Fly Control: A Comprehensive Battle Plan

If they haven’t already arrived, they’ll be at your barn soon! Flies are not only annoying to you and your horses, they can also bite and spread disease. Every summer is a battle to control the fly population and keep them from bugging your horses. There are several methods of fighting flies out there. The best approach is to use the methods that work best for you, and in combination with each other. If you attack the flies on multiple fronts, you won’t kill every single one, but you should still emerge victorious!

horse needs fly mask
This horse needs a fly mask to protect his eyes!

Bolster Your Defenses:  Prevent Fly Populations From Growing

Implement good stable management practices to make your facility as inhospitable as possible.

  • Manage and remove manure, the housefly’s favorite meal. Clean stalls daily, and don’t let your manure pile get too big. If you’re working with a pasture situation, spread manure so that it can dry out and break down quickly.
  • Reduce wet areas, which draw in insects. Repair leaky plumbing, keep stalls dry, and eliminate standing water in drainage areas.
  • Increase airflow around the barn by installing fans.
  • Quickly dispose of garbage and keep any food in secure containers.

Attack With Effective Anti-Fly Tools

Common ways to protect your horses and control the fly population at the same time.

  • Create a physical barrier between your horse and the flies using fly masks, sheets, and boots.  Fly masks are the most popular warm weather accessory for horses (If only they made it through the whole season without being destroyed!  If only they stayed on your horse’s head and off the ground!).  These mesh items are lightweight and breathable, protecting your horse from being bitten.   There is also the additional benefit of some UV ray protection for horses with light skin prone to sunburn, or dark coats prone to sun bleaching.
  • Attract and kill adult flies using fly traps.  There are several different kinds of traps available, so experiment and find out what suits you best.  These can be very effective, but also pretty unsavory to handle and dispose of.
  • Make your horse less attractive to flies by applying topicals.  These can be sprays, roll-ons, spot-ons, or shampoos.  They can be composed of natural or synthetic insecticides, and there are dozens and dozens of options available.  Fly spray is a staple item found in the barn.  It works quickly and is effective in the short term, however if your horse is bathed or sweats frequently, the product can be short lived.
  • Go biological by releasing fly parasites.  These are good bugs that seek out and eat fly larvae, preventing them from ever becoming adult flies.  This method is very effective at preventing future fly generations from developing, but does not get rid of adult flies.

Take a further look in to these options and decide what methods will work best for you.  Deciding factors might include where your horses are kept, the type of flies in your area, your budget, and maintenance level.  Dealing with flies just comes with the territory of horse ownership, but you don’t have to take them lying down!

What to Do with a Broody Hen

Around this time of year, when Spring is in full swing, your hens’ egg production has picked up, their appetites are good, and the sun is shining, you may notice a few hens going broody. Broodiness is triggered by hormones, daylight, and the availability of eggs to sit on. What does this mean to you as a chicken keeper? It means you may need to get involved and change your hen’s behavior.

What does “broody” mean and how do I recognize it?

When a hen is broody, it means her maternal instincts have kicked in. Her hormones are surging and telling her it’s time to sit on and hatch some eggs. It is pretty easy to recognize a hen that has gone broody. She will not be in her usual active, curious mood. She will stay camped out on a nest, whether there’s eggs in it or not. When approached by you or other birds, she will puff her feathers up, get very defensive, make a unique growling sound, and even peck at intruders. She means business and is insistent when it comes to sitting on those eggs!

broody hen, nesting
A broody hen that is puffed up and sitting on a clutch of eggs

If there are fertile eggs for her to sit on (and if you want baby chicks) –

If your broody hen is sitting on a clutch of fertile eggs, and if you don’t mind having a few baby chicks added to your flock, you are more than welcome to leave her sitting on those eggs. She will incubate the eggs at just the perfect temperature and humidity for about 21 days, and then you’ll have some new chicks added to your flock!

If your eggs aren’t fertile (no roosters present) or you don’t want chicks to hatch –

If your hen has gone broody, and there’s no possibility of her hatching eggs, you will need to intervene and put an end to her broody behavior, otherwise known as “breaking up” her broodiness. Why you ask? Because a broody hen will continue brooding until she hears the little peeps of baby chicks. Otherwise, she will sit on eggs indefinitely. This can have a seriously negative impact on her health.

The consequences of unwanted broodiness –

While a hen is broody and sitting on a nest, she will put all her energy in to sitting on eggs, and neglect herself in the process. She will only leave the nest to eat, drink, and relieve herself once or twice a day. She will become pale, lose sheen in her feathers, and lose weight. In hot weather, she can easily become dehydrated. While she can keep this routine up for 21 days, it is hard on her. Allowing her to sit on eggs that will never hatch is not fair to her and not in anyone’s best interest.

