Updated: Dec 20, 2019
Well, Spring has sprung and we are beginning to get April showers, following the April snow we had last weekend. I spent part of Saturday cutting and splitting wood, which should be the best insurance against more snow.
With Spring coming on the flies start coming out. I don’t know if there is a way to completely eliminate them and the older I get the less inclined I am to use chemical fly deterrents. I have tried lots of things from Apple Cider Vinegar in their water to Fly larva eating wasps. Some work ready well and some, not so good.
If you are not interested in the gory details of fly prevention you can skip to the “Take Home Message” below.
As a general rule, what we classify as “natural” products, by and large work for a shorter time, some of them only for a couple of hours. Most commercial fly sprays use Pyrethrin or Permethrin as the active ingredient. Both of them are neurotoxins what work by short circuiting the electrical system within the fly’s brain. Most commercial fly sprays contain some or all of the following ingredients. Somewhere between 95 and 99 percent are “other ingredients”, that boys and girls is often water.
Pyrethrin is a botanical insecticide and repellent. Pyrethrin is extracted from the blossom of the chrysanthemum plant which is grown primarily in Africa and India. Availability of pyrethrin is erratic due to growing conditions, this causes shortages and price fluctuation. Pyrethrin also breaks down quickly in sunlight. Many products that contain pyrethrin will also contain a sunscreen to extend the life of the chemical.
These drawbacks have led to the development of synthetic (pyrethroid) chemicals (see cypermethrin, permethrin, prallethrin and resmethrin). Insects have not developed resistance to natural pyrethrin; they are becoming resistant to pyrethroids. Pyrethrins are classified as having a low or moderate toxicity level, according to the EPA, when used according to the product’s directions. http://pesticideinfo.org/Detail_Chemical.jsp?Rec_Id=PC34291
Permethrin a pyrethroid (synthetic) insecticide. Permethrin is highly toxic to cats and will kill them.
Permethrin can be an ingredient in spray and wipe-on products that are applied directly to the horse. It is also an ingredient in many sprays that are sprayed on stable walls. Insects may still land on the horse, but do not remain on the treated area for long. The pest may still swarm around the animal, but not land. Permethrin is one of the longer lasting chemicals used in insect repellents. Follow application directions stated on the label. I am told, when flies land, they feel what’s happening to them through their feet and fly away, if they can.
Piperonyl Butoxide Technical – a synergist. PBO has no repellent or insecticidal properties on its own. It prevents insecticides from being broken down by insects, allowing more time for the active ingredient to work.
The real bottom line of what you are buying in commercial fly sprays is usually some combination of Pyrethrins and/or Permethrins. So, the more of those ingredients in the spray, the better and longer it is likely to work.
Here are two examples, Pyranha Wipe N Spray a premium product selling for around $18.00 a quart and Bronco which usually sells for around $8.00 a quart. Here are the label contents:
Pyranha: ACTIVE INGREDIENTS: Permethrin:**†.......................... 0.50% Pyrethrins:........ ...................... 0.25% Piperonyl Butoxide:*.................... 2.50%
OTHER INGREDIENTS:................. 96.75% TOTAL:................................ 100.00% *(butylcarbityl)(6-propylpiperonyl) ether and related compounds **(3-phenoxyphenyl) methyl (±)cis/trans 3-(2,2-dichloroethenyl) 2,2-dimethylcyclopropanecarboxylate †cis/trans ratio: min 35% (±) cis and max 65% (±) trans
Bronco ACTIVE INGREDIENTS: Prallethrin* . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 0.033% Permethrin** . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 0.100% Piperonyl Butoxide*** . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .0.500%
OTHER INGREDIENTS: . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 99.367%
TOTAL . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 100.000%
* (RS)-2-Methyl-4-oxo-3-(2-propynyl) cyclopent-2-enyl (1R)-cis, trans chrysanthemate (ETOC®) ** (3-phenoxyphenyl) methyl (±) cis/trans 3 - (2,2 dichloroethenyl) 2,2-dimethyl cyclopropane carboxylate; cis/trans ratio: min 35% (±) cis and max. 65% (±) trans *** (butylcarbityl) (6-propylpiperonyl) ether and related compounds.
So, it’s pretty easy to see that the more expensive spray has more neurotoxins and is likely to work better and longer. This has actually been my experience with these two products.
Remember, you are spraying your horse with a neurotoxin, highly diluted, but a poison none the less, and you probably are getting it on yourself if you wipe it on. I personally know a woman who had her horse boarded at a barn that had an automatic system that periodically sprayed fly spray into the stalls. The system malfunctioned and didn’t turn off, it killed her horse. That said, there are hundreds of thousands of horses that get sprayed with this stuff that survive and prosper and aren’t bothered by flies as much as if they had no protection.
