We all learned about the sting of a bee early in life. In fact, Winnie the Pooh opens with the buzz of honey bees alerting the bear that a honey tree is by the side of the path through the woods. Many of our horses learn early on that danger lurks at the sides of riding trails in the forms of wasp and hornet nests.
But what about back at the barn? The hustle and bustle of caring for horses can be disrupted by the discovery of a bee's nest somewhere in the barn, and many horses are stung in their pastures or on a trailer.
General maintenance of barns and out buildings will reveal the hiding places of bees, and exterminators may be needed to call them in. But we want honeybees to succeed in our gardens and fields; in fact, we want to encourage them. Learning about the different kinds of bees is critical to understanding whom to call and what measures to take to either destroy the nests or gently re-home a swarm of honeybees in your apple tree.
The suggestions below should help you look at some dark corners or under the tarp that covers last winter's leftover firewood on your time, rather than in an emergency situation when a child or a dog uncovers an angry nest of bees on a warm fall afternoon.
IN THE BARN: THE DO LIST
- DO keep food and drinks in a closed room, such as a kitchen area or tack room.
- DO empty barn trash frequently, especially if it contains food trash. Be careful when removing a liner or emptying the can. Use caution around a dumpster, if you have one.
- DO get in the habit of wearing long sleeves when you are in and around the barn.
- DO investigate bee traps at your hardware or feed store and install them according to manufacturer instructions around your property. Hornet traps that use sugar water should not be installed close to horse stalls or grooming areas.
- DO close cupboards and fasten all containers.
- DO install screens in your barn windows where appropriate.
- DO use caution moving anything that has been undisturbed in a while, such as tack trunks and feed bins.
- Do remove old firewood stacks from proximity to horses. Firewood is a favorite nesting area for hornets.
- DO go up into the hay loft well before a delivery is due. Sweep it out but also pay attention the rafters. Listen for buzzing.
- DO inspect gutters and roof eaves regularly for signs of nesting bees and hornets.
- DO clean out truck beds and horse trailers after they have been used. DO inspect them before each use.
- DO hose down wheel wells and undercarriages of seldom-used trucks and trailers to prevent bee and hornet nests.
- DO inspect your barn when you return from a horse show or trip with your horse. A quiet, abandoned barn looks like a great place to nest to bees and hornets, even if you are only gone a week.
- DO inspect a stall and the barn area at a horse show, especially if it has been unused for a while. If you see bees at a horse show, notify show management and other riders or owners.
- DO keep a first aid kit handy and instructions for bee sting treatment. DO post the names and phone numbers of several veterinary practices in your area, as well as the local hospital emergency room, in case you are unable to use a phone yourself.
- DO pay attention to flower pots and beds around your property. Notice what time of year bees are active in the flowers and if there is a sudden increase.
- DO educate people who use your barn or property to watch for bees and alert you when and if they see bees around the barn. Knowing to look for a big paper wasp nest or a smaller cell nest is helpful.
- DO request allergy information from students and boarders and family members, if you are a barn owner or manager. Ask anyone allergic to bees to have a sting kit with them while at the barn; some barns make that a policy.
- DO consider having a bee sting drill, just like a fire drill, in the event of a swarm or a horse stung by many bees.
- Do have some chill packs frozen in a freezer to hold on swollen stings of horses and humans.
- DO inspect building walls, fence lines, and footing or dirt in small horse pens and paddocks. If you notice that a horse is standing in a different place from his usual spot (in the sun instead of in the shade, for instance), check it out: he may be avoiding a bee’s nest.
- DO remove a halter and any tack if a horse is stung on the head. The sting area may swell and the halter may either cut into the skin or be hard to remove.
- DO use caution when turning on taps after returning from a trip, or if the tap has not been used recently. Hornets will sometimes nest inside the taps.
- DO think of bees any time you use heavy equipment on the land, or even a chainsaw. Loud, vibrating noises disturb bees and hornets, and digging in the earth or cutting trees may expose hives.
- DO use caution when spraying bee nests with commercial “RAID-type” sprays. Follow the directions, particularly in terms of the best time of day for use. Store the chemicals properly.
THE DON’T LIST
- DON'T leave trash or unused “stuff” around; new nests can be built in a weekend. Inspect everything in the barn on a regular basis.
- DON’T leave a horse alone that has been stung by a bee. A sting area may itch, and the horse may try to rub it. Hose it down with cold water. Check on it frequently for abnormal swelling. Swab the sting frequently with a cool topical astringent. If it appears the horse was stung multiple times, or the swelling is alarming, call your veterinarian.
- DON’T ignore stings on a horse’s legs. In fact, this is often the most common area to be stung. Run a steady stream of cold water (not a forceful spray) on the swollen area. Hold a frozen chill-pack on stings.
- DON’T walk into an abandoned shed without first leaving the door open for a few minutes. Listen for bees, and use a flashlight to shine into rafters and dark corners before you consider it safe. Be careful moving anything that has been in place for a long time.
Thank the honeybees for the blueberries and raspberries and the wildflowers in the fields, but realize that we have to share our space with everything Nature has to offer in our local ecosystem. Understanding which ones want to be in the barn with your horse, or what attracts them in in the first place, can be an education in itself.
Bee safe out there!