Summer?s Fun, At Least Until The Bugs Arrive

Probably the biggest frustration for horse owners is fly control.? We cover our horses with masks, sheets and even fly boots (to stop the stomping, which can destroy hooves in the blink of an eye), and still we find ourselves buying gallons of fly repellent and spraying our horses. Repeatedly.

Of course, every bottle of spray claims it’s effective. But common sense tells you the $25/quart spray is more heavily fortified than the $6/quart choice.? The real question is, is it worth the difference’

SOMETIMES IT IS. Many people purchase the cheapest spray because, they say, ?Nothing seems to work.? Others cough it up and buy the pricey stuff, only to return to the barn and hear some know-it-all say, ?Why?d you buy that junk’ It doesn’t work.? Big sigh.

Well, here’s the dirty little secret about fly sprays: They do work. They just don’t always do what we think they should do.

That’s because ?no flies? isn?t likely. Most products are really fly repellents that contain little-to-no insecticide (the killing ingredient). So, yes, flies are going to land on the horses, and the horses are going to swish their tails. However, you should see a reduction in fly activity and they should buzz off before biting the horse.

The least-expensive sprays are usually mainly citronella, a good, natural bug repellent (think citronella candles and mosquitoes). it’s the ingredient in Avon?s Skin-So-Soft that prompts people to also use that on their horses. (It works, but not as well as horse fly sprays.)

Avon also has Skin-So-Soft Bug Guard, which contains Picaridin (aka Bayrepel and Saltidin). it’s an alternative to DEET (a controversial but effective bug repellent for people) that works well. We have no experience with Picaridin on horses, but DEET is not highly recommended for use on horses, so we’re not enthused.

We like neem and cedar in our natural fly sprays. Neem is especially good against mosquitoes. If you choose cedar, know that many people and some horses react terribly to it. (The 24-hour spot test is wise here.)

it’s true that oil-based products work better and last longer than water-based products. That’s why no product can hold a candle to Farnam?s original Wipe for us. it’s extremely effective and extremely oily. And oil attracts dust. it’s a tough choice. Oil or flies’

LABEL TALK. Expensive sprays usually combine several repellents, some pesticides and synergists (that increase the potency of the repellents) in formulas designed to last. That’s what you’re paying for. They may boast that it’s effective for five days or more. Or claim it lasts if the horse sweats. Well, that depends upon your definition of ?effective.?

We have found that, eventually, many of these sprays become effective for longer periods of time with less re-spraying because of a residual build-up. So, if you use the same spray for a week or more you may begin to notice that you can use less of it. (That, of course, means that it hasn?t rained and your horse hasn?t been bathed or sweated heavily. Yup. It all depends.)

it’s wise to read the manufacturer?s instructions on each fly spray you use, although no one does. That’s too bad, though, because the instructions can vary from ?spray lightly? to ?use 6 ounces.?? That little tidbit of information can greatly change the value and the way the product performs.? it’s also important to shake the bottle before you use it, spray a clean horse and work the spray down into the horse’s coat by spraying against the hair.

We vary the products we use. We use natural sprays for lighter bug days and get the ?good stuff? out for heavy fly loads or farrier days.

Actually, sticking to one brand of fly spray may backfire on you, as flies can also build up resistance to different chemicals. So, if there are several farms near you, and everyone uses Brand X, the flies that don’t mind that stuff will multiply and feel welcome.

BOTTOM LINE. It takes determination to keep your horses bug-free. Use a fly mask around your horse’s face, especially during turnout. Incorporate fly predators or a biting-fly trap on your farm. Our trials over the years have shown clear results from the correct use of these items. And experiment with repellents. Even your geographical area may make a difference in a product?s performance, depending upon the bug population.

We’ve used hundreds of fly products, and we include the ones we like best in our Fly Control Chart. We?ll check out the new ones this summer.

Article by Contributing Writer Lee Foley.

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