You don’t need chemicals to repel flies, fleas and mosquitoes. These five natural feed-through solutions are good for your horse and safe for the environment.
Horses and humans alike revel in the increased outdoor time summer weather allows. But as the sun warms up the ground, biting insects like flies, fleas and mosquitoes begin to multiply and join in the fun. It’s tempting to spray on industrial strength fly spray or give your horse some feed-through pesticide, but those options are simply not healthy for your horse or the environment.
Keeping biting insects away shouldn’t require a science degree. For every insect that plagues us there exists a natural solution to repel it. All plants contain essential oils that are part of their natural defense system against insect invasion. Why not put these defenses to work for you?
Top 5 Feed-Through Solutions
1. Garlic is probably the most well known natural insect repellent. It packs a triple whammy – it contains sulfur, bolsters the body’s natural defenses, and changes the way your horse smells and tastes to insects. Horses plagued by mosquitoes, fleas and mites are often sulfur-deficient. Garlic can help remedy this. Also, many flies and other biting insects have a very limited sense of smell. This limitation is actually a gift from Mother Nature because it allows them to home in on their hosts and disregard the rest of the world. It also means the less like a horse your horse smells, the less he’ll be “bugged
Add 1 to 2 tablespoons of garlic flakes or powder to your horse’s feed each day. Garlic is healthy for your horse in small regular doses – too much can overtax his system so more is not better. For maximum results, begin feeding garlic a month or two before fly season.
2. Neem is a fast-growing tree from India that neutralizes over 500 insects worldwide. It is particularly effective against mosquitoes. Because it is non-toxic to horses, neem extract can be used both as a spray and in feed to repel flies, ticks, fleas and mosquitoes. It has a bitter taste that keeps braver insects from returning for a second feeding, while changing their behavior after they leave the host. This can result in smaller biting insect populations in the short term, without physically harming local birds or mammals. Dosage varies depending on the form you are using, but a little will go a long way.
3. Apple cider vinegar is an extremely useful addition to your horse’s water trough. Not only will it keep down the growth of natural molds and bacteria, but it also contains nutrients proven to reduce cribbing behavior and improve digestion and overall health. People and animals alike benefit from apple cider vinegar if they have arthritis, as it raises the alkalinity of the body.
Experts believe that enough of the vinegar your horse ingests is actually sweated out through his skin to act as a natural all-day repellent. Add one cup to every few gallons of water your horse drinks. Apple cider vinegar also makes a wonderful fly spray base to which you can add essential oils like Rose Geranium, Cedar Wood, Neem, Lemongrass, Rosemary, Citronella or Lavender. Peppermint can be safely added to any herbal remedy in dried form to make it more palatable. The oils that give peppermint its distinctive smell enter the bloodstream and act as a natural bug repellent that’s particularly effective against ticks. Mint is cooling and refreshing, and helps keep body temperature down.
4. Peppermint can help cool your horse so he sweats less in summer weather, and that will also minimize flies. One to three tablespoons of the dried herb can be added to his feed daily.
5. Diatomaceous earth is not an herb but a natural feed additive dug from the earth. Diatoms are the sharp, microscopic fossilized remains of marine phytoplankton. Food grade DE is already present in minute quantities in most grains that humans and animals eat. It keeps insects from infesting grain storage facilities. This is why when you scoop up a handful of cracked corn your hand gets a fine white dust on it.
DE is totally safe to eat (just make sure it is food grade, as other grades can contain lead or crystalline silica) but it will kill anything with an exoskeleton. It can be carefully dusted onto your horse’s coat or added to his feed in small amounts. When you feed DE it passes safely through the body, while helping de-worm your animal, then is passed in the manure where it inhibits fly larvae. Use a mask when you handle DE or take care not to stir up a lot of dust, because it can cause lung irritation (remember, those diatoms are sharp!).
Never feed DE meant for pools or lawn applications. Make sure it is pure, food grade DE, and buy a nice big bag with a few pounds in it – once you start using it, you’ll find yourself using it all over the farm. I sprinkle it around my home every spring and fall to deter ants, and I regularly sprinkle my cats with it, too. DE can also be spread on top of manure piles and in bedding to safely decrease insect activity.
Treat the Source
Don’t forget to also treat the problem at the source. Where are your bugs breeding? Is manure being left where it falls? Piling up manure in small heaps here and there will help build up heat so it can compost effectively, while also making it harder for flies to breed.
Beneficial nematodes and fly predators can be bought from a variety of sources online or in catalogs – when they arrive in the mail, follow the simple instructions for hatching them and then sprinkle them wherever target pests are reproducing. You’ll notice a significant reduction in biting insects within a matter of weeks.
When you use natural solutions, not only are your horses healthier but the whole world benefits. And that’s something to be happy about!
Maya Cointreau is an herbalist with over 15 years of experience in herbal healing. She is a Reiki Master and has studied both Russian and Native American healing methods, in addition to traditional Western naturopathy, homeopathy and aromatherapy. She is the author of Equine Herbs & Healing and Natural Animal Healing. Visit her website at earthlodgeherbals.com.