Talking Mud on a Sunny Day

Talking Mud on a Sunny Day

We are so thankful to the 20 horse folks that came to our Horsekeeping in the Winter Wet farm tour.

Funding is currently available for certain projects in the Lower Stillaguamish PIC Project area. Even if you don't live in this area, please contact Michael Hipp at 425-377-7019 for advice and/or a free site visit to help you manage mud and manure for your sanity, your horses' health, and the health of the environment around you.

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Chemical Free Fly Control for Horse Properties

If there is one pest that could be crowned “Kings of Irritation” to our equine friends it would be those ever-present menaces – flies.

Every year millions of dollars are spent by horse owners all over the world on chemical sprays of every kind, both organic and inorganic, to keep those pesky pests off their horses, along with the many hours spent applying said sprays. Even then, not every chemical seems to work on every horse, so the industry has created multiple chemical options to address the issue.

I can always tell a horse owner in a feed store by the smell of fly spray on their clothes. It never really goes away no matter how much you wash your hands. The lingering spray in the air always falls on your clothes or boots so that when you stand next to me in the cash register line at the Co-op I will always be able to smell that sweet smell of fly spray on you. Sorry, but it’s true. So if you want to avoid the cost and hassle of chemical fly controls – as well as detection by discerning fellow horse owners in the check-out line – there are some things you can do to manage flies biologically.

Turn Flies into Prey

Flies, like most other things on this planet, have natural predators. In the world of mammals humans have natural predators in bears (more on that in a future article) and in the insect world flies have natural predators in tiny, biteless, and completely stingless parasitic wasps commonly referred to in the horse world as “fly predators”.

Fly predators kill their prey while the flies are in the developing stages on the ground. The female fly lays her eggs on decomposing organic material, and very soon after the microscopic fly maggot burrows its way into the material and forms a cocoon. The fly predator seeks out her prey and when she sees these cocoons she deposits her eggs inside the cocoon, preventing the adult fly from hatching.

The only drawback to using fly predators is that they have a very short life span and the adult fly lays eggs at a faster rate than the fly predator. This all means you must continually replenish your supply of fly predators as the season progresses.

Violet-green Swallow

Attract Birds and Bats

Another inexpensive method for controlling flies is to attract other natural predators such as birds and bats. This can be done by providing the targeted predators – specifically the Violet-Green Swallow, the Barn Swallow, and bats – with houses situated in favorable spots around your property.

Violet-Green Swallows need a house because they will not build nests in barn structures like their cousin Barn Swallows. Also unlike their cousin, they do not generally poop below their house, keeping their surroundings cleaner. Violet-Green Swallow houses must have an oval shaped opening rather than round, and should not have a perch in order to prevent predators from attacking their nests. Violet-Green Swallows first appear in early May, lay a brood, then move on by mid-July. However, while the Violet-green Swallow will leave by mid-July, the Barn Swallow may lay a second brood and will hang around until mid-September.

The nice thing about both birds is that they will eat their entire body weight in flies every day. On average, these fellows weigh in around 0.63 ounces while a typical fly weighs 0.0004 ounces – that’s a daily diet for the swallow of 1,575 flies! So, the more swallows you attract, the more flies they can consume.

However, if you want to pull out the big flying guns in this battle, attract bats. They consume 500 to 1,000 flies, mosquitoes and other flying insects…an hour! Since bats typically feed 8 hours a night, that means the average bat will consume from 4,000 to 8,000 flying insects a night. Bat houses can be bought commercially or easily constructed using commercial plans, and should be located also on the south or west side of your structures. They also need a reliable water source nearby…no doubt to wash down all those flies!

Manage Manure

At the same time you can attack flies directly using their natural predators, you can also control fly propagation by controlling the host for all their egg laying – your horse’s manure.

Building and using a compost bin is an essential weapon against parasites and pests on any horse property. It can be as simple as creating a pile and making sure it is covered to building an elaborate, forced air system with a roof and removable cover.

The key to making good compost comes down to three basics – moisture, air and temperature. The manure must always be the moisture of a damp sponge (not wet, but damp) and enough air, either from turning the pile at intervals or using a forced air system, to allow the microbes to do their job at breaking down the organic material in the manure. And the most important factor of the three is temperature. It is important that the internal temperature of the manure pile reach at least 130 degrees Fahrenheit (F) for at least 3 to 15 days depending on how your pile is constructed to kill off all the fly eggs present.  

By using these good, chemical free fly controls you will not only go a long way in reducing exposure to chemicals to yourself and your horse and save time and money in the barn from applying horse spray, but you will also smell a whole lot better in the check-out line.

Compost bins in use.JPG

Pastures, Hooves & Health Workshop

Pastures, Hooves & Health Workshop

On Saturday, March 24, at the Camano Lutheran Church, 33 people from the Livingston Watershed on Camano Island and the surrounding area enjoyed a three hour workshop on pasture management and how unhealthy pastures affect the health and well being of horses.

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5 Tips for Winter Horsekeeping

5 Tips for Winter Horsekeeping

As the days grow shorter it’s time to prepare for the dark, wet days of winter. We know the challenges that await us in these winter months: rain, mud, darkness, and cold. The constant, never-ending rainy days can make chores difficult and alter the routines of our horses, but planning ahead can make the winter manageable, and safe, for horses and horse owners alike. Here are our top five tips for winter horsekeeping in the Pacific Northwest. 

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A Look Back at Our Season of Spreading . . . Manure

Manure & Lime Spreader Program Ending for 2017

 Sound Horsekeepers, Adam and Tracey

Sound Horsekeepers, Adam and Tracey

The spreaders are out at the last cooperators' property and will be picked up Friday and put away for the season. We will not be taking reservations until April 2 for next spring, so mark it on your calendars. There will be some changes coming to the program that Michael Hipp, our Resource Planner / Sound Horsekeeping Program Manager, will be working on over the winter, They are changes related to efficiency so that we can better serve you all. He will let you know what those are as they become official.


A big THANK YOU to everyone who participated in the spreader program this year! 2017 was the busiest and most successful yet.


  • 34 Cooperators (aka landowners / farmers / horsekeepers) used the spreaders; some, multiple times.

  • 3,020 miles driven to deliver the spreaders - that's the distance from Seattle to San Salvador, El Salvador!

  • Only 1 flat tire on the trailer (thanks to Skagit Farmer's Supply for the assist!)


And there is no way to measure the tens of thousands of pounds of manure and lime spread this year, but it is great to know that all those nutrients are out building good soil. Thank you to our cooperators for not only having Michael out to your property to discuss soil health and good pasture management practices, but also for following through and getting your pastures one step healthier for your horses.

Please remember that if you encounter any new resource concerns over the winter Michael is always here to help. Winter in western Washington is always a challenge with horses, so please don't ever hesitate to contact him any time.

Office: (425) 377-7019 | Email: