Bugs are a reality of life for everyone in Florida. including residents of the Ocala area, but those who operate horse farms are always on the front lines of a never-ending battle against all the icky critters our state has to offer. Here are some pest control tips to help keep your farm both green and bug-free!
Pest Control 101: The Basics
“Pest control” often conjures up concerns about dangerous chemicals, but fear not! Many of the following pest control methods are probably familiar to you, but what you may not know is that many of the old standbys are surprisingly good for the environment and safe for both man and horse to handle.
Standing water — Be sure to eliminate all unnecessary sources of standing water, as they create fertile breeding grounds for mosquitoes. Mosquitoes aren’t just annoying, they also spread dangerous equine and human diseases, so be vigilant! Change water troughs regularly in the summer months, and avoid leaving out unnecessary buckets and barrels that could become filled with rainwater.
Fly traps and fly paper — Most of these are surprisingly green. Both the hanging strips and standing traps are simply paper covered in a sticky, natural fly attractant that you change out periodically. Just be sure not to place them where tails or manes might get stuck to them!
Fly spray –– Most fly sprays on the market are made with organic compounds called pyrethrins which are derived from the chrysanthemum plant and have been used as insect deterrents for thousands of years. However, they can be toxic when inhaled, so be sure to spray your animals in a well-ventilated area. There are also non-pyrethrin sprays on the market that utilize botanical ingredients like citronella.
Fly masks — These reusable, soft mesh masks come in handy if you have horses that just can’t stand to have flies, no-see-ums, or dirt around their face (be real, everyone has that one horse). They’re also especially useful for keeping bugs out of irritated, weeping, or medicated eyes, and will save you from expending too much fly spray.
Taking It To the Next Level: Predators & Plants
Fly spray and fly masks are good as far as they go, but they don’t really get to the root of the problem: property-wide population control. Here are some seriously green ways to win the battle of the bugs once and for all.
Parasite wasps — These helpful, stingless creatures lay their eggs inside the pupae of pest flies, destroying the developing fly in the process. Shortly afterward a brand new parasite wasp emerges and the cycle continues. You can procure packages of ready-to-use pre-fertilized pupae from most farm supply shops or the Internet, and simply sprinkle them wherever flies tend to congregate. The wasps hatch and go about their fly-destroying business.
Chickens — If you feel you have the resources to invest in a few chickens or Guinea hens, they control pests wonderfully by eating all the insect larvae they can find.
Bats — Yes, bats. An average colony of bats can eat 33 million insects in a single summer. Setting up one or more bat houses on your farm will not only help control the insect population, but will also help bolster the declining bat population that is so important to Florida’s ecological health. The University of Florida’s Extension Service provides ample information on how to make (or purchase) and set up your own bat houses. The only catch is that bat houses do accumulate guano beneath them, which requires periodic disposal.
Herb gardens — Keeping an herb garden can be a pleasant and tasty past time, but it can also keep pests at bay. There are some plants bugs love and some that they absolutely can’t stand — and most of them are herbs you likely use every day. Research into the effectiveness of plants against pests is mixed, but many people swear by them as natural, chemical free deterrents. Basil plants are purported to repel mosquitoes and flies, as is oregano. Lovely, calming lavender is an unexpected heavy hitter that drives away fleas, flies, mosquitoes and scorpions. The leaves of the lemongrass plant naturally contain citronella, and can be used to fight off mosquitoes. Other common garden plants believed to be hated by flies and mosquitoes are mint, rosemary, marigold, bay, lemon balm and common lantana.