Flyswatters: Don’t Try Homesteading Without One


With the first warm days of March the first flies appear here, sitting saucily up there on the ceiling right above the breakfast table, waiting to grab a bite to eat from my plate. Time to break out the flyswatters.

The best kept dirty little secret of country life is flies. House flies, horse flies, deer flies, all kinds of flies. In cities and suburbs, flies are not as bothersome which is a good reason for the fainthearted to stay in town where they only have to put up with air full of mosquitoes and carbon monoxide. Flies prefer country life because that’s where farm animals usually live. Where there’s livestock, there’s manure. Where there’s manure, there are flies.

Veteran homesteaders keep at least one flyswatter in every room of the house so that one is handy wherever and whenever a fly lands. Using a flyswatter adeptly requires practice, like swinging a tennis racket. There is the forearm smash, the backhand flap, and most skillful of all, the sideways sweep which erases the fly from wall or ceiling without smearing its body parts all over the terrain. The truly accomplished swat-master can smack a fly right out of thin air and send it to its doom along with the bouquet of flowers that happens to be on the table nearby. Real pros learn to bide their time until three flies land close together on the milk pitcher so they can kill all of them and spill the pitcher in one infuriated blow.

The quality of flyswatters had steadily declined over the years like everything else. Time was, swatters were made of screen wire mesh enclosed within a durable fabric border and attached firmly to a number nine wire handle. When you hit a fly with one of those babies, the buzzing Beelzebub never knew what hit it, and such a weapon would keep on killing for years. Even after you wore a hole in the mesh, chances are you’d get your fly. Today, flyswatters are disgusting plastic things on a flimsy stick. The plastic doesn’t wear out but for some reason known only to science, it scrunches up or wrinkles so that after a year of use when you smack down on a fly, bug and plastic do not meet. When you lift the swatter, the fly flies merrily away.

The worst fly situation occurs on homesteads where children abound. Children like to open kitchen doors and then just stand there, going neither in nor out. Veteran flies follow children around, knowing this will eventually happen. While you are screaming at the child to CLOSE THE EXPLETIVE DELETED DOOR, 240 flies swoop in and make a beeline for the butter dish.

Since it is hardly advisable to get rid of the children, your next best ploy is to manage the manure better on your homestead and hope your neighbors do too. The main reason every well-managed homestead has hens is not for eggs or fried chicken as you may have thought, but to scratch around in barn manure bedding and eat fly eggs.

The best reason for raising livestock on pasture rather than penned in buildings is to minimize manure piles and therefore fly populations. Flies do not multiply uncontrollably on scattered meadow muffins or roadapples. When raising a hog or two in a pen for table use, which takes four to six months, do it over winter when there are no flies, and compost the manure or spread it before summer sets in.

The best argument for decentralized pasture farming rather than confinement factories is that the latter are generators of swarming hoards of flies worse than the biblical plague of locusts.  Confinement buildings have to flush the manure slurry into lagoons or pits, which are fly paradises. I have long wondered if it may not be the lowly fly that in the end will make large animal factories impossible for society to bear. That would mean even flies are good for something.

There’s a flyswatter for millionaires who, having tried everything else, think homesteading might be “fun.”  The Orvis “Gifts For Men” catalog offers a personalized leather swatter, which “no man should be without.”   It is made of “Italian bridle leather” with a “handmade American oak” handle.  Price?  $60.00.

For us peons, a rolled up newspaper will often do the trick. Also, with the bill serving as a handle, a ball cap can be a lethal weapon against flies.
Cross-Posted at
Image Credit: © Altaoosthuizen |


Jay, Beelzebub is also one of the names of the devil in the Bible. That’s what I had in mind. Gene

When you hit a fly with one of those babies, the buzzing Beelzebub never knew what hit it

Curiously enough, Beelzebub means “Lord of the flies”. Was your use of this alliteration intentional, for that reason?

Some time ago I read with delight how Joel Salatin moves his mobile chicken coop into a pasture two days after moving his cows to the next one. The chickens scratch in the paddies, spreading them around and devouring the larvae that the flies laid two days ago, thus breaking the cycle. Since adopting this practice our fly population has plummeted, and the benefits to the pasture are icing on the cake. We still have flies, but they are tolerable and rarely get in the house.
Also, a quick Google search reveals that the old-style wire screen flyswatters are still available and less the $2 each (sadly, now made in China). I also found a “Shaker Fly Swatter” with wood handle and leather swatter for $17.50 (made in USA!). As someone previously stated, that might be a good investment!