Is there a better less toxic way to keep insects, flies in particular away? The answer is yes, maybe. There are a bunch of less harmful sprays that the makers claim is less toxic and that work to a greater or lesser degree. I haven’t tried many and the ones I have used I was not very impressed with, primarily because they don’t seem to last very long. If I could find a good one, I would love it.
Here is a recipe the US Forest Service has found successful.
Forest Service Bug Spray Recipe 1 cup Water 1 cup Avon Skin So Soft Bath Oil 2 cups vinegar 1 tbs. Eucalyptus oil Optional: few tablespoons of Citronella Oil
When I was in the dude ranch business, I used Avon Skin So Soft cut 50/50 with water. I sprayed the horses in the saddling corral in the morning. Out on the trail I would keep a piece of terry cloth towel soaked in that mixture in a zip lock bag in my saddle bag and periodically wipe my horse’s face with it. Seemed to work pretty well.
The most important thing, which most of us have a hard time doing, is to keep stalls runs and paddocks free of manure.
What I do at my ranch is to start using fly parasites about the first of May, that’s for the eastern plains of Colorado. I have used parasites from Kunafin. They are located in Quemado Texas and their principal business is selling to Dairies, feed lots and chicken raising facilities. They also raise parasites that are sold by a number of different companies, like Jeffers Equine, under their own brand. I believe they also raise parasites for Arbico Organics who along with Spalding Labs seem to be the big guns in the fly parasite business for horses. Individual horse owner aren’t a big part of Kunafin’s business so you don’t see a lot of advertising about them. If you go to their web site, https://kunafin.com/ It’s hard to find how to order from them. I called and they said they were having trouble with their web site. I suggest, if you are interested to give them a call at 1-830-757-1181. They are great people to deal with, they auto ship to me during the fly season, so whatever I order just shows up. I found I get about twice the predators for a little under the cost of Arbico and Spalding, both of which are good companies.
I also use food grade diatomaceous earth, which is made from the fossilized remains of tiny, aquatic organisms called diatoms. Their skeletons are made of a natural substance called silica. Over a long period of time, diatoms accumulated in the sediment of rivers, streams, lakes, and oceans.
Diatomaceous earth kills insects With the help of its razor-sharp particles! The diatoms that make up diatomaceous earth have microscopic razor-sharp edges. The sharp edges of the diatoms cut through the insect's exoskeleton during contact, allowing moisture to escape from the insect's body, dehydrating the insect and killing it.
I spread it around at night after the flies have burrowed down in the duff. When they come out in the morning, they have to crawl through the diatomaceous earth and it kills them. I usually notice a difference right away.
You can also put it on your horses coat, although it will look like you have poured flour on your horse.
There is a body of anecdotal evidence that is can be used as an internal wormer. I have not tried it, but I am giving trying it some thought. The only way to tell for sure whether it works is with a fecal egg count, which is a subject for another email. You need to be careful because the sharp edges that cut the fly’s exoskeleton will also cut your lungs, so wear a mask.
Diatomaceous earth is also used as cat litter in pool filters and oil dry in automotive shops and it is different than the food grade, I pay about $35.00 for a fifty-pound bag of food grade at my local feed store.
Condensed take home message:
If you us commercial fly sprays almost all of them have three primary ingredients plus “other ingredients” usually water.Pyrethrin PermethrinPiperonyl Butoxide Technical Pyrethrin and permethrin are neurotoxins that kill the flies.The higher the percentage of the neurotoxins the better and longer it will workIn most cases, ninety-five to ninety-nine percent of all commercial fly sprays is “other ingredients”, usually water.There are a ton of “natural and/or organic” fly sprays. Most of them have to be applied more often and are less effective than fly sprays containing pyrethrin and permethrin. It’s a pretty good bet the natural/or organic sprays are less toxic to your horse and the environment in general than those containing neurotoxins.The forest Service recipe above seem like a good nontoxic mixture you can easily make up at home.The recipe of 50% skin so soft and water also seems to work pretty well.I use and like fly parasites from Kunafin from about May through October. Spalding and Arbico are also well regarded suppliers of fly parasites.I use diatomaceous earth spread on the ground particularly at night on top of manure and the duff. It kills the flies when they crawl through it in the morning, I think it is very effective.There is anecdotal evidence that diatomaceous earth is an effective wormer.
The Forco pitch
Forco will boost your horses immune system as well as it’s digestive system. If you horse has a strong immune system it will be less susceptible to the negative effects of commercial fly sprays, if that is what you use.
Spring and summer are times when we trailer our horses more and trailering is stressful for horses. It’s also stressful for horses to be in a new environment, often without their friends. Forco will help with gut motility in all horses that travel and performance horses in particular.
As an aside, the top four horses at the Mega Barrel Race in Fort Collins Colorado two weekends ago were Forco horses.