits produce an odor that attracts flies to a lethal pesticide. "The odor can be described as meal or mate, depending on whether the attractant is sugar-based or pheromone-based," explains Tony Schultz of Starbar Products. Although chemicals are used, you won't apply them directly to your horse. Odor treatments, which are nontoxic, repel flies from the stall area.

What makes them effective: Adult fly populations are reduced in the area where your horse lives without harming the environment.

How to use them: Scatter bait (or use bait trays) around your horse property, but don't place them inside your barn or close to horses, as they attract flies. Scatter odor treatments, such as BugBand pellets, in your horse's clean stall.

Insider tip: "With baits, it's all about location, location, location," Schultz says. "Place them in areas to draw flies away from your horses or barn."

Sample products: BugBand Spreadable Geraniol; Bayer Animal Health's QuickBayt Fly Bait, available from Valley Vet Supply; Starbar QuikStrike Scatter; Starbar Golden Malrin.

#3 Ultraviolet Devices/Fly Traps
What they are:Ultraviolet devices (commonly known as bug zappers) lure flies with light, then electrocute them with an electrical grid. These are most effective when it's darker out, so use them from dusk to dawn. Fly traps come in sticky and odor versions. Sticky traps generally attract flies using color (yellow, orange, or red) or shape (curved or flat surfaces with sturdy edges), then trap the flies with a sticky substance. Odor traps lure flies by using a pheromone and/or a food source. Once inside the trap, the flies can't escape.

What makes them effective: You can eliminate literally thousands of flies with one bug zapper or trap, effectively making a huge dent in the adult fly population. Many of these devices also can be reused, which makes them a great green option. "They're safe for animals and humans alike, as long as you follow the manufacturers' instructions," notes Schultz. However, don't place these devices in or near your barn, your house, or any food or water sources, as they'll attract flies to these areas.

Insider tip: Identify the flies you're fighting, use the right kind of trap for these flies, and place the traps in the most effective locations for these flies.

Sample products: Biconet's Revenge fly-control products; Starbar's fly-control traps and products; Sterling International, Inc.'sRescue Fly Traps.

#4 Stall Barriers and Fans
What they are:Stall barriers create a shady, cool area inside your horse's stall or shed. They work because flies are attracted to sunny, warm areas. Stall fans direct airflow downward and outward, creating a breeze that flies don't like. Plus, fans can literally blow small flying pests away from your horse's environment.

What makes them effective: These methods work because they're simple. They don't rely on gimmicks, and they're totally green. They create inhospitable surroundings for flies. As a bonus, they create a cool, breezy environment that enhances your horse's comfort.

How to use them: Hang stall barriers at all barn doorways and over any windows that don't have screens. They need to be long enough to keep low-flying flies out, but they don't necessarily need to be floor length, depending on what types of flies are most common in your area. The perfect stall barrier is made of mesh, so it doesn't impede airflow.

Install fans high to blow downward and outward. Use a gentle setting, so you don't stir up dust and other particles that could harm your horse's lungs. A simple box fan from a big-box store will work just fine.

Insider tip: Don't worry that your horse will be intimidated by these methods. While it may take a while for him to get used to the barriers, he'll quickly figure out that the fly-free zone exists beyond the barriers. He'll be zooming in and out in no time.

Sample products: Horse Fly Net's stall barriers; SmartPak Equine's fan holders.

#5 Eco-Friendly Topicals
What they are: Chemical-free topical fly repellents you'll apply to your horse's skin and/or haircoat.

What makes them effective: The active ingredients in most eco-friendly topicals are fly-repelling essential oils or botanicals.

How to use them: Apply fly sprays and wipes to your horse's body and legs. Roll-ons and wipes are great for areas where application can be tricky, such as around his ears and eyes, on his face, and even inside his ears. One important caution comes from Martha Lefebvre of Farnam Horse: "Think safety first. Always read the labels on fly sprays, and apply them according to recommended practices. If the label recommends a spray pattern or coverage amount, follow those directions for maximum efficacy."

Insider tip: Because green topicals are made of all-natural ingredients, their repellent properties tend to not last as long as chemical-based products, so be sure to reapply them often for maximum protection.

Sample products: Absorbine's Ultrashield and Supershield Green fly repellent; Bugband sprays and towelettes; Farnam's Equisect and Nature's Defense; Equine America's Natural Horse Spray; EquiLite's Ricochet wipes and spray; Zephyr's Garden Pure & Simple Fly Spray.

#6 Fly Mask
What it is: Flywear made from mesh thatcovers your horse's face. (Ear coverings are optional.) All types of flywear are green, as they contain no chemicals. Plus, you can use an old fly mask to scrub buckets, barrels, and troughs.

What makes it effective: A fly mask not only keeps out flies and other pests, but also protects your horse's eyes, eyelids, and nose from the sun.

How to use it: Flies like the heat, so in hot, sunny weather, apply the mask from sunup to sundown. That's a long wear time, so make sure your horse can eat, graze, drink, lay down, sleep, roll, and even frolic with friends while wearing the mask.

Insider tips: Watch for rub spots on the head or contact abrasions with the surface of the eye. Also, eliminate anything in your horse's environment that might catch on the mask.

Sample products:Absorbine UltraShield EX Fly Mask; Cashel's Crusader Fly Mask; Duravet Equine's Duramask; Farnam's Super Mask II; Kensington Product's Fly Mask and Catch Fly Mask; and Wrangler Fly Masks from Professional's Choice; SmartPak's Classic Fly Mask; Weaver Leather's fly masks.

Fly sheets and leg coverings work because they reduce the overall body surface exposed to the predations of flies. | Photo Courtesy of Wrangler

Fly sheets and leg coverings work because they reduce the overall body surface exposed to the predations of flies. | Photo Courtesy of Wrangler

#7 Fly Sheets/Leg Coverings
What they are: Flywear that protects your horse's legs and body from flying pests. These are important, as he's extremely sensitive to touch. He feels every fly that lands on him. So imagine how crazy hordes of flies in the height of the season must make him. And if they're biting flies, it's even worse.

What makes them effective: The more of your horse's skin you can cover, the less likely flies are to bite or bother him. Fly sheets and leg coverings work because they reduce the overall body surface exposed to the predations of flies.

How to use them: Choose the fly-sheet material that suits you and your horse best, whether a soft material that's usually a cotton blend, or a harder material often made with a PVC coating. Also decide whether you'd like a sheet with a neck covering (either permanent or detachable).

Leg coverings need to be easy to apply, stay up, and be breathable, so they don't create an unhygienic environment underneath.

Insider tip: Generally, a fly sheet made from harder material is more durable, but it also tends to cause more rub sores and can be more difficult to fit properly, because it's stiffer.

Sample products:Dover Saddlery fly sheets; Horseware Ireland's Amigo and Rambo Fly Rugs; Wrangler Fly Sheet and Leg Wraps from Professional's Choice; Schneider Saddlery's fly sheets; SmartPak's Deluxe Fly Sheet with Insect Shield, the Classic Fly Sheet, and Deluxe Fly Boots; Summer Whinnys' horse socks, Weaver Leather's fly sheets.


Jenny Sullivan is a long-time horsewoman, freelance writer, and equine journalist who lives in Wheat Ridge, Colorado.