Tips for Tackling Mother Nature’s Nuisance

Flies are an unavoidable nuisance on just about any farm. When the warm weather and moisture arrives, flies will hatch, lay their eggs, and seem to take over, harassing both you and your livestock with their incessant buzzing and biting. But all is not lost. With a combination of good housekeeping and smart product use, you have a more than reasonable chance of reducing fly populations on your farm.

Understanding The Fly Life Cycle

The fly life cycle consists of four stages: egg, larva (maggot), pupa, and adult. Most flies mature from egg to adult in two to four weeks, with an average life expectancy of three to four weeks. In some environments, though, this cycle can be sped up.

Adult flies generally lay their eggs on fresh manure and on most moist organic material, like compost. Eggs will usually hatch within one to three days and the larvae will feed on the manure (or other organic material) where they hatched. The fly then develops its exoskeleton in the pupa stage, and after two to four weeks, it’s an adult, ready to annoy.

Good Housekeeping and Manure Management

Since flies flourish on manure, removing manure and wet bedding every day will be an important part of your strategy. In addition to removing the scent that attracts flies, you’ll also be removing the environment flies prefer for laying eggs. As mentioned, immature flies will feed on manure, but so will many species of adult flies. Removing the manure from your barns will go a long way toward reducing their presence.

The manure pile is another prime location for fly propagation. Regularly spreading your manure in thin layers will help not only to fertilize your fields and keep your manure pile down, it will reduce a major attraction for the flies. If you have the time, raking or dragging your spread manure will help it to dry out more quickly and help eliminate the wet environment flies prefer.

Covering your manure pile, if possible, will also help contain fly populations. While flies prefer a warm, moist environment, the heat generated by piling and covering your manure will be too hot for the flies to lay eggs.

If you have trashcans in or around the barn, make sure to empty your containers regularly.

Products for Fly Control

Fly Tapes And Fly Traps

Fly traps can be effective outside the barn. They typically are available in two types: those that attract visually and those that attract via odor. The best place to position traps are outside the barn, at a distance—you want to draw the flies away from your buildings and livestock. Placement recommendation should come on the packaging. If you find that you aren’t getting good results, you can try different locations.

For flies living inside the barn, fly tape will help stop them. Fly tape comes in strips that you hang from ceilings or rafters. Fly tape is sticky and will hold the flies when they land on it. Since they cannot fly away, they are not able to breed.

Fly Sprays

Portable fly-misters can be installed above stalls, run-in shelters, small sheds—anywhere your animals gather. They will deliver a fine insecticide mist every 15 minutes. They operate with a battery-powered timer and replacement canisters are readily available. They are relatively inexpensive to buy and are safe for livestock and even pets.

Fly sprays are widely available and are effective go-to spot solutions. You can apply these directly to the animal to reduce fly bites and annoying swarms. Some formulas are sweat resistant, some are designed to combat a variety of species, and some are suited to specific species. Some are formulated with natural ingredients. Make sure to check out the instructions—for application and to make sure you’re getting the right product to suit your particular problem. For edgy horses, spray slowly and avoid loud sudden noises. And do not spray any animal in the face. Instead, spray on a cloth and wipe around the animal’s face, avoiding the area directly around the eyes.

Some spray products are designed to linger by sticking to surfaces. Note that sprays can be more toxic to fly predators and some of the “bad” flies can actually build a resistance to the product. Read the label and follow the instructions to make sure you’re not doing more harm than good.

Fly Sheets And Fly Mask

Another common form of fly resistance, for horses in this case, is the fly mask. Masks help protect your horse’s face and ears. They are available in a wide array of sizes, materials, and coverage options. Fly sheets and leg wraps are also available in different sizes and materials. These accessories should be checked regularly to make sure they’re not rubbing your horse (experimenting to get the correct size is important), and to make sure they’re in good condition without frays or other hanging elements that could snag on a fence, etc.

Insecticide Ear Tags

While all of your livestock will likely have ear tags, some tags actually help fight off both horn and face flies for up to several months. These tags release small amounts of insecticide over the animals which is spread when they are groomed or rubbed by other animals. Some manufacturers recommend using more than one tag per head, so be sure to read and follow the instructions.

While most tags are not intended for lactating cattle, some are formulated with an active ingredient that’s safe to use—just be certain you have the correct product.


Don’t forget the use of the old, reliable barn fan to keep air moving and make it difficult for flies to navigate around the barn. Smart use of fans can make it difficult for flies to land on your animals and will even help manure to dry more quickly, which, as mentioned above, is a favorite breeding and feeding ground for flies.

While battling flies can seem like a pointless struggle, you can arm yourself with these ideas and begin to win the war! Try them out and let us know how you did in the comments section—tell us about your own tried and true solutions while you’re there!