Summer has finally arrived with its longer days, warmer nights, birds singing and horses happily munching fresh grass. Unfortunately, along with the good comes the bad; the buzzing and biting of flies.
It seems just as soon as it warms up those flying, buzzing, annoying and biting insects are all around us!
Flies and horses just seem to go together. Here in the Red River Valley, the black fly is a biting insect that can draw blood. The black fly’s attacks are merciless and search out any human or animal in their way. As the humidity rises so does their temper, they attack stronger than ever before. The quiet, heavy, moist air signals the fly into flight looking for its next meal.
The black fly can swarm and it is not uncommon to witness horses and cattle hysterically running from a swarm of black flies; crashing their intended victim into barbed wire, trees and even traffic in a futile attempt to escape.
The Minnesota black fly is unique in the fact that it is actually closer related to the mosquito than the common housefly. The Minnesota biting black fly lays its eggs in water and thrives in marshy, water soaked areas. Most larval black flies develop underwater in 10 days to several weeks, depending on water temperature.
Unfortunately, most adults can fly about 10 miles from their breeding source so this makes containment of black flies very difficult.
There are about 30 species of black fly in Minnesota and it uses a blade-like mouthpart to slash skin and feed on blood. It will often swarm because they are attracted to the carbon dioxide in human and animal breath, just like mosquitos.
To combat the black fly it takes a combined effort of avoidance, repellent, changing the areas the fly thrives in along with a little bit of luck.
If we start thinking of the black fly as an advanced form of mosquito it will help in your defense. First, empty all containers of standing water. Standing water is a perfect breeding ground for the black fly and the mosquito. It’s time to dry things up! Avoid dense vegetation where the flies can live and hide. Cut the brush and knock down the weeds in the pasture and along the edges where your horses live or go out.
Turn out horses in the cool mornings and bring them in before the flies attack. Give your horses a dark area, such as inside a barn or loafing shed to escape from the fly during the day. Inside the darkened area put fans to circulate the air, which makes it difficult for the flies to land. Some farms have added mesh screens on these loafing sheds so that the horses can spread them apart to enter the shed but the flies stay out.
Dress your horses for success by using mesh full body fly sheets, fly masks for their faces and fabric fly boots, such as Shoofly Leggins on the horse’s legs.
Spray the horses with fly spray in the morning, before turning them out, over their fly sheets and boots.
During the summer, use fly spray both morning and night on your horse. When you use fly spray, brush off the horse first to remove dirt and then spray them with the fly spray. After spraying, use a light brush, all over their coat, to insure the fly spray has covered the horse.
Try the anti fly product “Swat”, the thick, pink ointment that repels. Put a little down the “center line” of the horse’s belly, over his eyes and down the ridge of his back.
Spray the stall and pasture areas with a perimeter fly spray to help cut down the population.
Another great item to try is a fly “Fogger.” There are handheld models you can get that are propane driven. You light it and put the insecticide in the holding tank so that a killing fog comes out.
You will actually save money by fighting the fly because of how much energy a horse wastes in swishing its tail and stomping its feet trying to get rid of the biting pests. A horse can loose a great deal of weight quickly, just by stomping and swishing. Try large fans in areas to move the air around your horses where they stand. Finally, if you can install a mist fly system in your loafing sheds, or feeding areas, you will make a huge difference in the fly population and happiness of your horse as well.
Enjoy our beautiful summer and fight the good fly fight. Your horse will thank you. Happy Trails!