Are flies bugging your horses?

Equine fly problems

by Cait Brown 

Hot, humid temperatures sadly means the return of the horses' constant and most pesky companion:  the fly.

And, while flies may seem like nothing more than an ever-present annoyance, they can carry serious implications for your equine counterparts.  Flies are well-known for spreading disease, feeding off of the equine blood supply and causing potential digestive upset.  And, unfortunately, even the most encompassing of fly turnouts - think fly mask with ears, fly sheet with belly guard and fly leggings, essentially making your horse resemble some strangely armoured creature - can't keep them completely at bay.

More than a simple pest

House flies may seem like the least of a horse owner's worries, but they an carry disease and transmit parasites.  They can also irritate a horse's eyes, where they feed off of moist secretions.  These flies breed during the summer and feed on muck, so proper stable management is imperative to reducing their numbers.

Horse and deer flies are known for being ruthless biters.  Thankfully, they are only active during the day.  And, as luck would have it, these flies do not normally enter structures.  It is best to have stable access available for pasture horses if you notice these flies becoming particularly bothersome.

Stable flies are probably the biggest equine nuisance of all.  They live in stables and breed in organic, fermenting matter, such as manure, decaying straw or spilled, moist feed.  They typically feed on horses' legs and flanks and can cause significant blood loss, transmit swamp fever and cause summer sores - weeping wounds that are challenging to heal.  Horses may also stomp incessantly in an attempt to rid themselves of these pests, only to cause hoof and leg issues.

Shoo, fly:  Sanitation and stable management tips

It should come as no surprise that proper sanitation and stable management are among the best methods of fly control.  House flies and stable flies require breeding  material, ideal moisture and adequate warmth to develop.  Therefore, elimination of breeding sites  is the key to a successful fly control programme.  Stables and paddocks should be thoroughly cleaned once per week to assist in breaking fly life cycles.  Insecticides should only be considered as a supplement to fly control.


Below are some tips to help with your fly management programme:

  • Keep manure picked up and pile at a good distance from facilities, waterers and paddocks.
  • Make sure all rubbish bins have tight-fitting lids and are cleaned out regularly.
  • Keep waterers in good condition and place them away from areas where horses are fed.
  • Consider screening windows in feed and tack rooms, as well as box stalls.
  • Fans that direct a downward and outward airflow will help to keep flies from entering stables.
  • Fly traps and sticky paper are an effective way to capture flies.  They may also be useful in documenting fly numbers over time.  A notable increase in catch from one week to the next could be a warning to check on sanitation measures and increase your fly control measures.

Last, but not least, keep this in mind:  Large numbers of flies mean there are a great deal of breeding sites in your area.  There are many insecticide options (eg residuals, sprays, fogs, mists, etc), but they will only provide temporary relief and should generally be used sparingly.  Your best option is to keep a tidy stable and yard - both you and your horse will be grateful for the extra effort!

(This is an edited version of the article published in The Alltech Feeding Times Issue 11 - June 2018, to suit the Oceania market). 


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