We have midges!
Who doesn’t in the humid parts of Australia?
sandflies; no see ums; whatever you want to call them, they are minuscule painful and the worst enemy of Friesians.
Like it or not, they are a part of our eco system, and other life forms depend on them. Australia has a bad history of introducing predators to wipe out one problem and causing another (prickly pear, cane beetle, cane toad ….. ringing any bells)
So we have been experimenting with different ways of getting rid of them.
Obviously as most of you know, the midges can cause a terrible “itch” on horses who have an allergy or hypersensitivity to their bite.
Dr Doug Wilson a vet from Bristol in the UK (yes they are a world wide problem) describes how midges bite horses and set off the allergic reaction:
“After alighting on a horse, midges crawl down the hair shafts to the skin surface. Their mouth parts are too short to probe for a blood vessel like their larger cousins, the mosquitoes, so they have to chew their way through the tough outer layers of skin.
To assist their efforts, they secrete saliva containing a mixture of enzymes that digest and soften the skin tissue as well as agents to encourage extra blood to flow to the site of the bite and several factors that will prevent the blood clotting. A small pool of blood forms just under the skin surface and is then sucked up by the midges.
The whole process takes about 15-20 minutes and, over the course of an evening, a horse may be bitten by hundreds or even thousands of midges, each one injecting a small amount of saliva containing foreign proteins into the horse.”
Read the full article. It is excellent information on the cause of Sweet Itch, Queensland Itch, or just THE itch!
Because it is much colder and less humid than in Australia, this simply isn’t anywhere near as large a problem in the Netherlands as it is here. In fact it isn’t really even a problem in Victoria, Tasmania, South Australia or Western Australia.
The nett result of these biting monsters for horses living in affected areas however is that on horses who suffer from the hypersensitivity they literally rub themselves raw with the agony of an itch that simply won’t go away. Docks of tails and beautiful manes are the worst affected, but anyone who has experienced this will know well and truly that midges are not discriminating. They will bite anywhere, and horses will do anything to relieve the itch.
So what can we do to protect our beloved creatures? One thing is for sure. There is no single answer. But there are a lot of proactive measures that we can take to reduce the problem and combined, they have a positive effect.
Well, you can start by looking at your surrounds. If you live near a rainforest, a body of water such as a dam or a creek or even a swamp, or if you have had excessive rainfall you are very likely to have midges. Do what you can to remove excess water where it makes sense.
If you have a small decorative pond drop some lavender, thyme, or clove essential oil (mixed with a carrier oil) into the pond. This will create a film across the top of the pond and prevent the midges (and mosquitoes from breeding) Be aware however this will affect other life forms like fish – so don’t do this if you have other animals to keep alive in the pond. Basil, Geranium, lemongrass and eucalyptus are also good effective oils.
The natural predator of any problem is always the first place I look for a resolution.
Sadly our best options are bats and frogs.
Bats will eat up to 3000 midges in a night, but unfortunately no one in Australia wants these blighters anywhere near our horses (can you say Hendra?).
Frogs eat midges. Usually if you have midges it’s because you have water. Which means you potentially have frogs. Encourage more frogs to help control the midge problem.
Trout will eat midge larvae prolifically, however it is an offence to stock your dam in Queensland with fish that are not native to your specific area without a permit, which you could potentially seek, but it is guaranteed to be convaluted. You can use native fish for mosquito control but it would be presumptuous of me to assume that midges are as threatened as mosquitoes are by these fish.
Discover your green thumb
Plant vegetation around your dam, your house and your paddocks that will repel midges. There are a stack of them – here are a sample. ENSURE that you don’t plant anything near your horses that is poisonous to them!
So whilst these are all great ideas, none of them have immediate affect and are not particularly comforting when you say to your horse “Just wait, you’ll see, the frogs will eat them”
As with humans, what you eat results in health or lack there of. There are an enormous number of supplements that you can add to your horses diet to help counter the effects of midges.
Lisa McCann Herbs offer a brilliant “Itch Blend” to ease the effects of itchiness and her Herb and Supplement Combo helps to repel the blighters naturally.
Itch Blend is a blend of herbs that help horses prone to allergic reactions from biting insects, and also those suffering itchy, irritating skin diseases. It helps to purify the blood, is high in Silica and helps promote mane and tail growth.
The blend doesn’t stop whatever is biting your horse, you still need to feed Garlic, spray with an insecticidal spray, rug or whatever you’re doing – but it stops or reduces the allergic reaction, so the lumps don’t come up or are reduced and there’s no itch. The key ingredients:
BURDOCK: Burdock is a blood purifier for skin problems including dry scurf, sores, boils and other breakouts.
CHAMOMILE: Chamomile is soothing, calming, anti-allergy, helping horses prone to allergic conditions affecting the skin.
CLIVERS: Clivers is an antiseptic herb. It is high in Silica which helps Calcium condition hair and skin which makes it useful in promoting mane and tail growth.
NETTLES: Nettles addresses itchy, irritating skin diseases. Used as a general tonic to cleanse and feed the blood.
Lisa McCann herbs should come with a warning~ YOUR HORSE WILL RUN YOU OVER TO GET TO THIS STUFF! THEY LOVE IT!
Some of us are fortunate enough to have amazing stables that we can pop our horses in from dusk til dawn to protect them from midges and mosquitoes. Encourage nesting swallows in your stable because nothing satisfies them more than a good midge or mozzie.
Make sure your airflow is great, and add fans if you can afford to. Believe is or not mozzies, flies and midges can’t fly straight in strong breezes, but the fans need to be actually creating a breeze for this to work.
Implement automatic waterers in your stables and paddocks to reduce breeding opportunities for the blighters.
If you are really really desperate to keep them away, screen your stables with retractable screens – with extra small holes.
Rugging or Insect sheets
There are plenty of rugs on the market claiming to protect your horse. We have had success with the Cashel rugs – which you have to order online from the US. Your horse is likely to look like a storm trooper, but they do afford some protection when fitted correctly. They also protect against flies and other insects. There are many many options though available on the market. I was lucky enough to have success with the first one we tried (or the first one that we tried that actually fit!). In saying that, I prefer not to rug, it’s just too stinking hot here!
Repellants and Creams
There are hundreds of different repellants out there. People use everything from the wonderfully natural Heritage Downs Equine Spray through to plain old Aeroguard, with varying results.
If you are wanting to soothe your itchy horse, nothing has worked better for us than Coconut oil with drops of Tea Tree Peppermint and Lavender in it, rubbed lovingly into the affected area. (This works on humans too)
Greenpet and Lisa McCann Herbs also have a great range of shampoos, conditioners, sprays and creams to repel the blighters and soothe the pain – my favourite part all available to order online so you can do so from that comfort of your own bed at 11:00pm after the kids have gone to sleep, the kitchen is clean and you get your 15 minutes of you time!!
Prevention IS better than cure
We all know the adage, and wouldn’t it be better if we weren’t spending thousands of dollars a year on feed, rugs, insect repellant, creams etc.
Well we think we might have discovered the answer………
Watch our blog over the next month for our midge annihilation trial results!
If you are struggling to sleep at night, here is a video that might help – it’s the life cycle of a midge