At the same time your hen is brooding, she will not lay any eggs, and she may inspire other hens to go broody as well. Broodiness begets broodiness. Before you know it, your whole flock could be on strike!

broody hen
A broody hen will occupy a nesting box and encourage other hens to become broody as well

How to break up the broodiness –

As soon as you identify broody behavior, get to work on stopping it. The longer a hen is broody, the longer it takes her to snap out of it. There are many techniques out there for how to break up a broody, but many of them are ineffective or even inhumane. The best, easiest (for both of you!) course of action is to put her in a “broody breaker” pen.

A broody breaker pen is basically a wire bottomed cage. It can be a rabbit hutch, a dog crate, or something of your own construction. It will need to be raised off the floor, to allow air to circulate underneath. Your broody hen will live in the broody breaker pen with food and water, but no bedding. The design of the broody breaker pen is two-fold; is allows air to circulate and cool down the hen’s breast, and also makes her generally uncomfortable. Broody hens prefer small, dark, private areas where they can snuggle up in the nest and incubate eggs. By placing her in a location without these amenities, it sends a signal to the hen’s brain that it’s not time to hatch eggs.

broody breaker
This wire cage will make a perfect broody breaker pen

It is essential to keep her in the broody breaker pen until she is fully back to her normal self. You can always test this by letting her out of the pen and watching her. If she gets all puffed up and hightails it for the closest nest she can find, right back in the pen she goes! Otherwise you are starting back at square one.

Some breeds of chicken are more prone to broodiness than others, and your hens’ individual personalities will also come into play. Some hens are frequent residents of the broody breaker pen, while others never quite feel that maternal need.

Unconventional & Alternative Watchdogs

Keeping animals on your property, whether they be birds, rabbits, goats, sheep, cattle, horses, or any combination in between, will attract outside visitors. They might be small prey animals looking for a peaceful nibble of your livestock feed, or larger predators looking to make a meal out of your animals. You may want to consider getting a guard dog or watchdog to protect your herd. Who better suited for the job then, well, a dog? There are a few alternatives that might surprise you.

Guinea Fowl

guinea fowl
Guinea Fowl make great livestock guards

Guinea Fowl are incredibly noisy birds, and make excellent alarm systems. Fans of guinea fowl claim that they are able to recognize familiar faces, and will alert the arrival of any strangers. They are also incredibly brave, and are not phased one bit when standing up against cats, dogs, even people. One especially great quality of guinea fowl is that they will even take on snakes!

Geese

geese
Geese are notoriously territorial!

Anyone who’s ever met a goose knows that these birds are all business. They are alert, with keen eyesight and hearing, and can detect unwanted visitors quickly. They will sound the alarm, and honk loudly when they sense something suspcious, easily heard by even a sleeping human. Geese are also notoriously territorial, and aren’t afraid to stand their ground. Their first instinct is not to run, but to confront, and they will hiss and bite in defense.

Llamas

llama
Llamas will spit, scream, bite, and kick at intruders

Llamas have been used to guard small flocks on farms for years, and farmers will a good guard llama will tell you they’re worth their weight in gold. Not all llamas will have great guarding instincts, but those that do will not only alert you to intruders, but handle the intruders all on their own. There are numerous accounts of llamas battling with coyotes, foxes, or dogs to protect their herds. It is advised to only have a single llama on guard, as having two means they will ignore the herd and just hang out with each other.

Donkeys

donkey guard dog
Donkeys make great guardians for sheep or goats

Donkeys are a great option for guarding grazing animals like goats or sheep, because they have very similar care requirements. Donkeys are the silent guard animal, and will rarely notify their humans of intruders. Instead, they will fiercely protect the herd themselves, using kicks and strikes with their hooves and bites with their large teeth. Not only are these territorial animals excellent for guarding, but they can also function as pack animals, making them useful in more ways than one!

Ostriches & Emus

ostrich emu
Ostriches and emus can be very intimidating to intruders!

If you’re looking for something really exotic, how about getting an ostrich or emu to guard your herds? Standing over 6 feet tall and weighing over 150 pounds, these birds are incredibly intimidating! They can run over 40 miles per hour, and can deliver deadly kicks with their strong, powerful legs.

I Found a Stray Dog, Now What Do I Do?

Naturally as animal lovers, our first instinct is to help an animal in need.  If any of us came across a stray dog, we want to see that animal be reunited with its owner.  So if you ever find yourself trying to catch a dog, keep these things in mind.

  1.  Always make your safety  a first priority.  Keep the dogs safety in mind as well.  A frightened dog can act unpredictably.  It may become aggressive out of fear.  If you feel unsure about approaching the dog, it is best to keep your distance and contact Animal Control authorities.  If the dog appears approachable, maintain caution and use your common sense.
  2. Assume every dog is owned and loved by someone.  No matter what condition you find it in, the dog might have someone who’s missing it.
  3. Check the dog for any identifying marks.  These can be ID tags, ear notches, or scars from old injuries.  These will help the dog be identified by its owner.
  4. Take the dog to a local vet office and have it scanned for a microchip.  If a dog is microchipped, its owner can be contacted.
  5. By law, you are required to turn the dog over to local authorities.  The dog needs to be taken to the animal shelter so that its owner can find it.  Many good Samaritans turn strays into the shelter as a last resort, out of fear the dog will be euthanized.  But remember, the shelter is the first place an owner missing their pet will go.  So not only is it the law, but it is in the animal’s best interest for you to take them there immediately.
  6. Search the area for “Lost Dog” ads, and post some “Found Dogs” ads yourself.  In your ads, include a small black & white photo, a brief description of the dog, and your contact information.
  7. When speaking to the dog’s potential owner, ask questions.  Rather than you describing the dog to them, have them describe the dog to you.  Make the caller give you specific details, as a way to screen out anyone with less than good intentions.

