June 2006
Horses, Horses, Horses!

Flies, flies, flies! Now isn’t that a lovely way to start an article, yet it is the time of year that they seem to be everywhere........just everywhere, especially if you are anywhere near a horse. They bite, and brother they hurt........stable flies, horseflies, deer flies,  et cetera; and heaven help you if the horse you are riding this summer gets a deer fly stuck under its belly........ you will be in for the ride of your life. The horse people reading this know exactly what I am talking about.

Of course, there are remedies for killing the flies (and no, I am not talking about Grandma’s fly swatter, though sometimes I think that may work better than a lot of things on the market). There are even more repellent remedies than there are remedies that kill the pests. In fact, as I have been researching what is available, I have been a bit overwhelmed by all the rubs, wipes, sprays, bonnets, masks, nets, covers, traps and baits that are out there. There is a tremendous amount of research and money going into finding a good way to get rid of these insects that torture us, our horses, and every other warm-blooded creature within their flying range.

The term "warm-blooded" being key here, because that is what these pests are out to get after all........blood. The female horsefly and deer fly are vicious, painful biters. They have knife-like mouthparts they use to cut through the skin and then they will suck blood for several minutes if allowed to do so. Not only are their bites extremely painful, but they can be dangerous as well. They can transmit diseases in humans as well as horses, but equine diseases more commonly known to be spread are Equine Infectious Anemia (EIA) and Potomac Horse Fever (PHF). The male species of these particular blood-letters surprisingly do not bite or draw blood at all........they instead survive on the pollen of vegetation. The females have to have the blood meals to produce viable eggs and therefore propagate their species. Both the horsefly and the deer fly deposit eggs on vegetation around moist soil or very near water. The larvae burrow down into this moist soil and mature into flies in the late spring. The summertime is their time for immense activity.

Unfortunately, there are over thirty species of "blood-letting" flies, and one of the most pervasive of these is the stable fly. Both male and female stable flies feed on blood, and their persistence in attacking to get their meals is a huge source of irritation and aggravation to humans and horses. Whereas the horsefly and deer fly are larger insects, the stable fly is very similar to an ordinary housefly, just a little larger. In fact, the stable fly has been called "the biting housefly." The best way to control these pests is extreme sanitation in the barn and surrounding areas.

These insects lay their eggs in decaying fecal matter and plant wastes that are usually plentiful wherever there are stabled or pastured animals. This fly’s larvae can develop in excrement mixed with straw, hay, soil or grain. There are many chemical controls on the market that will repel or reduce the number of these pests, and these are good products for the most part, but the very best and first step to fly control is keeping the stable and barn areas clean. 

A nationally respected entomologist (a professional bug man) named Jim Arends, who just happens to own horses, has a "Fly Checklist" for keeping flies at bay:

*Muck stalls daily

*Spread manure away from horse facilities and harrow it into the soil

*Chain-drag pastures to break up manure

*Scrub water troughs weekly

*Spray rafters and ceilings with residual insecticides

*Cover feed containers

*Clean up hoof trimmings

Of course, no matter how extremely clean your barn is, the words "fly control" in the south are an oxymoron. The south is simply too hot and wet.  We are a proverbial playground for insects, flies not excluded.

Personally, I like the fly spray for horses that smells like citrus. You can get it at your local Co-op, and it seems to work as well as any I’ve tried and it smells good to boot. I’ll spray my horse down with it, and then spray my clothing with it also. It works really well.

Of course, people have all sorts of preferences, and one of our readers wrote me to find out if I know of any homemade recipes for fly sprays for horses. Bettina Cunningham wrote that she had heard of a homemade fly spray recipe using Avon Skin So Soft bath oil and eucalyptus oil, and she wanted to know if I knew of any others. Bettina, the only other homemade recipe I managed to find is one in a book by Julette de Bairacli Levy called "The Complete Herbal Handbook for Farm and Stable." In her book she explains a similar recipe to the one you described........ "treat areas where flies gather by applying a light rub of waste motor oil. Add a few drops of oil of eucalyptus per pint for extra good effect." She also recommends rubbing strong wine vinegar morning and night into the hooves and hanging up bunches of elecampane, sage, rosemary and chamomile to help repel flies and mosquitoes. Her rub recipe and your spray recipe sound like pretty much the same thing, except the Avon bath oil sounds nicer and considerably safer than old motor oil (especially be careful to avoid the eyes and not get it in any feed).

Well, summertime is here, and even though it is the fly’s most active time of year, it is also the season where we are the most active. There is a lot of fun in the sun to be had with our horses this summer.

I know I’ll be picking up a new bottle of that citrus fly spray from my local Co-op really soon. Whatever form of "fly control" you choose to use, make sure you read the directions and use it safely.  Check with your local Co-op to find out more information on the year round pest controls they have to offer, and try the citrus fly spray, you’ll like it.

Once again I would really like to know what horse people want and need to know about their animals.  Please feel free to send suggestions, questions, and comments to the mailing address: Cooperative Farming News, P. O. Box 2227, Decatur, AL 35609-2227, or fax: 256-560-2605, or email This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.?subject=From%20alafarmnews.com">This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..

Janet Bryant is a freelance writer from Oneonta.