Best Methods of Fly Control for Livestock Areas
Flies are a nuisance that can be found everywhere, but they are particularly bothersome for horse and livestock owners. Can you actually control flies on a ranch, and what are the best methods of fly control for livestock areas? Although a fly-free zone is virtually impossible, there are several procedures and products on the market that can significantly decrease your fly population.
Take a look at these tried-and-true methods for barn and pasture fly control.
Stepping out on the porch in a suburban neighborhood is likely a very different fly experience compared to stepping into the barn. This is partially due to the breeding grounds that flies require.
Most farms have a plethora of manure, creating warm, moist, and decaying organic matter. This provides an excellent nurturing environment for their eggs. Flies are also drawn to areas with other flies- hence why the scented sticky-tape traps are so effective for common house flies. Because of this, areas that show specks of dirt or manure (such a barn wall) are also likely to lure in more flies.
Other common forms of decaying organic matter include manure from other household pets, spilled livestock feed, rotten produce or compost, garbage, and even rotten leaf piles or grass clippings.
Due to the fly’s natural attraction to waste and breeding ground requirements, a significant portion of fly control will come from cleanliness and daily maintenance.
Despite how much we would like to completely remove manure piles, hauling off livestock waste can be time-consuming or a pricey service. If a manure or compost pile heats up enough, it will not be viable for fly eggs.
Livestock owners can increase the heat via tall build-ups, flipping to increase oxygen, or adding a compound such as lime to increase decomposition speed. If vertical piling is not possible, many opt to spread it out over a large area and mow or drag the area. This dries the manure quickly and does not allow flies to lay eggs.
Other cleanup efforts can include tidying areas mentioned above free from grass clippings or other pet waste. Drainage issues near livestock pastures and barns also allow moisture to accumulate, creating more areas that will attract flies. This can also be a breeding ground for mosquitoes. Tidy barn habits such as daily stall cleaning (and removal of manure from the area), sweeping the feed room, or cleaning out leftover moist debris in feed pans will also help.
Livestock Contact Control
The most common fly control method for livestock is typically direct contact control through the animal itself. This includes external fly spray products, feed-through fly control methods, or repellent tags/ collars.
Fly sprays are applied topically, either by a spray bottle or a concentrate with a mitt or roller. There are many options on the market, so it is important to see what works best with your animals. The active ingredients in most commercial sprays are either natural or synthetic pyrethrins.
If you opt for an alternative approach or have an animal with sensitive skin, you can look up homemade fly spray recipes here. Some formulas are meant for daily application, while others are a once a week, long-lasting, oil-based concentrate. External fly products are effective against adult flies only.
Feed-through insect growth regulators (IGRs) interfere with a fly’s molting process, stopping them from reaching maturity. This affects their ability to reproduce, and the larvae in manure cannot develop.
To be effective, feed-through IGRs should be administered daily at the start of fly season. Although a somewhat more expensive option, feed-throughs are thought to be very effective when manure removal is an issue.
Some owners provide supplements to their animals, such as garlic, to help skin produce a natural insect deterrent. This is due to the natural sulfur compound garlic contains that repels many insects, including biting flies.
Tags and Collars
Breakaway fly collars are becoming increasingly popular. Most collars last 4-8 weeks and contain natural ingredients that work as a repellent.
Ear tags are a popular solution for cattle and contain active ingredients such as piperonyl butoxide, diazinon, or beta-cyfluthrin. Tags and collars have been used directly on the animal (as per the product directions) or even attached to saddles during riding or a flysheet.
For livestock owners that utilize a barn or stable, this is typically center-stage for fly infestations. Although not enclosed like home, there are still several options for fly control in these areas. They can be used separately or in synergy with one another. Flies can also be an irritant to humans when we occupy these spaces, giving an additional reason to incorporate stable fly control methods.
There are multiple fly trap options on the market, but ideal outdoor traps will capture flies and will be kept above ground level. Although sticky-traps are effective, they are better suited for indoor scenarios where other (helpful) insects are less likely to get stuck.
It is a common misconception that fly traps will increase the fly population. Although they do attract flies, the adults die once trapped and therefore cannot reproduce or lay eggs. The more traps a barn has, the more flies will be killed. There are inexpensive disposable traps, as well as reusable products. A sweet sticky scent will attract the initial flies, and as other flies notice the “gathering”, they too will be drawn in.
Some barn owners will opt for a more advanced (and pricier) method of fly control through an automatic fly and mosquito spray systems. Tubing is run along barn aisles and installed nozzles release a fine mist of insecticide concentrate on a timer. Although the initial kits typically start at around $1,100, livestock owners rave about the drastic decrease in fly populations. However, these chemicals can also repel and kill other insects in your stable. For a more economical approach, some owners mix their own concentrate and manually spray culprit areas of the barn.
Fans for Controlling Flies
Flies, like other insects, struggle to fly against the wind or in a breeze. Many barns utilize outdoor-rated livestock fans for increased airflow and cooling, but an additional perk is insect control. Fans over stalls can deter flies from congregating in the area.
Despite the size of your turnout or pasture, there are other methods of fly control aside from general clean-up and waste management. In many areas, livestock owners choose to combat fly problems in the most natural way possible- utilizing other insects! Fly predators are actually Hymenopteran parasitic wasps from the Ptermalidae family.
Fly Predators can kill up to seventy-five fly pupae prior to hatching. They disrupt the fly’s life cycle and effectively decrease the overall population. Fly Predators travel approximately 150 feet, so placing them in suspect areas such as manure piles or old grass clippings will give them a head start.
Unfortunately, Fly Predators are not effective against horse flies. Other helpful creatures include birds and bats. Maintaining a friendly host environment with ample trees will help draw in birds, an insect’s natural predator.
There is no 100% effective form of fly control for livestock spaces. And unfortunately, some horses can have severe reactions to fly bites. Many owners opt for daily masking during the fly season. This not only provides the horse some relief during turnout or while grazing but is especially helpful for horses that tend to have “weepy” eyes that attract flies.
Full body fly sheets and neck attachments are also available. This can decrease the irritation from landing and biting due to the tight-knit but breathable materials. Some companies have mimicked actual zebra stripes on the fabric, which is thought to confuse the biting fly and discourage landing at all!
Other products on the market include fly boots, which can be especially important for weak-hooved horses that “stamp” at irritating bugs.
For horses that suffer from Sweet Itch or have severe reactions, there are combination fly sheets that attach directly to the neckpiece and fly mask and cover the horse’s entire barrel region.
Although there is no singular way to completely eliminate flies, there are several methods of fly control for all your livestock spaces. Utilizing multiple methods and targeting flies at different stages will provide the best results possible.
When researching fly control, insect electrocution light traps are widely advertised. Although “bug zappers” are effective against many biting flies and mosquitoes, they are not recommended due to the significant number of other insects they can kill. Scientists believe they can actually disrupt the environment via decreased pollination and bird activity.
Even with an arsenal of top fly control products on your side, “good housekeeping” around your farm or ranch is the number one most effective form of fly control. Good sanitation practices and inhospitable breeding grounds are the first steps in decreasing your fly population.
Keep in mind not all products are approved for mares in foal, newborns, lactating dairy cattle, etc. Ensure you read the label on fly products thoroughly, and consult your vet with any additional questions.
This post is brought to you by guest blogger, Michael Dehaan. Michael is the founder and editor-in-chief at Best Horse Rider. Based in Oklahoma, Michael has been working with horses all his life, acquiring rich experience and professional insights, which he happily shares with other fellow equestrians.