With the recent rash of warm and cool weather, intermixed with a little rain and then burning sunshine, the Central Coast has seen a spike in flies and insects of all sorts. Out at the barn, I’m sure that most of you have begun to see the effects. A few weeks ago, I arrived at the ranch to find my mare covered in bites, but only on one side of her neck (the side where her mane doesn’t lay), as the rest of her is covered in a fly sheet. Being the good horse mother that I am, I went to work trying to abate the fly problem with sprays and the like.
As it happened, I had an appointment at Alamo Pintado the next day for my mare to see the farrier. I took the opportunity to ask my veterinarian, Lisa Teske, to have a look at my mare’s terribly itchy neck, and she agreed that it was a “bug problem”. She pointed to two horses being walked passed us at the time and I saw they too were covered in different sized bumps, “We’ve seen a lot of this lately”, she commented.
Antihistamines Bring Down the Swelling
Just to get a good handle on the problem, my vet suggested that I give my mare a course of antihistamines. As it turns out, you can, indeed, give your horse Benadryl, but at 10 pills twice daily, this was more cost prohibitive (and more of a pain) than simply purchasing what was offered at the vet’s office.
So, began a course of twice a day medication for two weeks. This meant making up baggies, mixing grain, supplements and medication, and making extra trips out to the barn. Slowly, I began to see the bumps start to fade, though, not as quickly as I would have liked. I decided that I needed to take a more proactive approach.
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Skin Under Cover
If the flies can’t get to the skin, they can’t bite it, right? Well, that was my next course of action. I had been religiously keeping my mare’s fly sheet, but the detachable “neck guard” has never worked well for my particular horse. Instead, I opted for adding a “slinky hood” to cover her from nose to shoulder. The “slinky hoods” stay in place far better than the hoods that come attached to fly sheets, in my experience, and I’m not nearly as worried about her getting caught up or “hooked” on anything while wearing one. My mare’s “neighbor” has the same problem with fly hoods, and his owner took my advice and purchased him a slinky hood as well.
Fly Sprays and Stuff
So, now my mare is covered from nose to tail with a hood and fly blanket. Still, it was obvious in looking inside of her stall that there were flies buzzing around everywhere. The effectiveness of “sprays” has decreased over the last few years, and I’m not the only one who has noticed. Several studies have been done showing that flies and other insects have slowly become somewhat immune to our “sprays”, and as each new season arrives we have more trouble. One way to combat this is to be sure to rotate your fly sprays – don’t just use the same one for an entire season. Try something for a month and then go to something else, this makes it more difficult for flies to become immune to our efforts – much like with rotating dewormers. Additionally, try a fly “repellant”, like Zephyrs Garden Pure that has essential oils and natural scents that discourage the flies from landing on your horse. This, in addition to the “heavier” sprays will usually do the trick.
Don’t forget that while not 100% effective, fly traps can also help make a difference in your barn or in your horse’s stall. They attract the flies and then kill them, and while they don’t get them all, they do reduce their numbers. Try putting them in areas where flies are the worst – inside your horses stall (where he can’t reach of course) – in barn common areas, where manure rakes and wheelbarrows are kept, etc. Try something like the Starbar FlyRelief Disposable Fly Trap.
Other Methods for Reducing Flies
Finally, in combating the flies, there are other methods that some people use to combat flies, but they require more of a “team effort”. There are “feed through” supplements that you can give your horses to kill fly larva, like Farnam Simplifly with Larvastop, but the truth is that if your horse is the only one in the barn who is receiving it, the flies are just going to live off your horse’s neighbor’s manure and come back into your horse’s space. So, unless all horses at the barn are using this method, it’s not likely to work well.
Many people have good results with homemade recipes or even feed through supplements that include apple cider vinegar and garlic that actually give your horse a “scent” that repels the flies – try SmartBug-Off Pellets. I have personally had luck with these types of remedies and repellents in the past.
Finally, if you can get your barn manager on board with treating the entire facility, Fly Predators are the way to go. These little “bugs” come during fly season, boxed up in the mail, right to your doorstep – sprinkle them in areas where manure is kept and it actually stops the fly life cycle and reduces the amount of flies at an entire facility drastically. You can find more information on the Fly Predators website.
Beat the Bugs
In the end, the moral of this story is to stop the problem before it starts. Don’t let your horse get into a situation like my mare did where her skin is breaking out in hives. Keep on those fly sheets, consider adding a slinky hood, rotate your topical fly sprays and repellents, and consider other alternatives if you’re able to make things a “barn effort”. By all accounts it’s going to be a “buggy” season, so get started on your abatement plans early!
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Cover photo: Sharon Jantzen Photos
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