One of the most important things a horse keeper can do to ensure his horse’s good health is to utilize good pest control practices. “Pests” include, but are not limited to, flies, lice, mites and other insects; grubs/worm larvae; rats and mice and other vermin.
Fortunately, there are a number of precautions to take, along with diligence in observation and daily care, which can go a long way in preventing these pests from becoming a nuisance to your horse. These include having a good and effective manure management program; keeping stalls and barns clean and sanitized as much as possible and utilizing physical barriers such as screens in the barn and masks/sheets on your horses. In addition, there are now a number of companies offering IPM (integrated pest management) products, such as predator flies, along with organic and chemical sprays, baits and traps.
Let’s begin with management of stable and houseflies. Control of the immature stages of these insects (the eggs, larvae and pupae) is much easier than after the adult population has swelled and becomes a nuisance. These immature stages thrive in moist conditions, especially manure, wet and soiled bedding, spilled and wet feed, for 10 to 21 days. You should prevent manure and wet bedding from building up, and remove spilled feeds or silage immediately. Clean your stalls on a daily basis and barn/paddock areas at least weekly; more often depending on buildup. Manure and soiled bedding can be spread to dry out and therefore kill eggs or larvae. Inside your barn, you can hang flypaper or sticky tape to catch flies and other insects, just remember to replace them every couple of weeks as they become filled with flies or dust or lose their stickiness.
Barns, paddocks and stall areas should be well drained, as puddles and mud mixed with manure can provide an ideal breeding ground for insects. Check under and around watering and feed troughs for trouble spots and use sand, fine gravel or soil to fill in low areas that tend to puddle up.
In recent years, there have been a number of companies offering naturally occurring biological control organisms, such as fly predators and parasitoids. Commonly called “fly parasites”, the most effective parasitoids are wasps or flies that attack only a particular stage of one or several related species of pest flies. The immature parasitoid develops on or within the targeted pest, feeding on its body fluids and organs. They are smaller than their host, and almost always kill the host.
We have used these ‘fly predators’ on our property for a couple of years and we did notice a decrease in the numbers of many types of flies on our property. The tiny predators arrived in a zip-lock baggie along with some wood shavings — and we were instructed to sprinkle them on and around manure piles and areas of heaviest traffic/manure. We never did notice any of the ‘predators’ out and about, but were pleased to note that during a summer of fairly heavy infestation of ‘greenheads’, deer flies, bot flies and stable flies in other locations, our horses were not at all unduly bothered by these flies. Our efforts at using fly masks and occasional application of a pyrethrin fly spray on the horses appeared to be all that was necessary to keep them comfortable. The fly predators seemed to have had a lasting effect, as it has been at least five years since we ordered them, and these past few summers were not particularly ‘buggy.’
Integrated Pest Management (IPM) programs first choose the least risky pest controls to utilize pests, only utilizing the broadcast spraying of pesticides as a last resort. With the problems that beekeepers are finding across the country, horse owners will want to use caution before employing the use of broadcast spraying of these non-specific chemicals.
Insecticides are an important part of an integrated pest management program, whether fly sprays you use on your horse, space sprays for enclosed areas, and baits. You’ll want to check the label to be sure the product is safe to use around horses and other animals, and that it does not contaminate water supplies or pose a threat to the environment — or to any predator flies or other biological controls you might be using. Fly bait traps can be effective for low or moderate fly problems. These can be purchased, and you can even make your own by using plastic gallon jugs to hold the bait.
Physical barriers, such as flysheets, masks and boots or leggings are very popular with horse owners and will most likely help your horse to feel more comfortable and protected from flies. There are more choices available on the market — for example, fly masks come is many different sizes and styles — some with ear covers, some without, some extend longer down the muzzle than others. As with any other article of tack, you’ll want to measure your horse and make sure the mask or sheet fits properly. Fly masks, sheets and leggings should be removed each day after turnout. Be sure to check your horse for signs of rubbed hair or injury under the apparel and wash each item when necessary. Check also for burrs or other pieces of foreign material that could become lodged or stuck inside that might not be apparent at first glance.
Utilizing several different types of pest control in an integrated pest management program will go far in helping to keep fly and insect populations under control. Remember that the key is prevention — and being pro-active before these pests become established — will keep your horse healthy and comfortable during the warm season.