We have found a really fun way to get rid of the flies in our farmhouse… at night the flies rest on the ceiling. Take a cup with some sudsy water, lift it up, and place the rim around the flies. They have to drop down and flip over to fly, so they drop down and get caught in the suds. Death is fast. We have competitions. There are hundreds captured every night. It’s wonderful and keeps the inside fly population under control.

So true, so true. We have four kiddos who are making it their goal in life to leave the door open at all times. Thankfully, my husband is a expert fly swatter.

thetinfoilhatsociety March 21, 2010 at 11:46 am

How funny that you write about this! I was just looking for a decent flyswatter this past week without luck. My cat is tearing up the screen by climbing up it trying to get the flies. (hence the flyswatter search) And I couldn’t find anything but the crappy plastic ones either!

We don’t have flies. We have Asian tiger beetles. They look like ladybugs, but they are not. They infest the house, they crawl thru the tiniest openings, and I don’t know of any way to get rid of them. We just cohabit and clean them up occasionally with the vaccuum cleaner. Ocourse they reappear in numbers just an hour or two later. But I admit they do not provide the athletic pleasure or the eye-hand challenges of flies and they are not the disease vectors that flies can be. We spend much of our lives trying to find the small silver linings, don’t we?

My Dad, a persistent and deadly fly swatterer, always says he is not to worried about how much the flies eat out of his plate but that they wash there hands in his food first.

I remember my grandmother used to have a wood-handled leather fly swatter that had been around since about the end of the last ice age. It was something of a family heirloom, and a functioning one at that! I think someone still has it. So, I wonder, honestly, if that $50 Orvis swatter might pay for itself after about 100 years of dutiful service…Then again, I suppose you could make one for free if you dig through the scrap pile and find the right parts.
Might be worth the trouble.

Teresa Sue Hoke-House March 19, 2010 at 11:21 am

I can’t decide which has more funny truth, your story, Gene, or the replies, lol.


If they would pass a bill outlawing plastic fly swatters, they could probably quit spitting at each other over health care “reform” (they dare to call it) as one of the mightiest of disease vectors could again be effectively combated.

I’m not sure, though, that we adequately understand the factors that enable this small but prolific nuisance, because if the popular wisdom fully illuminated the matter, there would be some kind of cogent explanation as to why Washington DC isn’t buried under 30 feet of flies and most state capitols under at least 20 feet of the little boogers.

Great article! Yes, the flies have arrived here, too! We usually have ants and moths in the sap-water when we collect, but this year even the flies are drinking their fill. I had a friend who patented a flyswatter…. It was a sort-of velcro thing that the squashed fly would stay attached to instead of flinging off toward the soup where one could never be sure if it went in or not. A swift wack of the handle on the trashcan and the fly would drop off. He actually had them manufactured but I never did see them in any store.

I checked out that Orvis swatter. They must be running a sale; it is available on their website for only (only!) $47.50. Quite the steal!

If you think the flies are bad here, you should visit Australia! I spent a few months there during their summer a few years ago, and could barely spend time outside because their flies were literally crawling up my nose trying to get to the moisture. It’s all because of livestock over there too. Australia didn’t have any mammals with big cowpie-like turds until we introduced our livestock, so they don’t have dung beetles that can deal with that kind of manure. As a result, the few flies hanging around really proliferated, even when the livestock were raised on range. (Makes me wonder if expanding dung beetle populations, along with adding chickens, might help fly problems here?)

Not only do the children stand there with the door flapping in the breeze, they go through it and leave it standing wide open while you are up to your elbows in fruit pulp or bread dough! And of course it’s always the door nearest where you are working that they leave open… I’ve always wondered if my husband, who is an expert marksman, acquired that skill growing up as an Idaho rancher’s kid. He can swat (and kill, which is no mean feat) a fly with his bare hand. Like you, however, I tend to use a rolled up newspaper, and have discovered that it works even better if the outer layers are dampened slightly. That seems to add a little stability and “muscle”; plus the squashed fly sticks to it better so I don’t have to clean the wood work. Doesn’t work on mosquitoes nearly as well, though.

A couple belly laughs, numerous chuckles and lots of truth. It made this beautiful spring-like day even better than it already was.

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