‘Tis the season for flies on the farm. Lots of them. But here at Willow Creek Farm we don’t have even a quarter as many as we did a few years ago. There are several things we have done over the last two years that in combination with each other have really helped with the fly issues: fly predators, chickens free-ranging in the barnyard, sticky fly strips, and encouraging local birds that eat insects.
Fly predators are little harmless bugs that love to eat fly larvae. You order them like a subscription and they send you a certain number of packages (based on a description of your farm) each month during the months in your area when flies are active. When the package arrives it is full of the “cocoons” (for lack of a better term) of the fly predators. Within a few days they begin to hatch, and once you see some hatching you take the package and either dump them out, or just open the package and leave it sitting open in areas of the farm where the flies are the worst. We would put an open package in the barn near the cow stall, and we would dump the other package outside on the manure/compost heap. This was before we had the chickens free-ranging in the barnyard. We wouldn’t dump them there after the chickens were there because they would happily eat all the fly predators in their cocoons and all.
We did two full spring/summer seasons of fly predators and saw a large decline in our fly issues. This year we decided to try a year without them since we had some other things in place and we were wondering if we have an established population of fly predators now. So far this year has been great, we have much less flies than other farms we have visited in the area. We will probably do the fly predators every other year, or every two years from now on to keep it under control.
Chickens Free-Ranging in the Barnyard
Our chickens free range in the barnyard and have access to the sheep stall as well. It is well-known that flies like animal waste, and the barnyard and sheep stall are where all the animal waste is located. We also have the manure/compost pile located inside the barnyard. The chickens go around scratching through the pile and around the yard and the stall and eat the flies (when they can catch them), but more importantly they eat the eggs and the fly larvae so they can’t turn into more flies. Having them free range on the manure/compost pile, the barnyard, and the stall has made a big improvement on the fly issue.
Sticky Fly Strips
We have tried every fly trap on the market, as well as recommended homemade ones. The ones we have found that by far work the best, are the most low-maintenance, and are safe for the environment and farm animals are the long sticky strips. We put them all over in the barn. We probably have 10-20 hanging in the barn during the worst of the season (the barn is about 600 sqr. ft). We hang them where no animals can reach them, including the barn cats up in the hay lofts. And we switch them out with new ones when they get full. They occasionally catch a wasp, but about 99.9% of what is on them is just flies. And it seems once a few flies are on there the rest of the flies flock to it like crazy. They are an inexpensive and safe way to catch flies.
Encouraging Local Birds That Eat Insects
The first year we moved in my husband noticed that we had a few Violet-Green Swallows nesting in some holes in an old tree in the backyard. In the evenings and mornings we saw them swooping around catching flies and other bugs. They would go back and forth to their babies about 100 times in an hour. It was amazing to watch. And it occurred to us that they were eating thousands of flies each summer as they lived and raised their young on our property.
So we purposefully built nest boxes to the size and specifications they like, as well as nest boxes for some other insect-eating birds that are native to our area and put them up all over the property during the winter in preparation for their arrival in the spring. The next year we had twice as many birds move in, and then this year we have even more. Right now we have about 9 active nests of Violet-Green Swallows in our boxes as well as in some trees. We also have nests of Nuthatches, Wrens, and Chickadees, which aren’t as helpful with flies but do eat some insects. We watch the swallows zooming around catching bugs for their babies all day long. They have become a wonderful asset to the farm. This winter we plan to make even more nest boxes and put them up on the trees around the barnyard and even on the exterior barn wall with hopes we can encourage even more of these helpful critters.
The one downfall of encouraging these birds is that occasionally one of our barn cats manages to catch one. It is such a bummer when they do and it upsets us all. Unfortunately, there is no way to control what the barn cats catch and they catch hundreds of detrimental rodents on the farm each year so it is just something that we have to accept.
By using our chickens, local insect-eating birds, sticky fly strips, and fly predators we have been able to keep the flies down to a minimum on our farm, which makes everyone – human and animal – happier. Now, if we could figure out a sure-fire way to keep the few flies we do have from eating the farm dog’s ear we would be in good shape!