Buzz Off: Natural Insect Control

insect control

Tis the season… fly season that is. Though most people look forward to summer, hardly anyone I know looks forward to those pesky airborne insects. In fact, we’ll pretty much do whatever it takes to keep these pests away from our barns and our equines. Unfortunately, for some horses, insect control means being sprayed with toxic pesticides.
Even though studies have linked these substances to autoimmune disorders, liver damage, eye, skin and respiratory irritation and even neurological issues, the Federal Drug Administration (FDA) does not require testing of pesticide-based horse fly sprays for toxicity. While their labels do contain cautions such as “Avoid contact with skin, eyes or clothing”, many people still don’t make the connection between these warnings and the health implications for their horses. Bottom line:  If it’s dangerous to humans, it makes sense that it’s dangerous to animals. Fortunately, there are far healthier alternatives for your horse.

Consider natural insect control

Controlling flies and other insects is big business for many companies. So what’s their biggest challenge? To find something natural that will work in most every situation and every climate we encounter in this country. It’s true we now have many so-called natural products on the market that contain essential oils, or citronella and fragrant herbs. But unless you are able to spray your horse or barn area down several times per day, these products alone probably do not have the staying power you require. By combining good horse-keeping, non-toxic control and natural sprays, however, you can on the insect battle.


Here are some simple tips to help with insect control around the property.

  • Minimize standing water. This includes puddles in areas you don’t automatically think of such as an old spare tire or unused water buckets.
  • Keep your barn and surrounding area clean. Manure should be kept away from the barn location.
  • Keep the garbage cans and grain barrels covered.
  • Regularly scrub water buckets and water tanks to minimize algae. (I have a friend that keeps several large goldfish in her tank.) Remember, horses can go a couple days without food but they can’t go without CLEAN water!
  • Use fans to keep the air moving but keep them high enough and out of reach of the horses or other barn animals. Fans discourage flies from the area as the airflow makes it difficult for them to fly around.
  • Keep barn isles clean. I use 1/2 cup of Pinesol household cleaner in a plant water bucket and sprinkle the isles down after feeding. It minimizes dust and insects and besides that, it offers a nice fresh smell to the end of the day.
  • Use fly traps, strips and baits. These forms of insect control are effective and less toxic to horses if handled correctly.

Hang fly traps out of reach of any animals; I hang mine from a long arm plant hanger outside the barn. Remember to keep up with your fly traps so they don’t get filled up with dead insects and sit around. Change at least 2-3 times throughout the summer. Fly strips are also useful and I hang these outside the barn at the corners. Fly baits can come in a powder, pellet or in granular form and are sprinkled on the floor or other areas that attract flies. Though they may be considered “non-toxic”, caution should be used when handling these products, especially if you have small children or other animals around the barn.

  • Release some horse-friendly insects. Biological Fly Predators are nature’s original method of fly control. These tiny, stingless wasps parasitize the pest fly’s pupa (cocoon), thereby interrupting the next generation of flies. Once a month, the Fly Predators (shipped in the pupa stage) are sprinkled in moist areas. You’ll need approximately 1000 Fly Predators per horse, at a cost of $2-$4 per thousand. More information can be obtained at Spalding Labs,
  • Grow strong-smelling plants. You can cultivate certain plants around the barn that help repel flies.These include citronella-scented geraniums, rue, lavender, tansy, wormwood, onions and garlic. Onions are very effective in eliminating flying insects. An onion can be chopped up, placed in small onion bag and hung in areas where you have a big problem. One bag covers a 12’  x 12’ area and works for two to three days.
  • Supplement your equine’s diet.

Garlic is a great supplement for insect control when added to your horse’s feed but not all horses are excited about eating it. Others can’t seem to get enough. Some companies offer natural herbal combinations that supposedly ward off insects, but again these don’t work on every horse. High concentrations of any herb or herbal combination should not be given over a long period of time anyway. My favorite supplement is diatomaceous earth and I have fed this product for years as a de-wormer and for insect control. Once passed through the system, the manure is not a good host for fly eggs. Use one rounded tablespoon of diatomaceous earth containing less than 3% silica in your horse’s feed once a day and keep a bucket of it out in the pasture. I also throw handfuls of diatomaceous earth in the small pond on the property to help control mosquitos.

  • Apply essential oils. There are many essential oils (lavender is a common one) that work well as an insect control but bear in mind you’ll need to apply these a couple of times per day. Recipes for these can be found in most essential oil books. Remember, when using essential oils, avoid getting them too close to the eyes.
  • Try Tea Tree. Tea Tree oil (Melaluca) is very effective as a fly repellent. It can be used straight (caution should be used when determining the horses sensitivity to this oil) or diluted with another carrier oil such as light sunflower seed oil. This is another product I have used with success for years. You can purchase tea tree oil at health food stores, or on-line. Just dab it on or make a salve out of it by combining it with petroleum jelly.

Whatever form of insect control you use, just remember that each horse has different sensitivities to different products. Avoid chemical build up on your horse and in your horse’s living area. You’ll both have a better summer for it!

Insect Repellent with Essential Oils 8 oz. Witch Hazel 1/2 tsp natural liquid shampoo 5 drops spruce Oil 20 drops lavender Oil 15 drops cedarwood Oil 2 drops rue oil 5 drops garlic oil Shake well before each use. Place onto a mitt and wipe affected areas, avoiding the eyes.

Fly spray 2 cups water 1/2 cup cider vinegar 1/2 tsp myrrh oil 2 cups Avon Skin-So-Soft 1/4 tsp citronella oil Shake well before each use. Place onto a mitt and wipe affected areas, avoiding the eyes.

Tea Tree Oil Spray 1 cup water 2 Tbsp tea tree oil Shake well and spray affected areas. Avoid the eyes.

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