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Stop the Fly Cycle Before It's Too Late

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Where there are horses, there will also be flies. The way in which equines are housed, combined with the plethora of available food, make stables and barns perfect living quarters for flies. Like many insects, a fly’s lifespan consists of eating and reproducing. Horse manure provides the perfect organic material in which flies lay their eggs. Why wouldn’t a fly want to call a stable home? 

The abundance of flies is not only annoying but it is also a health concern. Stable flies are blood-sucking parasites that bite and feed on the horse’s blood. These painful bites, common in the tender belly and leg regions, can cause the horse to stomp in a frustrated attempt to remove the insects. Injuries may result because of the constant pounding on the legs, along with weight-loss and loose shoes.

The first step in controlling the fly population is to maintain a clean barn. Removing manure daily or more often, if possible, is the best way to stop flies from reproducing. Keeping the stable dry is also a deterrent; replace all damp bedding and hay. If you do come across recently hatched maggots, they can be killed by pouring boiling water over them. Promptly remove any garbage that may attract flies from the barn.

There are a number of items available to help control the fly population and keep your horse comfortable. These include:
 
  • Fly strips: Flies land on the sticky substance of the strip or tape and are stuck there forever. Be sure to hang them out of reach of animals and away from walkways.
  • Traps or Bags: These come in various forms including hard plastic traps with refillable and disposable bags that are thrown out after each use. Once filled with water as per directions, a bait is released which attracts flies that then drown inside the trap.
  • Liquid repellents: They repel pests but need to be reapplied often. Both wipe-on and spray formulas are available.
  • Fly Boots or Leg Wraps: Designed to keep flies away from the legs of the horse, they can be effective but require the horse to become accustomed to the feel of wraps on their legs.
  • Fly Masks: To protect the sensitive skin of the horse’s face, fly masks can be used indoors and outdoors. There are several different styles ranging from masks that just protect the horse’s face to those that also cover the horse’s ears.
  • Fly Sheets: Lighter-weight than regular blankets, fly sheets provide protection to the body of the horse when turned-out or in the barn. Horse fly sheets come in a variety of materials including mesh, with some designed to be used while riding.
  • Feed through Fly Control: These are feed additives that work by breaking the life cycle of the fly in treated manure. They are created to be safe, palatable and eagerly eaten by horses.

The best defense against flies is a great offense. Start in early spring long before the first flies appear, and utilize a variety of controls. Make sure you have a system in place to keep the barn clean, and work at prevention by feeding a fly control supplement. For flies that get past those defenses, be prepared with spray repellents and traps. Horses that are turned-out can be protected with masks and sheets to prevent possible injuries and maintain their comfort. 


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