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Diatomaceous earth (DE) is made up of the fossilized shells of microscopic sea creatures. Over time, it fractures and basically becomes the equivalent of miniature fragments of broken glass. Food grade DE is harmless to larger creatures, including all mammals, but it is lethal to insects like flies and ticks.
DE can be used two ways to aid in fly and tick control. Lightly dusted over your horse’s coat, it will act as a repellant. It doesn’t take much, a light dusting is all. If you are creating a cloud of white powder, that is too much. One way to apply DE is to fill an old sock and gently tap it all over the horse.
Diatomaceous earth works because it is very sharp and abrasive. As an insect comes into contact, the sharp edges slice at the insect’s exoskeleton. The small pieces also work their way into exposed areas, like joints and other soft parts. This isn’t an instant killer, but it usually leads to death for the flies and ticks. Not only does it keep them off the horse, but any that do land on your horse will be killed, helping, at least a little bit, to population control.
This won’t necessarily stop the flies from landing on your horse, but they won’t stay long enough to bite or sting. Ticks are a little tougher than flies, but a regular program of applying DE should keep new ticks from becoming attached and should eventually kill any existing ticks.
DE can also be added to feed to control parasites. As an added benefit to this organic worming program, it is passed unabsorbed through the digestive system and is deposited in the horse’s manure, where it keeps all of its abrasive properties. Flies that land on the manure are injured and killed. It can also help prevent fly larvae from growing in the manure in the first place. All of this will drastically reduce the fly population.
One very important note: Be sure to buy food grade DE. The DE sold as pool filtering material, for example, has been heat processed and is toxic to animals and humans when eaten.