Flies in the chicken coop are a common nuisance, but sometimes conditions allow the populous to get out of hand. Nobody wants to batt flies from his or her face when feeding their chickens, and no chicken wants to be inundated in biting flies or be the victim of flystrike.
The errant fly may provide brief entertainment to a chicken, but a swarm of pestilence is no fun at all. Let’s look at the environmental conditions that encourage the flying masses to appear, and what we can do to avoid having tons of flies in the chicken coop.
Flies in the Chicken Coop
Flies are big fans of dirty places, especially dirty areas with food. Poorly managed compost piles, wet coop bedding, and spilled feed are all major attractions for flies. Maintenance of your coop, run, and feeding equipment is key to keeping the fly population in check. Let’s talk about the common problem areas we face in the coop.
Leaking water and feed dispensers are a big culprit of fly problems. Is the top lip of your feeder pan raised to the level of your chicken’s back? Raising the edge of feeders to the same height as the back of your average flock member’s back prevents your birds from tossing feed from the pan without stopping them from eating. If your feeders are set on the ground, or too low, save feed and reduce spoiled feed in the litter by adjusting the height of your feeders.
Watch for Leaks
Are your waterers leaking? Plastic waterers can crack, steel double wall systems can rust out, and nipple systems will leak. Check to be sure your water systems are in good shape, and just like feeders, water troughs should be elevated to the level of your bird’s back line. Keeping open-trough water systems off the ground reduces the likelihood of your birds playing in the water or piling shavings up and into the water dispenser.
Nipple watering systems are prevalent in backyard flocks these days and for a good reason. It is the most sanitary way to feed birds, but if improperly set up, they can attract flies in the chicken coop. The most common fault with a nipple system is the height of the valve. Chickens should have to barely stand on their toes to drink from a nipple valve. Otherwise, they need to peck it from the side, which causes them to drip water onto the floor.
Some people have become creative in building a chicken nipple water system, but a few people forget to take into consideration the head pressure in their system. Layer nipple valves are engineered to hold back water until they are activated by being pecked, but if the water pressure is too high inside the vessel, the valve will leak.
If you purchase a commercially available automatic water system, you’ll see that there is a pressure reducer between the pipe the valves attach to and the water supply. This valve keeps the water pressure low inside the pipe, so the valves don’t leak.
The Right Litter
Many people are under the assumption that hay or straw is good bedding for a chicken coop. I’m a huge critic of this theory, and I highly suggest never using hay or straw in a chicken coop. For one, hay and straw holds moisture and gives bacteria and flies a place to multiply. A soggy pack of straw is a sure fire way to attract flies and rodents. Another big reason why hay and straw do not make it into my coops is; my back. Pitchforking apart a matted mess of straw is a miserable chore, especially when it reeks of ammonia.
I use a thick bedding pack of pine shavings in my coops, usually about 12 inches deep or more. A deep litter base of pine allows the bedding pack to absorb moisture, but unlike straw or hay, pine shavings release this moisture back into the environment. A properly managed bedding pack should stay dry and loose. You’ll know that the bedding pack is spent when the entire depth of the bedding has turned grey. Dry pine shavings are far easier on the back when cooping out, trust me!
Do you smell strong ammonia or other foul smells in your coops and runs? A strong ammonia smell tells you there is too much moisture in your coop, and it’s time to figure out why. If your coop or compost pile smells rank, then it’s time to clean out the barn or add dry material to your compost bin. If you have an odorous compost pile, rotating it with a shovel or tractor should also help.
Abating the Coop
So if you’ve done as much preventative maintenance as possible and you still have flies in the coop, it’s time to take an active role in controlling the population. Baiting, chemical controls, and natural controls are all options, but be sure you know what kind of fly you’re dealing with. Not all flies are the same, so do your best to identify the pest you’re dealing with, understand their breeding habits, and what they’re attracted to the most. Knowing this will help you plan your attack and be more effective at controlling flies in the coop.
Fly traps work by eliminating adults from the reproduction chain, and are only part of a concerted effort to rid the barnyard of flying pests. Unlike fly repellant, fly traps are a source of attraction, which many people don’t take into account. When using a baited fly trap, you’re adding a pheromone attractant to the trap station, which draws the attention of flies from the area. Positioning your traps outside your coop should draw them out and away from the coop, which is better than pulling them into the coop.
Be careful with widespread insecticide use, because it can do more harm than good. I suggest using chemical controls as a last resort because, with proper management of the coop, you should be able to control the population.
There are a wide variety of insecticides that work on flies. However, they also kill beneficial insects. Pesticides are not a miracle cure for flies in the coop, and there is a lot more planning involved in their application than you may think. Read and research their intended uses, their warnings, their instructions, and which kind of fly they work best on. Many products attack a specific stage of life, so be sure you understand which fly you’re combatting and where they can be found at that particular stage of life. Overuse of chemical controls will also worsen your problems because flies can build a resistance to certain pesticides, so be confident you understand what you’re doing, or consult a professionally licensed exterminator.
Sometimes you need to fight fire with fire. Flies do not exist in a bubble on the food chain, and some bugs prey on flies. There are predatory beetles, mites, and tiny wasps that hunt flies at different stages of life, and they do a great job of it. Predatory bugs for fly control can be purchased and released on the farm to combat flies in the coop. Again, be sure you know what fly you are dealing with before you order them since not all predatory bugs feast on all flies. Research when the best time to release these beneficial bugs is, and what they require to thrive before you take the plunge into buying a bunch of bugs.
Have you tried any of these hints? Have they helped? Do you know some great tricks for controlling flies on the farm? Let us know in the comments below!