There are a variety of ways to keep flies from disturbing your horses this summer. (photo by Kirk Gollwitzer)
There are a variety of ways to keep flies from disturbing your horses this summer. (photo by Kirk Gollwitzer)

Keeping flies and gnats off horses can be challenging

Published 8:58am Thursday, May 23, 2013

Polk County has a mean annual rainfall of 62 inches, a mean temperature of 60 degrees and a lot of mean bugs.

“Last year at this time it was worse, but as the nighttime temperatures rise above 40 degrees, the bugs will be out in full force,” said Laura Backus, owner of Little Mountain Farm Supply. “Every year is different, but the two main weapons many owners consider to be must-haves are insect traps and bug sprays.”

Stable flies, deer flies, gnats and mosquitoes are just a few of the biting creatures making their way to the sensitive bodies of horses and frustrated humans. But wait, there’s more. Lice and ticks bed down in horses’ manes and tale areas, while fire ants wage war in pastures. Backus said natural products, considered safe for humans and horses, have limited effectiveness on mosquitos and gnats and are also weakened by sweat and rain. The advantages with using traditional chemicals are that many contain conditioners and oils that last longer and repel a broader spectrum of insects.

Backus tells customers to read the product labels carefully before buying them.  Many products are effective on some insects but fail on others. “Sometimes manufacturers can be misleading with their marketing claims, so you really have to read the fine print,” says Backus.

As with most active ingredients, Backus also recommends rotating the products during the buggy months because many species of insects and worms (including offspring) can build up immunities against the chemicals.

Many insecticides and repellents are also sold in the form of feed-through products. These active ingredients pass completely through the digestive systems of the horse and kills insect eggs and larva in the manure afterwards.

“These products are promising, but if any cattle are living nearby, they will be more than happy to share their collection of flies with your horses as well,” exclaimed Backus.

Many fly species are very motivated to travel as far as a 1.5 miles for a good reason. Some fly bait products are also showing a level of promise, but Backus warns that they can be toxic to birds and children.

The importance of barn cleanliness clearly proves to be the most effective way of battling the insect population. Daily removal of manure and left over food will help keep bugs populations down. 

Editor's Picks