Controlling Flies

The corrals are finally drying, and my arena has turned from a rock-hard lot to a soft and dusty horse play pen, with the help of the neighbor’s tractor. In other words, it’s spring.

Declare war on flies. ? Shere Chamness

I rush home from work to ride these evenings, enjoying quiet time with the Lawn Ornaments. But I won’t be alone in the barn for long: armies of flies are on the horizon, and soon I’ll be involved in an all-out war against them. Not only do horse owners want to protect animals from annoying insects, we also want to keep peace in the ‘hood by controlling pests-especially in light of the hysteria surrounding recent outbreaks of animal-borne diseases, such as West Nile Virus.

I need to be diligent to keep my horses (and my neighbors) from stomping their feet in frustration at the pesky insects that plague man and beast. How do I keep the peace?

First, let’s consider “fly math.” Flies are one of nature’s most prevalent pests-there are more than 100,000 species. They have a short life span, often only a few weeks, but leave a lasting family memorial. A single fly buzzing around on May 1 can leave more than 1,000 adult offspring as well as 25,000 additional eggs, larva, and pupa behind by the end of June. Numbers will peak in July and August, but the war starts as soon as the weather warms up-which on my California acre is right now.

For every fly I disable, trap, or swat today, I’m saving myself, my horses, and my neighborhood from a monumental attack. Like a general planning for battle, I prepare to destroy the enemies before their superior numbers overwhelm me. Each year, I do this with a four-step plan, which I call the four C’s. Each C represents a different part of my fly war. All four must be integrated to be of value.

The four C’s, then:

Clean-The best way to control fly populations is to make your property undesirable fly real estate. Flies raise their prodigious families in moist, wet, dark places, so I clean all manure from my barn and paddocks every morning. The manure is stored in a covered dumpster that is emptied weekly. My cleaning equipment includes a quality manure fork (cheap ones aren’t worth owning) a leaf rake and an aluminum snow shovel. Then, there’s Babe, The Blue Wheelbarrow-she’s the Panzer tank in my war on flies.

Capture-My next step, after daily cleaning, is to capture flies. I use gallon-size ‘Big Stinky’ jar traps (now called something more politically correct, but the name sticks from my childhood, especially because it’s so accurate.) For my three-horse operation, I use a half-dozen of the jars, including one by the back door of the house. Then there’s fly paper, still sold in rolls with the little brass thumbtack included. Incredibly cheap, fly paper is my sentimental favorite weapon because I can see instant results, and the sticky streamers are, well, a tradition. They’re the Trojan horses in the war, because even though flies should know better, they still can’t resist going up the make sure the stuff is still sticky.

Chemicals-Now we get into the weapons of mass destruction stuff. Chemical warfare in my campaign against flies consists of both an automatic mister system in the barn and hand-held grenades of repellent that I use on the horses themselves. The most prevalent chemicals for killing flies are the pyrethrums and permethrins, natural and synthesized elements originating from chrysanthemums. Toxic to many insects, these chemical compounds are allegedly safe for warm-blooded animals-but I always walk outside the barn to avoid the mist.

Control-The last prong of attack in the war is simply to control where flies land. This means fly sheets and face masks for each horse. I may add fly leg wraps for the old mare and the Paint filly this year. The old mare’s arthritis makes it hard for her to stomp away flies, and the filly tends to loosen her expensive reining shoes as she stomps.

Fly control isn’t accomplished with a single product or approach. Horse owners shouldn’t expect results from one battle attack, regardless products used. Practice the four C’s, be diligent and consistent in your attack, and always invite the neighbors for a barbecue when your pens are spotless, the barn mist is working perfectly, and the wind is blowing away from the patio.

? 2002 Suzanne Drnec

Writing or riding, Suzanne Drnec enjoys horses and their people. Drnec is president of Hobby Horse Clothing Company,, a show apparel manufacturer, and also the caretaker of an assortment of lawn ornaments including a Paint, a Quarter horse, and an antique Arabian. Comments? E-mail them to

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