Flies--annoying pests? An understatement, at best. Not only do these adversarial insects bite, buzz and sting, they also spread disease.
The reality is that flies are enemies that come with horsekeeping, and you're not going to be able to take down every single one. But you can educate and arm yourself on ways to put them into retreat. We'll provide anti-fly management tips to help you reinforce your battlefield, and then we'll deliver specifics on six weapons of mass destruction. We'll help you identify some of the other side's troops as well. Time to wage war...
First Line of Defense
Before we survey the heavy artillery, implement the following management tactics to make your facility the least hospitable to flies.
Control moisture. Insects are drawn to wet areas, where they breed as well as drink. Keep stalls dry; eliminate standing water in low-pasture areas and in such receptacles as old tires or feeders; create good drainage around your barn; repair plumbing leaks; cover rain barrels.
Manage/remove manure. Manure is the housefly's meal of choice. (Despite its name, the housefly is a major horse-area pest. See "Enemy Troops" below.) Clean stalls, pens, and other confinement areas daily; if possible, completely remove manure to an off-site location once a week; or, cover manure piles with a heavy tarp or treat on-site for later removal.
Employ the power of air. For stalled horses, strategically place large fans in your barn--air blasts will keep flies at bay; for pastured horses, provide access to open, breezy expanses.
Keep flies' foodstuffs under wraps. Dispose of garbage appropriately (enclosed under airtight lids); cover grains and other feeds securely.
Provide solace in the dark. Provide shade (some fly species avoid dark areas); turn off barn lights to avoid attracting flies and other insects.
Avoid unsavory neighbors. If possible, don't pasture your horses next to cattle or other livestock; cow manure, especially, draws vicious horn and face flies.
Six Anti-Fly Weapons
Besides taking fly-control management steps, you have other ammunition at your disposal. Here are of six of the most effective fly-control weapons, along with particulars on each.
(sprays, roll-ons, gels, shampoos)
Method: Make your horse less attractive to flies.
How they work: Serve as a contact repellent/vapor barrier to fend off flies. Topicals with natural (pyrethrums) and synthetic insecticides work to "knock down" or deter flies; products without insecticides repel via citronella and other oils.
Pros: Easy to find and use; convenient for on-the-road use, such as when showing or trail riding, or when horse is away from barn for schooling or on pasture.
Cons: Relatively short-lived, depending on product; if you frequently bathe your horse, or he sweats significantly, you'll lose effectiveness.
Time factor: With lower-priced products, apply daily or directly before riding. For higher-end products, apply every five days to two weeks (see product labels for specifications).
Best when: Used in conjunction with feed-throughs or fly parasites, which kill flies at the larval stage.
Cost: Largely depends on product and type of application. In general: the lower the cost, the shorter duration of protection.
Product examples: Absorbine Concentrated Fly Repellent and Bug Block Easy SwipeT (absorbine.com); EQyss Summer Defense Marigold Fly Spray (eqyss.com, smartpakequine.com, and various other retailers) Farnam'sT Bronco Fly Spray (farnamhorse.com); Fiebing's Flyspray 44 (fiebing.com); Golden Nugget G-Natural Cream for face, ears, and sheath or udder areas (sold at various retailers).
(sheets, masks, boots)
Method: Outer protection/barrier for flies and other biting insects.
How they work: Fly sheets: Lightweight mesh protects horse from withers to rump; many also offer neck, chest, and belly protection. Fly masks: Protect critical facial areas; styles vary: some cover eyes only, some extend over ears, some down over muzzle. Fly boots: Cover sensitive skin on lower legs.
Pros: Mesh material prevents horses from overheating; many barrier-type products offer sun protection (good for horses with exposed pink skin); masks help prevent conjunctivitis; sheets also protect coats from dirt and sun-bleaching.
Cons: Some sheets don't protect sensitive areas like the face and belly; applying and maintaining equipment requires some elbow grease; not practical if you're the sole caretaker of more than a few horses; can be dangerous if herdmates pull/bite sheet or masks, or if horses are pastured in brushy or timbered areas.
Time factor: Minimal to medium: applying/removing sheets, masks, boots when necessary. (For horse's comfort and visibility, it's recommended to remove masks at night.)