Small Farm Makeover: Natural Solutions for Insect Control

Swallows Eat Thousands of Flies and Mosquitoes Daily

by Alayne Blickle


Nest boxes for violet-green and tree swallows are easy to build or buy. Hang them up around your horse property to easily attract these birds. Photos by Alayne Blickle

Horse people love spring, but what gives us great hope of summer being just around the corner is the return of swallows to North America. Depending on where you live, you should begin seeing swallows in March and April. Their cheery twittering, which can brighten even a grey spring day, marks their return from Central America where they overwinter.

Several types of swallows are native to North America including violet-green swallows, tree swallows, barn swallows and cliff swallows. What can be particularly exciting to horse owners about these guys is that swallows are voracious insect eaters. These slender little birds, about five or six inches in length with pointed wings and tails, eat between 800 and 1,000 insects per bird per day. Multiply that by two for a nesting pair, and over a period of weeks you have excellent insect control without ever having to buy anything (outside of a nest box or two) nor use chemicals.

Cliff and barn swallows build mud nests on the underside of roofs, overhangs, bridges, cliffs – and in barns. If droppings become a problem for your situation, place a board under the nest to keep the area clean.

Photos by Alayne Blickle

Violet-greens and tree swallows are secondary cavity dwellers, meaning they nest in already created holes and crevices such as those in dead trees and snags or those made by woodpeckers. Happily for us, they also take very well to nest boxes.

Nest boxes for violet-greens and tree swallows are easy to build or buy and hang in your yard or horse property—and these birds are easily attracted to them. Note: nesting boxes must be specific to the type of swallows in your area. Poorly made boxes encourage non-native species, such as starlings, to move in which can out-compete swallows and other natives. Consult your local Audubon chapter, birding organization, extension office, library, wild bird store, or the internet for advice on the types and sources of nesting boxes.

The springtime return of swallows conveniently coincides with shedding season. During grooming sessions, collect horse and dog hair to set out in tufts in your pasture area. Then, once nesting season commences in April and May, the swallows will begin recycling that hair into nesting material.

These pretty little birds can provide horse owners with entertainment through their graceful flight acrobatics as they swoop to pick up nesting material and dart about catching insects, as well as a season’s worth of free, non-toxic insect control.


This spring join Alayne Blickle and Horses for Clean Water at the following and check the Horses for Clean Water for new events added regularly:


Sonoma County, CA—Petaluma location TBD; Saturday and Sunday, March 2 & 3

Workshop: Natural Solutions for Mud, Dust, Bugs, and Weeds.

Join Alayne Blickle of Horses for Clean Water to learn practical strategies that can save on vet bills, improve horses’ mental and physical health, and increase the value and chore efficiency of your property—all while fighting climate change and storm water pollution. We will cover confinement areas and mud management, manure management and composting, and non-toxic weed control. We will also discuss new regulations for manure management on horse properties. Alayne will be available on Sunday for individual consultations at horse properties. Join us for a fun weekend of horse-keeping practices that will make your place chore-efficient, aesthetically-pleasing, horse-healthy, customer-friendly and good for the environment. Email for details and registration.


Eastern Washington:

Kennewick, WA

Benton Conservation District—Saturday, March 16, 8:30 – 4:00

Workshop: Join us to learn more about managing your small farm or horse property to improve chore efficiency, horse health, and natural resource stewardship. Topics include horse health and pasture management, firewise for horse properties, and manure management. Contact Melissa Pierce for the latest at 509-736-6000.


Published March 2019 Issue


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