How to deal with fire ants at the barn!
Let’s cover the basics of how fire ants live and what they can do to horses.
- In the US, there are basically 4 types of fire ants, all stinging, all a potential danger to horses. Most commonly, they reside in the south and southeast. These stinging and biting ants live in huge mounds, deep into the ground. Larger mounds can be two to three feet wide at the top, with burrows going 18 inches or more into the ground.
- In any given pasture, you may find 40 to 300 mounds of fire ants per acre. I feel like that’s a lot.
Please go away.
Each fire ant mound has a complete colony of fire ants, and usually more than one queen.
- Each queen is capable of producing 1200 eggs per day. These guys are easily disturbed by movement and swarm to attack the source of disruption. They are drawn to electricity and water, so activity is high around electrical sources and troughs, as well as after a rainstorm. They are omnivores and eat plants and animals, including ticks.
The problems with fire ants and horses:
- The sting of a fire ant is itchy, painful, and unfortunately, long-lasting. Horses are most susceptible to their sting when rolling or resting in the pasture.
- Often, you will need to interfere and use a horse or sweat scraper to remove the ants from your horse. For the healthy adult horse, it’s likely that an encounter with fire ants will necessitate a call to the vet for anti-inflammatory medications, antihistamines, and pain medications.
- Secondary complications can include laminitis, respiratory difficulties, and abortion in pregnant mares. Younger or older horses may require euthanasia. These little ants are not to be messed with – at all.
NOPE NOPE NOPE
Treat the fire ants in your horse’s pastures
- In many fire ant heavy areas, there are specialists that can treat your pastures on a regular basis. You can opt to treat the pastures as well, using treatments found at your local garden supply. Fire ant poison comes in the form of bait, which is sprinkled around the perimeter of the mound. When the ants bring the bait into the nest, it is pulverized, eaten, and regurgitated by SOME of the ants and fed to the queen and young ants. Over a few weeks time, the queen(s) are unable to lay healthy eggs and the colony dies.
- When you are shopping for the appropriate bait, look for one that is specifically designed for pastures, as this will be safe for your horses. The chemicals hydramethylnon, pyriproxyfen, s-methoprene, and fenoxycarb are the common ingredients that are proven to be effective.
- If you have the red imported fire ants in your pastures, you can opt to purchase phorid flies and release them. They are natural enemies of red imported fire ants and can be very effective at driving them away to find other places to nest.
Many trips back and forth.
- Your other option is to try and cook them with boiling hot water. This is a time-consuming task, and best done on a sunny day after rain when the ants are likely to be closer to the surface of their mound. Pour scalding hot water into the mound and cross your fingers. You will be doing this for hours. And hours. And any survivors, which are likely, will simply pick up and move.
- There is some evidence that using soapy water will kill about 65% of a colony. Again, the remains of the colony will simply move. There is current research studying soap, water, and citrus oil that looks promising, but no recipes are confirmed yet. And yes, a real university, Texas A & M, is doing the research.
- You may need to check the mounds later and poke with a stick to see if any ants come out, in which case boil and repeat. This method is questionable, as the queen lives deep into the earth and may not be reached. Get ready for many trips with your kettle!
- Under no circumstance should you use oil, gas, kerosene, or a similar substance. These are illegal to use for pest control and will contaminate surrounding areas and water supplies.
Let’s talk about grits and killing fire ants.
- There are lots of anecdotes about feeding the mounds grits, and then the grits explode the ants from the inside out. There are loads of websites claiming this to be the case, and it would certainly be awesome if it was. BUT….
- Actual science, conducted by respected Universities, has proven this to be wrong. First, the worker ants can’t eat solid foods. Their food is digested and liquified by a larval stage and the workers eat that.
- The grits thing came from the poisons used to actually kill the ants. Grits are used as a carrier for the poisons, so it’s the poisons themselves that kill, not the grits.
- Save your grits for breakfast!
What have you done in your area to help your horses have ant-free pastures?
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Make sure these ingredients are safe for the locations you will be using it.