By following this procedure, you will be more likely to reunite a lost dog with its owner.  As an animal lover, that should make you feel pretty awesome!  Just think about how you would feel if someone returned your dog to you.  You’ve given that same joy to someone!  Well done.

 

What to Feed Your Horse: Factors to Consider

When first designing a feeding program for your horse, the endless options can seem overwhelming.  There are so many choices available, how do you decide?

First things first.  You’ll want to evaluate your horse’s current situation.  Here’s a few factors to consider:

  • Body Weight.  What is your horse’s current approximate weight?  How tall is your horse?  What body type does your horse have?  Believe it or not, when owners “eyeball” or “guesstimate” these measurements, they’re usually way off track!  It would be a better idea to use a horse weight tape or, if possible, a scale.
  • Body Condition Score.  Evaluating your horse’s body condition score is an essential tool in making feed decisions.  This system is a 1 – 9 scale, with 1 being emaciated skin and bone, and 9 being extremely obese.  Ideally, you’ll want your horse to be a score of 5.  Read more about Body Condition Scoring here.
  • Hay & Forage.  Research different types of legume and grass forages available, and how they differ in nutrient content.  As an example, alfalfa is a legume forage that is higher in protein and lower in fiber than timothy grass.  The form of forage is also important.  Does your horse have access to grazing pasture, or are they fed meals?  If your horse is meal fed, you have options like hay, pellets, or cubes.
  • Additional Feeds.  When it comes to supplementing your horse’s diet with additional feeds, there are many different schools of thought.  Do some research, consult with your veterinarian, and be sure to read feed labels.  There are dozens of products on the market, each one differing in ingredients and nutrition.  Take in to account your horse’s lifestage and workload, and choose a feed that meets your horse’s needs.
  • Exercise.  Evaluate how frequently and how vigorously your horse is currently being exercised.  The amount of physical activity your horse engages in regularly will affect their needs nutritionally.

Secondly, identify some goals for you and your horse.  Thinking about where you and your horse are headed together will help guide you in any adjustments you make to your feeding program.  Your goals might include:

  • Gaining or losing weight
  • Building muscle and endurance
  • Transitioning from idle to active
  • Preparing for a competition
  • Maintain current weight and stamina

There may be so many different feed options out there that it gets a bit confusing, but the good thing about having all of those options is that you can create a feeding program that is very well tailored to your horse’s needs.

 

Beware Foxtail Grass: A Threat to Your Pet

The warming spring temperature means great weather, blooming flowers, and spending more time outdoors with your family and pets.  It also means that many grasses are dispersing their seeds, and foxtails are in abundance.

Foxtail Awns

Foxtails are bushy looking spikes containing seeds in certain species of grass.  Their shape makes them perfect for clinging to your pet’s fur, your shoes, and your socks when out for a walk.  It is very important that you remove any foxtails on your pet’s coat, as they can pose a serious health risk.

Foxtails easily become embedded in fur, and have a way of working themselves deeper and deeper in to your pet’s coat, eventually reaching the skin.  Foxtails will pierce through in the skin, burrowing into soft tissues and organs.   The can even enter the body through nostrils or ear canals, and become further embedded in those pathways.

Embedded foxtails will cause infection, distress, hearing loss, trouble breathing, loss of vision, and even death.  Once foxtails have made their way inside your pet’s body, surgery is required to remove them.

So what can you do to keep your pets safe during foxtail season, but still enjoy time outside?

  • Remove any grass species with foxtails that grow in your yard
  • While out walking, stick to clear pathways and consider keeping pets leashed – also a good idea for snake season!
  • When you return home, give your pet’s coat a throughout examination, checking for hidden foxtails.  Your furbabies sure won’t mind the attention and pets!
    • Pay extra attention to areas like the underarm, between the toes, in nostrils, and in ear canals.
  • Go to the vet immediately if you notice any signs your pet may have an embedded foxtail.  Head-shaking, fits of sneezing, eye irratation, and visible skin irritation are all clues that there may be a foxtail that has become embedded.  You might also notice your pet generally being bothered or uncomfortable, or chewing on the affected area.

So go out, hit the trails, and enjoy the beauty of Spring!  Just be aware of those little stickers, pickers, and foxtails that could wreak havoc on your pet’s health.